Shepard Smith leaves Fox News Channel

Smith said at the end of his daily newscast on Friday that he had asked the network to let him out of his contract and it had agreed.

In this Jan. 30, 2017, file photo, Fox News Channel chief news anchor Shepard Smith appears on the set of "Shepard Smith Reporting" in New York. –AP Photo/Richard Drew, File

NEW YORK (AP) — Shepard Smith, whose newscast on Fox News Channel seemed increasingly an outlier on a network dominated by supporters of President Trump, abruptly quit after working at Fox since it started in 1996.

Smith said at the end of his daily newscast on Friday that he had asked the network to let him out of his contract and it had agreed.

Even in the current polarized environment, Smith said “it’s my hope that the facts will win the day, that the facts will always matter and journalism and journalists will thrive.”

Neil Cavuto, who anchors the broadcast following Smith’s, looked shocked after the announcement.

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“Whoa,” Cavuto said. “Like you, I’m a little stunned.”

Smith was one of Fox News Channel’s original hires in 1996, and was a particular favorite of Roger Ailes, the former Fox chairman who was ousted in 2016 following misconduct charges and died the following spring. While he often angered many of Fox’s conservative viewers, Smith’s work was most prominently cited by the network when it received criticism for being too partisan.

On his afternoon newscast, Smith had frequently given tough reports debunking statements made by Trump and his supporters — even the Fox News opinion hosts that rule the network’s prime-time lineup.

Two weeks ago, Smith clashed with Tucker Carlson that started when Napolitano, speaking on Smith’s program, said that it was a crime for Trump to solicit aid for his campaign from a foreign government, in this case Ukraine. Later that night, Carlson asked his own analyst, Joseph diGenova, about that and he called Napolitano a fool.

The next day, Smith said that “attacking our colleague who is here to offer legal assessments, on our air, in our work home, is repugnant.”

In an interview with Time magazine in March 2018, Smith said that “they don’t really have any rules on the opinion side.

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“They can say whatever they want,” he said. “Some of our opinion programming is there strictly to be entertaining. I get that. I don’t work there. I wouldn’t work there.”

On a broadcast in July, Smith called out Trump over his “misleading and xenophobic eruption” of criticism aimed at a group of Democratic congresswoman who are minorities, saying the president’s remarks were part of a pattern of distraction and division.

“The news department (at Fox) has just taken a huge hit with the loss of Shep,” said Carl Cameron, a longtime former reporter at Fox. “For journalists like Chris Wallace and Bret Baier, it’s going to get even harder.”

Smith, 55, said he is not retiring, although his agreement with Fox will forbid him from working elsewhere “at least in the near future.”

Fox said that a news broadcast would continue in its 3 p.m. ET hour with rotating substitute anchors.