Shepard Smith exiting Fox News in surprise move, ready to 'begin a new chapter'

Shepard "Shep" Smith announced he's leaving Fox News on Friday, a move that has stunned his colleagues and viewers. Smith, who had been at Fox News since its inception — and who had become one of the few voices on the network to disagree with Fox’s pro-Donald Trump commentators — had been serving the network's chief news anchor, managing editor of the network's breaking news unit and anchor of Shepard Smith Reporting.

"Recently I asked the company to allow me to leave Fox News and begin a new chapter," Smith said in a statement on Friday afternoon. "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. I’ve worked with the most talented, dedicated and focused professionals I know and I’m proud to have anchored their work each day — I will deeply miss them."

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 17: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Jane Skinner visits "Shepard Smith Reporting" at Fox News Channel Studios on September 17, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Jay Wallace, the president and executive editor of Fox News Media, addressed Shepard's decision.

"Shep is one of the premier newscasters of his generation and his extraordinary body of work is among the finest journalism in the industry," Wallace said in a press release. "His integrity and outstanding reporting from the field helped put Fox News on the map and there is simply no better breaking news anchor who has the ability to transport a viewer to a place of conflict, tragedy, despair or elation through his masterful delivery. We are proud of the signature reporting and anchoring style he honed at Fox News, along with everything he accomplished here during his monumental 23-year tenure. 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."

Smith was one of the original team hired by Fox News in 1996. He began hosting his daytime show Shepard Smith Reporting in 2002.

Friday's episode of Shepard Smith Reporting was Smith’s final show at the network. Fox News announced a series of rotating anchors will host the 3 p.m. ET time slot until a new dayside news program is announced.

FNC’s business anchor Neil Cavuto reacted to the news in real time. "Whoa," he said at the top of his show. "I'm Neil Cavuto and, like you, I'm a little stunned and a little heartbroken. I don't know what to say."

"A decent human being ... a better newsman you probably cannot find," Cavuto continued. "A bigger, more emotionally connected to human kind you cannot find. So Shepard, I don’t know what the heck you’re planning to do or where you go, but I just know you’ll be great at doing it, and you deserve the best that life has to offer. So, I'm sorry if I'm a little shellshocked here, but I'm going to miss my buddy."

Fox News Channel’s chief White House correspondent John Roberts added on Cavuto's program, "I’m just trying to compile my thoughts too, Neil. I walked out here to do the hit and suddenly got hit by a subway train. Holy mackerel."

Brett Baier, the network’s chief political anchor, tweeted his shock, adding, "I wish him well in whatever lies ahead."

Smith won't be heading to a rival network anytime soon. During his on-air announcement Friday he referenced a non-compete clause he agreed to with FNC.

"Under our agreement I won't be reporting elsewhere, at least in the near future," he exclaimed. Smith said he was looking forward to spending more time with his partner, Giovanni "Gio" Graziano, and their dog Lucia.

"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," he concluded.

The announcement comes amid reports that a civil-war has erupted inside Fox News and that the channel is "having something of a Trump identity crisis." Smith openly feuded with network star Tucker Carlson, who regularly defends the president on his program, just last month. Smith was reportedly warned by Wallace and Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott not to criticize the evening anchor again. (Fox News denied Vanity Fair's claim.)

Smith has been critical of Trump throughout his presidency. After Charlottesville, he declared the president "trades in racism." In September, he blasted Trump for defending the false claim that Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian

"He decries fake news that isn't and disseminates fake news that is," Smith said before rattling off examples of the "endless" fake news the president has promoted: "China pays the tariffs. The wall is going up. Historic inauguration crowds. Russia probe is a witch hunt. You need an ID to buy cereal. Noise from windmills causes cancers."

The TV anchor drew the ire of President Trump during his time at FNC. In August, the president referred to him as "low ratings Shep Smith" and on Thursday, Trump targeted him again while lamenting about the good old days of Fox News.

President Trump isn’t heartbroken over Smith’s departure. "Is he leaving? Oh, that’s a shame," Trump quipped to reporters Friday.

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