Fox News chief news anchor Shepard Smith’s shocking on-air resignation sends a clear and dismaying message: Fox’s vaunted “news” division has been routed. Its right-wing opinion hosts, loyal allies of President Donald Trump, stand unchallenged. And truth and accuracy have no place on the network’s airwaves.
Smith announced at the end of his Friday afternoon broadcast that he had asked management to allow him to leave the network where he had worked for more than two decades. Moments before, a Fox press release detailing his resignation sent shockwaves through Twitter. His on-air statement noticeably rattled his colleagues, apparently taking them entirely by surprise.
Smith was willing to report the news honestly, even when it conflicted with the conspiracy theories and lies of Fox’s prime-time hosts. That gave him mainstream credibility and respect, even as it earned him the contempt of the network’s conservative fanbase, his right-wing colleagues, and Trump himself.
The burgeoning impeachment inquiry into Trump’s abuses of power triggered a new urgency in the conflict between Fox’s “news” and “opinion” divisions, one that centered around Smith. An intense on-air feud erupted between Smith and Fox host and sometime Trump adviser Tucker Carlson over whether Trump had broken the law by asking the Ukrainian government to investigate his political opponent. The argument was capped off by Carlson’s suggestion that Smith was providing his audience with partisan opinion, not news (with Smith reportedly told by Fox executives that he would be terminated if he extended the conflict). And just yesterday, the president mentioned Smith while lashing out at Fox for being insufficiently supportive of his administration.
Counterintuitively, Smith’s willingness to push back against the misinformation rampant elsewhere on the network had made him extremely valuable to Fox. It provided the network’s executives with a fig leaf they could wave whenever critics argued that Fox was nothing more than a propaganda apparatus on behalf of the president and his allies.
That fig leaf is gone. Fox belongs to the Seans Hannity and Lous Dobbs. And now, everyone knows it.