Shepard Smith has left the Fox News building, but his hour will remain staffed by employees from the network’s news division.
Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, Brit Hume, Shannon Bream, Martha MacCallum, Bill Hemmer and John Roberts are among the Fox News Channel news anchors who will do a stint in the 3 p.m. hour vacated late last week by Shepard Smith, the veteran anchor whose departure stunned Fox News staffers as well as many media observers. Fox News executives will likely unveil a new, news-focused hour in the timeslot next year with a specific anchor, Jay Wallace, president and executive editor of Fox News Media, told Variety in an interview. Trace Gallagher, a Los Angeles-based correspondent, will kick off a stint at 3 p.m. today, he said.
“This is going to remain a solid news hour, with our best news stars,” Wallace said, adding: “Journalism is a huge part of the mandate here.”
Wallace praised the network’s news-side staff as Smith’s surprise departure, announced Friday, has prompted heightened social-media speculation about the place of traditional newsgathering at the Fox Corp. outlet, which attracts one of TV’s most dependable audiences for opinion-based programs such as “Hannity” and “Fox & Friends.” Viewers and critics have noticed an ongoing tug-of-war between the journalists who fill most of the daytime schedule at Fox News and the opinion hosts who typically hold sway in primetime. Smith had in recent weeks feuded on air with primetime host Tucker Carlson. He said in an on-air grace note delivered at the end of his final program Friday that he had come to the decision on his own.
“It was a tough day for a lot of people here,” acknowledged Wallace, who spent time as Smith’s producer. “The thing about this place, there is a camaraderie, a ‘us against the world’ mentality,” he added. “These are more like familial bonds as opposed to just passing, transactional relationships. That’s why it hit so hard with a lot of people.”
He indicated Fox News would consider its own news staffers for the new 3 p.m. program, but also suggested the network could be open to an external candidate. “We aren’t rushing into it,” he said. Using a rotating lineup of anchors “lets us figure out what works well for us” and “figure out what works for these times.”
Asked about what seems to be a division between Fox News journalism and opinion branches in recent weeks as news of an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump has taken over the headlines, Wallace said the company’s policy is to keep spats off the air. “Fighting on air is an absolute no-go for us,” he said. In addition to recent bickering between Carlson and Smith, Fox News’ late-afternoon program “The Five” has gained notice in recent weeks for heated discussions between liberal panelist Juan Williams and other members of the on-air team.
“Emotions can run high, and they do at times, so they do,” he added. “Our guidance has always been to deal with this – if you have a problem with someone, pick up the phone. These are sharp people. Why do you want to parade this in front of everyone? Our audience doesn’t want to see it.”
And he indicated there is a growing focus on giving the network’s news-side staff more room to roam. Journalists can find new avenues for their work on the recently revamped digital outlets for Fox News or Fox Business, he said, in addition to Fox Nation, the subscription-based streaming service launched in late 2018. Wallace said he hopes to bring reporters to cover smaller beats in Washington – areas other than the White House or Congress. “It is important for us to find some of those smaller beats , where we could not afford to have people in the past.”
He maintained the value of journalism to Fox News’ viewers, noting that the network’s coverage of elections and testimony to Congress typically draws bigger audiences than most rivals. He also pointed to the 2017 launch of “Fox News @ Night,” an 11 p.m. news program with Shannon Bream; the hire of 30 staffers as part of a revamp of the digital operations of Fox Business; and upgrades made to news studios in New York, and, soon, Washington D.C. And he said Fox News had hired younger staffers such as Trey Yingst, a foreign correspondent who has pressed the White House on certain stories; Ellison Barber; and Jacqui Heinrich, a general assignment reporter.
Fox News in 2019 finds itself in a unique place. President Trump gives the bulk of his interviews to the network’s opinion hosts, including Jeanine Pirro. And then he has been known to excoriate the network when its news side airs stories that don’t flatter him, including a recent Fox News poll showing that more Americans are standing behind the impeachment inquiry. “It is an interesting time for us, because of the president and what he has done,” said Wallace.