by Elahe Izadi and Sarah Ellison
“The News with Shepard Smith” will air at 7 p.m. on weeknights, the network announced Wednesday. “We’re thrilled that Shep, who’s built a career on an honest fight to find and report the facts, will continue his pursuit of the truth at CNBC,” network chairman Mark Hoffman said in a statement.
The hour-long program will cover the day’s biggest stories, replacing an hour of what CNBC dubbed as entrepreneurial reality programming that includes shows like “Shark Tank,” “The Profit” and “Jay Leno’s Garage.” Those programs, which currently run between 7 p.m. and 2 a.m., will start an hour later with the hope that Smith’s lead-in will boost ratings, according to an executive familiar with the network’s plans.
Smith had long been a primary figure of Fox News’s news programming as one of the first hires to the network by co-founder Roger Ailes when it launched in 1996. But in recent years, Smith became a frequent target of attacks of President Donald Trump and departed in October amid internal conflict, which included an exchange of on-air barbs with opinion host Tucker Carlson.
At the time, Smith divulged little about what sparked his sudden departure, only saying the decision to leave was his alone.
“Recently I asked the company to allow me to leave Fox News and begin a new chapter,” he said in on-air remarks. “After requesting that I stay, they graciously obliged. The opportunities afforded this guy from small-town Mississippi have been many. It’s been an honor and a privilege to report the news each day to our loyal audience in context and with perspective, without fear or favor.”
Smith had discussions with both broadcast and cable news networks about his next home. CNBC reached out to Smith shortly after his departure from Fox News, according to a CNBC executive close to the discussions.
Smith said in a statement that Hoffman “presented me with CNBC’s vision for a fact-based, hour-long evening news program with the mission to cut through the static to deliver facts, in context and with perspective. I know I found a great home for my newscast.”
“Gathering and reporting the news has been my life’s work,” Smith added. “I am honored to continue to pursue the truth, both for CNBC’s loyal viewers and for those who have been following my reporting for decades in good times and in bad.”
Smith will also be CNBC’s chief general news anchor and chief breaking general news anchor.
He will almost certainly start with a smaller audience than he had at Fox News in the afternoons, when he averaged about 1.3 million viewers during his final months (prime time opinion hosts at Fox generally command a much larger audience than the daytime shows). CNBC attracts about 260,000 viewers during its current prime time reality programming, according to Nielsen. Smith’s news program will face off against Fox Business’s fervently pro-Trump “Lou Dobbs Tonight” at 7 p.m. (Dobbs’s show has consistently beaten CNBC in that time slot.)
Smith’s hire is the biggest move by CNBC since a recent shake-up at parent company NBCUniversal. In May, new chief executive Jeff Shell appointed Telemundo chief Cesar Conde to replace longtime NBC News Chairman Andy Lack, who stepped down amid internal and external criticism. Shell also put CNBC, which is run by Hoffman, under Conde’s authority.
For most of his tenure at Fox, Smith was seen as a talented news anchor, but far from a firebrand or a personality steeped in controversy. As the network’s opinion programming moved in close alignment with the rhetoric of Trump, Smith stood out for his independence.
In a 2018 interview with Time, Smith said some of the network’s opinion programming “is there strictly to be entertaining” and “they don’t really have rules on the opinion side. They can say whatever they want.” Opinion host Sean Hannity, in turn, called Smith “clueless” and said his program provided “REAL NEWS!”
Smith attracted the ire of some Fox News viewers when his on-air commentary and reporting was critical of the president and his claims. In 2017, Smith said some of Trump’s remarks at a 2017 news conference were “absolutely crazy.” Later, Smith defended rival news network CNN, saying on air that “CNN’s reporting was not fake news. Its journalists follow the same standards to which other news organizations, including Fox News, adhere.” He debunked Trump’s claims about a Hillary Clinton uranium “scandal,” and he urged Fox News viewers to read special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian meddling. Contrary to what Trump insisted, Smith said on air that the special counsel “did not exonerate the president.”
The president, in turn, often called out Smith by name in tweets, disparaging him as “low ratings Shep Smith” and worse than watching “Fake News CNN.”
Weeks after his departure from Fox News, Smith appeared at a Committee to Protect Journalists event during which he did not mention Trump by name, but condemned leaders who use “online tools” to “dispatch troll armies after critical reporters.”
“Intimidation and vilification of the press is now a global phenomenon,” Smith said onstage. “We don’t have to look far for evidence of that.”
(c) 2020, The Washington Post