Over the last 23 years of its existence, Fox News has been subject to a wide and largely justified host of criticisms, from the philosophical—i.e., its existential goal of creating and normalizing widespread paranoia in the American right that it could then successfully profit from—to the personal—the culture of sexual harassment that has pervaded the network for years, starting from founder Roger Ailes and cropping up at almost every level of its organization—to the ridiculous. (That is, Sean Hannity, and before him Glenn Beck, and their collective and obsessive love of both goofball fashion accessories, and charts.) And yet, almost any comprehensive takedown of the cynical indulgences of America’s home for fair and balanced news (and the ironic scarequotes around said, frequently objectively untrue, motto) did often carry at least one caveat, buried deep somewhere near the end of it: “Well, Shep Smith’s basically okay.”
Indeed, Smith—formerly the network’s lead news anchor, the managing editor of its breaking news division, and a long-term host on Fox for a decade-plus at this point—has managed to maintain, over the years, a reputation as an actual journalist, rather than, say, a ratings-hungry partisan hack happy to forcefeed the President Of The United States a daily fast food buffet of all the things he both fears and want to hear. (Shout-out to our old & Friend, Steve Doocy! What’s up, The Dooce?!) Rather, Smith has always comported himself as someone who thinks it’s actually bad when baldfaced lies are transmitted to a national audience, and will challenge them when he sees them. This has not always been a popular move; incidents in which he told big names on the network’s bloated opinion team, like Hannity and Tucker Carlson, that they were talking out of their asses on topics like clandestine uranium ore deals—or even just noting to his viewers that climate change is real—have been frequently met with disgruntlement from the base. Even so, he stayed at it, demarcating and holding fast to the line between Fox’s often-rabid opinion coverage, and those using it as a vector for actual news. (Not that that makes him a saint or anything, but we’re pretty obviously grading on a curve.)
But not anymore, because Shepard Smith is fucking done, at last. Smith announced his departure from Fox News earlier today, bringing it up at the end of his regular broadcast of Shepard Smith Reporting. The sign-off is full of subtext for those looking to find it; at one point, he notes that “Even in our currently polarized nation, it’s my hope that the facts will win the day, that the truth will always matter, that journalists, and journalism, will thrive.” Meanwhile, his departure appears to have come as a shock to many of his colleagues, although The New York Times reports that Smith’s been contemplating it for at least the last few weeks. Said piece also highlights the intra-network sniping that’s happened of late between Smith and people like Carlson, even as Donald Trump has taken frequent excuses to take swipes at his most vocal critic on the network; there have been rumors circulating for weeks that the network has been pressuring Smith to lay off Carlson with his relentless insistence on fiddly little details like “facts,” which makes this all a little bit less of a shock.
Regardless of your feelings on Shepard Smith—the urge to lionize him as the “Good Fox News Guy” feels both seductive, and worth examining, given that he was taking something like $15 million a year to serve as the legitimate face of often illegitimate bullshit—it’s hard to question the idea that the network is lessened by his departure. (Even if his colleagues over in the dwindling world of Fox hard news are expected to pick up some of his slack.) He noted in his sign-off that he won’t be reporting anywhere else “at least in the near future,” but the Times piece quotes sources who say this departure isn’t intended to be a retirement. (Dear Shep: Please do not try to be Megyn Kelly 2.0; nobody needs that in their lives. Also: Spill the tea! Sincerely, your friends, The A.V. Club.)