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.”