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“Why hasn’t Shepard Smith come out yet?” asks the left-leaning website Gawker.
Gawker claims the popular Fox News anchor was “silenced and punished” after approaching CEO Roger Ailes last summer about going public about his homosexuality.
But now Ailes and Smith are firing back, calling the story “100 percent false and a complete fabrication.”
“As colleagues and close friends at Fox News for 18 years, our relationship has always been rooted in a mutual respect, deep admiration, loyalty, trust, and full support both professionally and personally,” they wrote in a joint statement.
The Gawker story claims Smith approached Ailes and his Fox News colleagues about coming out of the closet after bringing his boyfriend, a 26-year-old Fox producer named Gio Graziano, to a small company picnic at Ailes’ home in 2013.
“It’s time,” Smith purportedly said.
Ailes told Smith he could not come out because the network’s conservative audience would not tolerate a “gay” anchor, claims Gawker.
“This came up during contract negotiations,” an anonymous Fox staffer reportedly told Gawker. “Shep wanted to and was ready to come out, and Roger just said ‘no.'”
As WND reported, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper came out of the closet in 2012 to announce he is homosexual.
Cooper, the son of fashion designer and author Gloria Vanderbilt, is the fifth openly homosexual anchor in the cable-news business. He joins CNN colleagues Don Lemon and Jane Velez-Mitchell, and MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts and Rachel Maddow.
While those cable news stars remain in their high-profile positions, Gawker asserts Smith was subsequently booted from the prime-time lineup in September 2013, a move Fox News said was a promotion.
“Everyone knew that Shep was getting demoted,” Gawker claims it was told by someone inside Fox News. “And the coming out thing was a significant part of that.”
The anonymous source describes how Fox News executive Bill Shine “flipped out” over Smith’s appearance at the picnic. The staffer describes Shine as “a major, major homophobe” who then called a meeting among high-level executives to argue against Smith’s plans.
“His fear was that Shep’s audience would implode,” an individual familiar with the meeting told Gawker. His argument: Fox News viewers are not ready for a “gay” anchor.
Shine, with Ailes’ approval, then 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,” according to the website.
“Roger has known Shep has been gay for a long time,” a current Fox staffer told Gawker.
This latest controversy isn’t the first time the Fox News star has found himself on the receiving end of the media spotlight.
WND reported on Smith’s arrest in 2001 for allegedly driving his car into another reporter who was standing in a parking space she attempted to save for a friend. Smith went unpunished by Fox News for what police say was aggravated assault with a motor vehicle and criminal charges against him were eventually dropped.
Smith joined Fox News as a field reporter when the network launched in 1996 and has always been effusive in his praise for his boss Ailes.
“Roger has always had my back and never lied to me and never told me what to say,” Smith once said. “He treats me with respect and has given me every opportunity.”
The Gawker story also claims Ailes ordered the channel’s media-relations shop to control any leaks or coverage of Smith’s homosexuality.
Shine released his own statement of support for Smith today, calling Gawker’s assertions “pure fiction.”
“Over the past 18 years, we’ve had the privilege of working with Shepard Smith throughout his incredible rise from a field reporter to chief news anchor and his recent promotion to managing editor,” Shine writes. “Throughout his entire tenure here, Roger Ailes and I have fully supported him in both a professional and personal capacity. We have never asked Shep to discuss or not discuss his private life, and the notion of us having an issue with anyone’s sexuality is not only insulting, but pure fiction. We renewed his contract in June 2013 based on this full support as well as his exemplary journalism. He’s the gold standard of this profession and we’re extremely proud to call him the face of our news division.”