ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Shepard Smith was one of the few voices on Fox News that had been willing to challenge President Trump. Today the 55-year-old chief anchor at Fox abruptly resigned, saying it had been an honor and a privilege to report the news without fear or favor.
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SHEPARD SMITH: So 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. This is my last newscast here. It's been an honor.
SHAPIRO: Joining us now to discuss Smith's departure is NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Many people were surprised by this. Twitter seems to be blowing up about it. What do we know about why he chose to resign today?
FOLKENFLIK: He just simply said that it was his decision, and he didn't give address why he did it. But, you know, this has been a tension that has, you know - was headed for a fracture at some point. You had Shep Smith, an independent voice, a guy who saw himself as a journalist and also was somebody who had been kind of skeptical, a guy who had offered fact checks on the president, somebody who'd called out the questions of norms that had been shattered by this president. And Fox has adopted, almost up and down its lineup, a resolutely pro-Trump or at least anti anti-Trump line. I think he saw this was a dynamic that was going to be untenable into the future.
SHAPIRO: President Trump has attacked Smith personally. Trump recently tweeted, watching fake news CNN is better than watching Shepard Smith. Do you know specifically what was behind that tweet?
FOLKENFLIK: I think that it stems from this very kind of dynamic. You know, you had Shep Smith call certain remarks by the president racist. You had Shep Smith talk about the president indulging anti-Semitic tropes or supporters, the president calling for certain kinds of violence. Shep Smith acting as a journalist, and as a skeptical one, at that, inside a lineup where the president expects a certain kind of fealty.
This is the same dynamic pre-Trump that led Shep Smith to be, you know, taken from a desirable slot at 7:00 p.m. and slapped into the 3 p.m. sort of midafternoon slot, even though he was given the title of chief anchor by then-Fox News chairman Roger Ailes. You know, Shep Smith was somebody allowed independence, but there was a tension and a cost as a result of that.
SHAPIRO: So I think many people are going to see this as a purge based on purity, whether at the specific direction of the White House and its allies, or just the strong implication. How accurate is that?
FOLKENFLIK: I think it's more about the dynamic. You know, look. The Attorney General Bill Barr met last night with Rupert Murdoch, the controlling owner of Fox News and its parent company. This is said to have been in the works prior to that and is said not to be a result of that. But it's a sign of the kind of closeness. The Murdochs have basically gone, at least to date, almost all in on Trump. Rupert Murdoch doesn't have a ton of respect for the president, and yet at the same - knows him from New York, but at the same time felt like he would have an entree like he's never had before with United States president. And that has been the case.
Well, this tension between somebody journalistic, like Shep Smith, you've seen this also with Chris Wallace, the host of "Fox News Sunday," a tough-minded journalist and interviewer, as well. This tension has been heightened by the impeachment crisis that the president is currently facing. And right now, you've got a high-stakes game where the president is relying on Fox to rally his base, where the president sees their core viewership as his core supporter, and he's relying on them ever more, even as their journalists are trying to figure out, well, wait, there may be stories that are damaging the president. How would we deal with this? Shep Smith decided he wants out at this pivotal time. I don't think there's any accident of why that timing occurred the way it did.
SHAPIRO: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, thank you.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.