Shepard Smith, Roger Ailes, FNC, and the Elephant in the Room…

Ok, I have tried hard over the years to ignore this story on the blog just as I ignored the Anderson Cooper version. People’s private lives are people’s private lives and I only really care about the mechanics of cable news not the intimate details of those who carry them out.

But Gawker’s J.K. Trotter today makes that all but impossible now. Trotter pens a must read story so detailed; it moves the goalposts so far, it can’t be ignored any more.

From a PR standpoint Trotter’s story is so dangerous to FNC it just can’t keep ignoring it as it has in the past. Now, it’s no longer a question of Smith’s sexual orientation but a question of the policies of FNC in regards to talent based on their sexual orientation. This is multi-million dollar discrimination lawsuit territory we are talking about here. Everything is on the line now…

In the summer of 2013, according to multiple sources with knowledge of their exchange, Shepard Smith approached Fox News president Roger Ailes about publicly coming out. The newly attached anchor was eager, at the time, to finally acknowledge his sexuality. “It’s time,” he told Ailes and other colleagues. “It’s time.”

Instead, Ailes informed Smith that the network’s famously conservative audience would not tolerate a gay news anchor. Ailes’ answer was definitive: Smith could not say he’s gay.

“This came up during contract negotiations,” a Fox insider told Gawker. “Shep wanted to and was ready to come out, and Roger just said no.”

Smith, one of Ailes’s first and most loyal disciples, acquiesced to his boss’s demand, and dropped the matter. But the discussion worried enough Fox executives to prompt Smith’s removal, in September 2013, from the channel’s coveted prime-time lineup. According to a Fox insider with direct knowledge of negotiations, Smith’s desire to come out was a large factor in the dramatic move.

“They tried to play it up as a big promotion,” the insider said. “But everyone knew that Shep was getting demoted. And the coming out thing was a significant part of that.”

Update: TVNewser’s Chris Ariens has FNC shooting down the story pretty emphatically…

“This story is 100% false and a complete fabrication,” write Ailes and Smith in a joint statement. “As colleagues and close friends at Fox News for 18 years, our relationship has always been rooted in a mutual respect, deep admiration, loyalty, trust, and full support both professionally and personally.”

Smith works for the news side of FOX, which is run by Michael Clemente and Jay Wallace and not Bill Shine, who oversees programs like “The O’Reilly Factor” and “Hannity.” Shine released his own statement of support for Smith, which reads in part: “We have never asked Shep to discuss or not discuss his private life, and the notion of us having an issue with anyone’s sexuality is not only insulting, but pure fiction.” Shine’s full statement after the jump:

“Over the past 18 years, we’ve had the privilege of working with Shepard Smith throughout his incredible rise from a field reporter to chief news anchor and his recent promotion to managing editor,” Shine writes. “Throughout his entire tenure here, Roger Ailes and I have fully supported him in both a professional and personal capacity. We have never asked Shep to discuss or not discuss his private life, and the notion of us having an issue with anyone’s sexuality is not only insulting, but pure fiction. We renewed his contract in June 2013 based on this full support as well as his exemplary journalism. He’s the gold standard of this profession and we’re extremely proud to call him the face of our news division.”

40 Responses to “Shepard Smith, Roger Ailes, FNC, and the Elephant in the Room…”

  1. Roger Ailes needs to stop assuming that people will turn off the TV if they “know” Shep is gay. He needs to know that there is no where else for people to get the news of the day, during the day, when Shep is on.

  2. motownman Says:

    If this is true, and I have no reason to believe it isn’t, Shep should come out, quit and sue FNC’s ass.

  3. wheresthebeef09 Says:

    I find this story a bit difficult to stomach. Why would Shep want to work for an employer which clearly doesn’t agree with who he is? And if Fox was really so concerned about Shep coming out, why did they even bother to renew his contract in the first place? Why would Fox go through all the trouble of retaining someone who would obviously not appeal to its viewership if he were to come out?

    Something just seems off about this story….

  4. Plenty of reason to believe it not true.
    1) Gawker is a pool of sewage
    2) Ailes is so hated by liberal bloggers, any excuse to inflate an elephant is welcomed.

  5. Why would Shep want to work for an employer which clearly doesn’t agree with who he is?

    Why would you quit a great job because your boss is a tool? Nobody does that.

  6. So Smith, who if he quit/got fired would have a job the very next day, is such a little biatch that when Roger Ailes orders him to stay in the closet, he stays in the closet? And takes a “demotion”? That’s what we’re supposed to believe about Shep. Um, ok. Not buying it.

