Fox News chief news anchor Shepard Smith shocked viewers and co-workers at the end of his show "Shepard Smith Reporting" on Friday when he announced he was leaving after 23 years.
"Recently I asked the company to allow me to leave Fox News. After requesting that I stay, they obliged. Under our agreement I won't be reporting elsewhere, at least in the near future," Smith said.
"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, 55, said.
Smith was involved in a public spat in recent days with opinion host Tucker Carlson over comments made by Judge Andrew Napolitano on Smith's program. Napolitano called President Donald Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy a crime.
On Carlson's program, "Tucker Carlson Tonight," former federal prosecutor Joe diGenova disagreed, and called Napolitano a "fool," causing Smith to defend Napolitano, a longtime Fox News legal contributor.
Smith did not mention that incident in his sign-off Friday, saying only that it had been an honor to work for Fox News for 23 years and in journalism for 33 years total, noting "the opportunities afforded this guy from small-town Mississippi. Fox News has allowed me to travel the world gathering the facts of the day for you.
"Together with my colleagues we have written a first draft of history and endeavored to deliver it to you while speaking truth to power without fear or favor in context and with perspective. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity."
Smith signed off with a simple, "I'm Shepard Smith. Fox News. Goodbye," and waved as a wide shot of the studio was shown.
The news clearly caught co-workers at Fox by off-guard, as Neil Cavuto started the next show visibly shaken.
"Woah," Cavuto opened his show. "I'm Neil Cavuto and like you have a little stunned and a little heartbroken. I don't know what to say.
"Shepard Smith, as I said, just a few days ago on this very network -- decent human being, a heart as big as Texas. I didn't say Texas at the time, just lower Manhattan.
"Wow. A better newsman you probably cannot find. Again, a bigger more emotionally connected to humankind, you cannot find. ... I'm sorry if I'm a little shell-shocked here but I'm going to miss my buddy."
As Cavuto closed his show, he called Smith a "second-to-none and a journalist who always tried to get the story right and hold truth to power."
"There's always the back and forth between those conservatives do get upset, liberals who want to know more," Cavuto said. "We politicize everything. I can only talk from the human being perspective: Damn good one."
Fox News Channel’s “Special Report” host Bret Baier also lamented the loss of his fellow broadcast journalist.
“He did it better than anybody in the business, for years and years and years, from the beginning of Fox News Channel,” Baier said.
“I wish Shep all the best in whatever lies ahead, because Fox is less tonight on the breaking news front because he’s not here.”
"Shepard Smith just dropped a bomb ... He was part of the glue that held Fox together. He is a supreme pro who made us all better," Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts tweeted.
Fox News President Jay Wallace in a statement 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 said.
President Donald Trump, asked by a reporter if he or his administration pressured Fox News to get rid of Smith, said no, adding, "Is he leaving? Oh, that's a shame. Is he leaving because of bad ratings? ... I mean, if he's leaving I assume he's leaving because he had bad ratings. He had the worst ratings on Fox."
He then turned more conciliatory, saying, "I wish him well. I wish Shepard Smith well."
Smith was one of the original employees of Fox News Channel when it was founded in 1996.
Wallace said a series of rotating anchors will fill the 3 p.m. ET slot until a new program is announced.
Smith, who was also managing editor of the network's breaking news unit, has been one of the few senior journalists on Fox News to criticize Trump.
His departure follows attacks by Trump on the network's less friendly coverage of his administration since the U.S. House of Representatives began an impeachment inquiry, which opinion polls suggest has growing support from Americans.
The New York Times reported earlier on Friday that U.S. Attorney General William Barr met this week with Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox Corp owns Fox News.
"FoxNews doesn’t deliver for US anymore. It is so different than it used to be. Oh well, I’m President!," Trump tweeted on Thursday.
In March, Smith took issue with Trump's criticism of the late Republican Senator John McCain, and in August Smith spoke out about the "unmistakable rise of white nationalism and white racism in America" which Democrats say Trump has not done enough to discourage.
In September, Smith called out Trump for his mistaken insistence that the state of Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian.
Trump, who has repeatedly criticized the U.S. media as "the enemy of the people," has lashed out publicly against Shepard.
"Watching Fake News CNN is better than watching Shepard Smith, the lowest rated show on @FoxNews," Trump tweeted in August.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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