I trust THIS is still fresh in our memories.
Needless to say Shep’s a fine one to talk about cowardice.
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.”
It’s difficult to square all of this with Smith’s characterization of Ailes as an uncommonly honest businessman, a second father who would never hurt him. “Roger has always had my back and never lied to me and never told me what to say,” Smith said in 2009.
Yet Smith’s demotion wasn’t actually Ailes’s idea to begin with. Nor was Ailes very surprised when Smith finally approached him. “Roger has known Shep has been gay for a long time,” a current Fox staffer said. So why was Ailes suddenly afraid of everyone else knowing, too?
A few weeks before approaching Ailes about coming out, Smith surprised Fox staffers by bringing his boyfriend, a 26-year-old Fox producer named Gio Graziano, to a company picnic at Ailes’s compound in Garrison, New York. Held annually on Independence Day weekend, the picnic is a small gathering—only executives, on-air talent, and their frontline producers are invited—so Smith likely felt comfortable bringing along his steady partner.
Despite the intimate venue, the new couple put several Fox executives on high alert. According to multiple sources with knowledge of the picnic, the most dramatic reaction came from Bill Shine, the channel’s Executive Vice President of Programming. Shine “flipped out,” one source said, after* Smith introduced Graziano to attendees. (Within and outside of Fox, Shine, who is 50 and grew up on Long Island, carries a reputation for insensitivity toward gay people. “He’s a major, major homophobe,” a Fox insider said.)
Back in New York City, Shine called a meeting among high-level executives to discuss a plan of action regarding Smith. “His fear was that Shep’s audience would implode,” said an individual familiar with the meeting, during which Shine forcefully argued against Smith coming out. His argument was simple: Our audience is not ready for a gay anchor.
Shine’s plea wasn’t particularly well-received. (“Everyone’s jaws just dropped,” a Fox insider said.) But the potential impact on Fox’s ratings was enough to scare Ailes into believing his lieutenant’s apocalyptic scenario. Fox’s unparalleled numbers are, after all, what give Ailes almost complete autonomy over his channel’s content, and immense power within Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.
With Ailes’ approval, Shine quickly choreographed Smith’s move from Fox’s 7 p.m. block, where he anchored The Fox Report, to the 3 p.m. block, where he currently runs Shepard Smith Reporting. Anticipating Smith’s desire to come out, Shine also coached Ailes on what to say when Smith finally approached him.
Ailes, meanwhile, ordered the channel’s media-relations shop to control any leaks or coverage of Smith’s romantic life. To this day, a Fox insider told Gawker, “the P.R. department tries to prevent anyone from talking about Shep’s sexuality.”
(Of course, that hasn’t always worked. When Gawker noted in March that Smith wasn’t attending a gay journalists gala sponsored by Fox News, the P.R. shop scrambled to place Smith on the guest list. “Gawker’s reporting obviously caused them to do that,” said a source familiar with the shop’s decision, which turned out to be less bold than it seemed: Smith showed up with three Fox minders to insulate the anchor from any reporters.)
Shine’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering troubled many at Fox. “It’s totally backwards thinking,” an insider at the channel said. And it flew against the gay-friendly image Ailes had worked so hard to construct among New York’s media elite. The image was always cynical—if Ailes sponsors the N.L.G.J.A., or blurbs Rachel Maddow, both will naturally think twice before criticizing his channel. But it depended on the basic assumption that Ailes didn’t mistreat actual gay people in his immediate vicinity. (He merely employs hosts who bemoan the Girl Scouts’ “homosexual overtones.”)
Smith seems to have brought Ailes, and Fox News, to an impassable contradiction: Either embrace the anchor’s wish to come out (and risk the audience’s revolt or desertion) or completely reject it (and risk Fox’s acceptance among a community for whom coming out is an immutable right). Up until now, very few have known that Ailes even had to make such a choice.
Did Shep have a “choice” when he released
“I spent an entire hour talking about how much this man affected people’s lives and brought greatness to this world. I was just wondering aloud what could have made this man want to end it all. And it reminds us that we all have responsibility as friends and neighbors to help take responsibility to prevent this from happening. There are people who process suicide as a black-and white-issue. I don’t process anything as black-and-white.
I was sorry to read online the people who see the world in a black-and-white way, and to suggest that they might have a definitive analysis of why he did such a thing. What I wanted to do is celebrate his life and find some meaning in our own lives, since we often do know someone who is reaching out, and we have a responsibility to help that person — maybe a phone call or a door knock is in order.
But no matter how you process it: Look at what this family is going through. I would never presume to know anything about his private life. And if any of his family members and friends were to have seen me use the word “coward,” I would be horrified. I would just to apologize to the end of the earth to anyone who might think that I meant to openly call him a coward.
To the core of my being, I regret it. It just came out of my mouth. And I’m so sorry. And to anyone and their families who see that, I am sorry.”
Take it away Connie!