Fox News host Greta Van Susteren is leaving the network. In the middle of a campaign season. After 14 years of service.
In a statement on the matter, Fox News used the sort of language that comes with distressing departures. “We are grateful for Greta’s many contributions over the years and wish her continued success,” said a statement from co-presidents Jack Abernethy and Bill Shine. Starting Tuesday, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume will take over Van Susteren’s 7 p.m. nightly slot for the remainder of the 2016 election. Hume is a strong choice for this assignment, having worked key jobs on the Fox News political team stretching back into the ’90s, including managing editor of the Washington bureau, anchor of “Special Report” and host of presidential election coverage.
So what happened with Van Susteren? Very clearly something. Back in July, when the career of her boss, now-former Fox News chief Roger Ailes, appeared in doubt following a sexual harassment suit from former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, Van Susteren spoke out for him in the pages of the Daily Beast:
“I have a very long-term deal,” she said about her arrangement with the conservative-friendly cable news network, adding that if she ever loses her show on Fox she’ll be happy to return to teaching at Georgetown or re-enter law practice.
“I have no reason to curry favor with Roger Ailes. I can assure you that there’s nothing Roger can do for me or against me. My contract is with the corporation. I’m not trying to get a new one.”
Consistent with that sentiment, Van Susteren today posted this note on Facebook:
Yes, I have left the Fox News Channel. On Thursday night, I made my decision and informed Fox News of my decision that I was leaving Fox News Channel per my contract.
Fox has not felt like home to me for a few years and I took advantage of the clause in my contract which allows me to leave now. The clause had a time limitation, meaning I could not wait.
I love my staff, I love my colleagues, and I love the crews. That is the hardest part of this decision as they are wonderful people.
And most of all? I love the viewers — even the ones who have gotten mad at me over the years and taken swipes. :)
I hope to continue my career in broadcasting.
The removal of Van Susteren — and her replacement by Hume — means good things for the network’s political coverage. Van Susteren has occasionally provided a ripple-free harbor for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, most notably in late May, when she ran a special titled “Meet the Trumps.” “It’s time to meet the Trumps,” said Van Susteren in opening the special. A brief bio of Trump himself minimized his missteps and aggrandized his “leadership,” and it was followed by a series of sweet interviews with Trump family members. “What’s the one word you think that describes him?” asked Van Susteren of Melania Trump. She responded, “Amazing heart, amazing mind. Leader, that’s what I say. Leader.”
The host even assisted Trump in fending off requests from reporters that he release his tax returns. For months, Trump has refused to do so, citing an ongoing IRS audit. “As soon as the audit’s complete, like any lawyer would tell you. Greta Van Susteren — she was going over it a while ago. She’s a lawyer,” said Trump in late July. “She said no lawyer would let somebody release a tax return when they’re under audit.”
Such kindness to Trump leaves an impression, as some Twitter traffic today made clear:
Even colleague Hume lumped Van Susteren in with the Fox News pro-Trump crowd, as per this Twitter exchange:
In a clear example of bad judgment, Van Susteren extended herself in defending Ailes in early July. Just a few utterances to People magazine managed to defend Ailes and doubt Carlson: “Of course, the first thing that occurred to me is that, unfortunately, we have a disgruntled employee, a colleague,” she told People. “I read that her show wasn’t being renewed and, being a lawyer, I thought she got angry,” said Van Susteren to the magazine. “I deal with Roger Ailes often. I’ve often been alone with Roger Ailes in his office over the course of 15 years and I’ve never seen anything like what I’m reading about in the papers and the magazine….People come to me because I’ve been there so long. That’s why this doesn’t have any ring of truth to me. I would have heard it. People don’t keep things silent.”
This complaint-that-didn’t-have-the-ring-of-truth, by the way, just fetched a $20 million settlement with 21st Century Fox. As part of the deal, 21st Century Fox even apologized to Carlson, saying, in part, “We are proud that she was part of the Fox News team. We sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve.”
After the scope of Ailes’s sexual harassment became clear in July, the Erik Wemple Blog asked Van Susteren if she had an apology for Carlson. No way! blared Van Susteren in a post on her blog, Gretawire (which became defunct moments ago). In reciting the things she said after the suit against Ailes, Van Susteren was a bit choosy:
At the outset of the Roger Ailes investigation, right after Gretchen Carlson lawsuit hit the papers, I said:
1/ I never heard of the sexual harassment allegations – no one ever came to me and said anything to me about it – not once;
2/ I never saw it
3/ It never happened to me
4/ I said that Gretchen Carlson was unhappy when she was at Fox News (she told me that a few years back when we both happened to be in London covering the same story but never said it was sexual harassment.)
What she left out: The part about saying that Carlson’s suit didn’t have the “ring of truth.” After this blog criticized Van Susteren for selective memory and hard-headedness, she dug in a bit further.
Before Van Susteren goes about extending her career in broadcasting, perhaps she should clean up the mess she left behind with her comments on Ailes. Whatever ends up happening, we’re likely to hear more from her, whether it’s on television or on her blog, which serves as a model for how TV talent should communicate with their audience.