  7. “Why would Fox go through all the trouble of retaining someone who would obviously not appeal to its viewership if he were to come out? ”

    All of your questions are easy to answer if you start with two basic premises:
    1) Fox News is evil and racist and anti-g@y and probably responsible for WWII
    2) Roger Ailes is the devil.

  8. Couldn’t Smith get a zillion dollars from CNN or another news outlet if he left?

    It’s not like he doesn’t have a lot of options.

    Smith doesn’t need FNC at this point in his career.

  9. To answer the same question Lonestar didn’t answer at all…you keep him because you don’t want to see him on the competition.

    To answer Beef’s question…it has been long documented on the air that wide swaths of FNC programming see the world one way and he sees it a different way. So Beef Smith had already decided to work for an employer which clearly doesn’t agree with who he is long before the question of his orientation came to the fore today.

  10. And Larry, Gawker may be slimy but they are pretty accurate ans d this story seems to be multi sourced

  11. That still doesn’t answer why Shep would stand by and allow all that to take place. I’d hate to think that he’s that type of person. To fully believe the Gawker story is to believe that Shep doesn’t think he could get the same $ and face time on another network; that he has such a low opinion of himself that he wouldn’t stand up for himself; that he values whatever he receives from FNC over his own honesty.

  12. And hello to the group! Good gang here today. Not that I’m not quite the attraction all by myself.

    Disclaimer: Gawker got hacked once and my password stolen, so I think their ship is an untidy craft.

  13. Well Smith and Ailes just called the story “100% False & a complete Fabrication”. But, Shep is prolly just a lying liar who lies cuz FNC & Roger Ailes are evil.

  14. Smith and Ailes say it’s false.

    http://www.mediabistro.com/tvnewser/fox-news-responds-to-gawker-shepard-smith-story-100-false-and-a-complete-fabrication_b223266?dtoc

    Gee, if you can’t trust Gawker then is there anyone you can trust anymore.

    As lonestar argued, Smith doesn’t come across to me as someone who would just accept these orders. Not at this stage in his career.

  15. Give the source, I wouldn’t have been so fast to say the plane was found just because floating wreckage was sighted (smelled?).

  16. But the Fox Derangement crowd had a few hours of FNC hates the g@ys and all the other things they wish were correct. Sometimes your own hate blinds you as you project it on others.

    I suppose there’s still a possibility that the Gawker story is true. But, as someone not blinded by FNC hate, it just seemed incredibly stupid and nonsensical to me. Didn’t pass the smell test.

  17. There is no such thing as a fox-hater. Just ask them.

  18. The Gawker author’s response to Ailes/Smith response is “reminder: Fox & Ailes lie about everything”.

  19. And that shows the credibility of the source layered with motive.

  20. But now that story is out there and will be cited forever by the usual suspects. Which, is likely the goal of all these stupid FNC gossip stories.

  21. I seem to have misplaced my elephant gun.

  22. That still doesn’t answer why Shep would stand by and allow all that to take place. I’d hate to think that he’s that type of person.

    You never know what makes some people tick in a given situation…

    I also don’t think we got the definitive word on this story either. I don’t think Trotter got the story nailed down correctly…especially the Shine stuff…but at the same time just because FNC denied it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

    Or do you accept any network’s denial to every charge thrown at it to be the final word in the matter? I don’t. They’ve turned out to be incorrect too many times in the past

  23. It’s not that I accept “any network’s denial”; Shep was part of the denial. It was a joint statement. And, like I said, the story seemed too stupid to be accurate. And, it was written by an anti-Fox zealot. Smell test.

    I can’t imagine Shep would be a party to that kind of stuff.

    Like I said, to believe the Gawker story is to believe:
    1) Shep is an idiot;
    2) Shep is a weak-kneed pawn;
    3) Shep sucks at life.

    I don’t believe any of those; therefore, I think the Gawker story is a heaping pile of stink.

  24. ^ but…I could be wrong.

  25. I don’t see how one can split the truth here. Some of this and some of that, cafeteria style.

    These are two fundamentally different narratives. One says “A” and the other “Not A”.

    It’s not Rashomon, it’s cut and dried.

    What’s the opposite of the Rashomon effect?

  26. I disagree somewhat. To believe this story you don’t have to think Shep is an idiot nor that he sucks at life. Let us not get overdramatic here. Nor would I presuppose he was a week kneed pawn…but at the same time I can’t walk in his shoes so I have no idea what pressure he may or may not be under.

  27. Erich…you can definitely split the truth here…a narrative is a collection of sentences. Do you look at the narrative as a whole or do you inspect all of the sentences? In my view you can never look at what a PR shop puts out at face value…you have to inspect every nook and cranny.

