Fox News' Shepard Smith steps down as chief news anchor, departs network, stuns colleagues

Sara M Moniuszko, USA TODAY

Shepard Smith, the Fox News anchor who made headlines for his on-air criticism of President Donald Trump, has departed the conservative-leaning news network. 

During his Friday afternoon show, Smith announced his decision "to leave Fox News and begin a new chapter," after increasing clashes with the network's prime time opinion hosts. 

He said his departure was voluntary: "After requesting that I stay, they graciously obliged. The opportunities afforded this guy from small-town Mississippi have been many. It’s been an honor and a privilege to report the news each day to our loyal audience in context and with perspective, without fear or favor."

His emotional on-air speech continued: "Even in our currently polarized nation, it's my hope that the facts will win the day, that the truth will always matter, that journalism and journalists will thrive." 

Smith, the network's chief news anchor and managing editor of its breaking news unit, has worked at Fox News since its inception in 1996. Under his agreement with Fox, "I won't be able to report elsewhere at least in the near future," he said.

Business journalist Neil Cavuto, who anchors the broadcast following Smith's, appeared to be blindsided by Smith's announcement

"Wow," he said. "Like you, I'm a little stunned and a little heartbroken."

Fox News' national correspondent John Roberts, who appeared on Cavuto's show, said he learned of Smith's exit right before he went live.

"I've just been trying to compile my thoughts, too," he said. "I walked out (to the White House) to do the hit, suddenly got hit by a subway train. Holy mackerel."

Fox News' senior political correspondent Mike Emanuel tweeted that he, too, was shocked by the news that Smith is leaving the network.

"It was an honor leading off his final show at Fox News. I had no clue this was the last time," he said.

Smith's departure comes two days after Attorney General William Barr met privately with media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose company owns Fox News. President Trump has been increasingly critical of personalities on Fox News that he views as disloyal.

Fox anchor Sean Hannity, a staunch Trump supporter who's clashed with Smith on air, tweeted, "I’ve always said there is nobody better at breaking news than Shep Smith. He has always done great things and I know he will continue to do so."

Fox News' President Jay Wallace called Smith "one of the premier newscasters of his generation."

"While this day is especially difficult as his former producer, we respect his decision and are deeply grateful for his immense contributions to the entire network," Wallace added. 

In August 2019, Trump slammed Smith and analyst Juan Williams. He also criticized the network for hiring Donna Brazile, the former interim DNC director. Brazile forwarded questions to Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary season. 

"Fox hires 'give Hillary the questions' @donnabrazile, Juan Williams and low ratings Shep Smith. HOPELESS & CLUELESS! They should go all the way LEFT and I will still find a way to Win - That’s what I do, Win. Too Bad!" Trump tweeted.

Smith also made headlines for opposing fellow Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who declared in August that white supremacy is “not a real problem” in America. Smith said the issue is "without question a very serious problem."

Contributing: Rebecca Morin, Associated Press, Carly Mallenbaum

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Shepard Smith, Trump critic, leaves Fox News and stuns colleagues