Cable-news anchors come and go all the time. They often are lured by more lucrative contracts, pushed out by jittery executives or just grow tired of the grind.

The abrupt and immediate departure of Shepard Smith from Fox News falls into none of those categories. On Friday afternoon, the longtime host delivered an emotional farewell to his viewers: “Recently, I asked the company to allow me to leave Fox News," said the 55-year-old Smith, who had been with the network since its 1996 launch. “After requesting that I stay, they obliged. . . . This is my last newscast here. Thank you for watching today and over the decades. . . . Even in our currently polarized nation, it’s my hope that the facts will win the day. That the truth will always matter, that journalism and journalists will thrive.”

With that, the host bid adieu to one of the few — in the view of some, the only — redoubts of legitimately straight news at Fox News. Network founder Roger Ailes, who died in 2017, designed Fox News in a way that mimics and corrupts the traditional division between news and opinion at American newspapers. When opinion hosts such as Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Tucker Carlson have twisted the facts beyond repair, the network has always responded that they’re leveraging their liberties as opinion people.

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On the other side of Fox News reside news shows such as the morning program “America’s Newsroom," “Special Report" with Bret Baier, and "The Story” with Martha MacCallum. And then there was Smith’s program, set apart from all other Fox News programs for the blunt honesty with which the show’s host fact-checked President Trump with every last broadcast. Smith routinely made headlines among media observers with his straight delivery and reliance upon easily documented facts to rebut Trump and his allies. No-nonsense delivery of news during the Trump era made Smith’s program a significant aberration at Fox News — not to mention a sore point for die-hard fans of Hannity & Co., as the Erik Wemple Blog discovered upon visiting a Fox Nation event in Arizona earlier this year.

To have one anchor discussing the hard facts of Trumpism, while other anchors devise every excuse in their conspiratorial heads — well, that would create some fissures in even the most rough-and-tumble news organization. And so it was at Fox News, as Smith and Hannity and Carlson engaged in public feuding in regard to one another’s coverage of the president. “I wouldn’t work there," said Smith of his opinion counterparts back in March 2018, noting that they exist “strictly to be entertaining.”

That, actually, is too kind: They exist to enrich themselves, too, all the while deceiving the American public.

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Clueless” is how Hannity described Smith’s comments.

The feelings have lurked: In late September, Smith butted heads with Carlson after a guest on Carlson’s program called Fox News’s Andrew Napolitano a “fool” for some critical remarks he’d made about Trump. That Carlson didn’t challenge that characterization was “repugnant,” concluded Smith. To which, Carlson said, “Unlike maybe some dayside hosts, I’m not very partisan." Though Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reported that Fox News management told Smith to “stop attacking Carlson,” network spokeswoman Irena Briganti denied to this blog that it was addressed with Smith. “At no time did anyone — including anyone in management or a third party — speak to Shepard Smith regarding that matter. Anything to the contrary is entirely false and wildly inaccurate,” said Briganti in a statement.

In his public-facing remarks, Smith made no mention of these tensions. Under the agreement he reached with the network, Smith won’t be reporting elsewhere for the “near future" — perhaps a sign that he really wanted out of a network that, especially in its most lucrative hours, works efficiently, enthusiastically and tirelessly as a propaganda bullhorn for Trump. “Shepard Smith Reporting” will be replaced with “Fox News Reporting,” which will rely on anchoring from Trace Gallagher and Jon Scott, among others.

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Neither of those men furnishes the gravitas that Smith brought to the 3 o’clock hour. He’d carved out his own hour of honesty at Fox News on account of unique circumstances: He’d been there forever, he’d covered everything, he could communicate with an audience. There’ll be no replicating what Smith accomplished, and there’ll be no mistaking the implications. Facts are losing their tenuous foothold at Fox News.

Read more from Erik Wemple:

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