    I will say this. I would probably be a lot less skeptical of FNC’s denial if that network didn’t have such a long established history of unethical/confrontational behavior where media relations are concerned. Every media shop in cable news has its own particular issues but none are anywhere near as underhanded as FNCs. That is a fact. That does tend to poison the believability well to some extent.

  28. jackyboy Says:

    If it were anybody else but Shepard Smith, I could believe it. One, it’s Shepard Smith, I feel one of the premiere talents that they have there on Fox; if he wanted to come out he would have come out. Two, I don’t think there is person alive who has seen his show and hasn’t already suspected about Shep’s orientation, and nobody cares. This sounds way too much of a conspiracy theory for me to believe it. If a more credible website was able to show more proof, then we can talk.

  29. erich500 Says:

    I assume we all know that the Gawker piece was a non-outing outing?

    Good, we all agree on one thing.

  30. Shep’s business is Shep’s business.

  31. erich500 Says:

    Not anymore, not in these times.

    We’ve progressed, dont’cha know? The future and all that?

  32. fritz3 Says:

    This scenario (demoting Shep because they were afraid he would out himself) would have made more sense 10 years ago when being g*y was a handicap in conservative broadcasting circles. But now even most conservatives are tolerant of g*ys in the workplace as long as they don’t want to get married.

    If Shep wanted to ‘come out’ officially he doesn’t need to ask permission of Ailes or FNC. He could easily do that by just orchestrating a scenario where he’s photographed in public with his boyfriend. Oh wait that’s already happened. If he wanted it to be done on air then he could arrange for a guest to bring up the subject of his sexuality on his show and act surprised when it happened. Getting permission just doesn’t seem to be necessary.

    The thing that might be more upsetting to Shep is forcing him host a dayside show on the ‘Stars Wars’ set. Now that’s punishment. BTW is he still not doing the breaking news coverage in PT as advertised? I don’t see enough FNC to judge if he’s still being bypassed or not.

  33. erich500 Says:

    Being openly g*y was a handicap in almost all broadcasting circles a decade ago and not just on conservative ones.

    The “bad people” in this matter are those at the retched Gawker site and not the ones at Fox.

    I’m surprised that Spud went with this without, in my view, enough skepticism.

  34. joeremi Says:

    The Gawker piece is sloppy, but Shine’s “denial” is almost as bad. He says he wasn’t at the picnic (which Gawker has updated), but he never denies flipping out about the picnic. Also, if Shine is known for being agitated about h0m0sexuality, it makes more sense that Shep would introduce his boyfriend at a function where Shine was not physically nearby.

    The bigger problem is with Shine stating that Shepard was “never asked to discuss or not discuss” his sexuality. This is a very precise legal answer which conveniently ignores that Gawker never said Shep was asked anything. According to them Shepard Smith did the asking, and Ailes said no.

    So you can go with Ailes and Smith’s “full and complete denial” if you want, but Mr. Shine seems to have gone to great lengths to avoid answering the important points about his involvement here. And this leaves one more important question still unanswered: Why was Shepard Smith pulled from a popular news program for Greta Van Susteran; a move nobody saw coming, and which nobody seems interested in?

  35. If that’s the best you can drag out of this you’re welcome to it.

  36. erich500 Says:

    Ailes and Smith deny the story. They say that Smith’s personal life has played no role in anything management has done with him over 18 years.

    But Shine’s denial isn’t absolute?

    And that’s the story?

    Straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.

  37. Decent people shouldn’t not try to mine this story further.

    Shep: ‘it’s ‘horsesh!t!’

  38. joeremi Says:

    Eric, I believe that Bill Shine specifically avoided denying key aspects of the Gawker piece, and no one has yet explained sufficiently why Shepard Smith was pulled from a very popular news show. Without the already-standing original mystery, this story isn’t worth bothering with. When you add “Shepard mysteriously demoted” to “Bill Shine does not deny”, you have a story.

  39. Shep was severely demoted, and all notions to the contrary at the time about how excited everyone was about his new role from the Star Trek News Deck were about as convincing as when Ed Schultz was thrilled to move from the best timeslot in cable news to weekend afternoons.

    It was incredibly transparent, and without sensible programming logic. Greta’s ratings are not an improvement on Shep’s, and she could have easily been bumped to 11PM if they felt a need to make room for everyone.

    Shep has obviously decided that he is still better off at Fox News than he would be anywhere else, and he’s probably correct. But that doesn’t mean there is no story here just because “Ailes and Smith deny”.

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