Does Catherine Herridge Leaving for CBS News Portend a Left Turn for Fox News?
The announcement last Thursday that popular veteran Fox News reporter Catherine Herridge would be leaving the channel the following day – and moving to a new job as Senior Investigative Correspondent at CBS News later this month – took both viewers and media watchers by complete surprise. On the heels of the declaration three weeks earlier by prominent Fox News Channel news host Shepard Smith during his afternoon program that he would be leaving the channel that same day, the news about Herridge occasioned an immediate wealth of wild speculation by pundits weighing in with their opinions about what her departure means for the future of Fox News.
For example, an article at a popular conservative site, Wayne Dupree dot com (currently ranked #1,430 of all U.S. Web sites by Alexa), offered the headline “Need More Proof Fox News is Circling The Drain? Award-Winning Journalist Catherine Herridge is Leaving:”
As Fox News circles the liberal drain, Herridge was one of the reasons to keep watching, because she embodied the “fair and balanced” mantra that Fox abandoned years ago.
This kind of fact-challenged spin typifies a popular online meme about Fox News that has been circulating among conservatives during the past two years – the assertion that the channel is taking a major “turn to the left.” Before revisiting the validity of that claim, it is useful to review some actual facts, and also to consider a modicum of not unreasonable speculation, about Catherine Herridge’s departure from Fox News.
Fifty-five and Counting: Time for a Break?
Catherine Herridge is now 55 years old. She has worked at Fox News as a reporter since the channel launched in October 1996. Previously, she worked at ABC News. Initially at Fox, she was a political reporter known for covering the post-White House political career of Hillary Rodham Clinton and also for reporting a wide variety of breaking news stories. In recent years, Herridge has had the title Chief Intelligence Correspondent and has appeared on both FNC news and conservative prime time opinion programs, reporting on developments in the cases of alleged Russia collusion and, in recent weeks, the efforts to impeach President Donald Trump.
Catherine Herridge on the Fox News Channel
In breaking the news about Herridge’s departure from Fox News in an article at Variety last Thursday at 7:34 A.M. E.T., David Steinberg wrote:
Herridge’s move is said to have been in the works for several weeks, and is not tied to [Shepard] Smith’s exit. Her contract with Fox News lapsed this summer, and the network had been negotiating to get her to stay, according to a person familiar with the matter. She has not been known for jousting with the opinion programs, making frequent appearances on Fox News’ most-watched program, “Hannity.” The opportunity to move to CBS News was seen as one she could not turn down, this person said.
In 2006, Herridge gained attention apart from her reporting when mainstream media, including the Washington Post, reported that:
D.C.-based Fox News correspondent Catherine Herridge is scheduled to donate part of her liver to her infant son in surgery expected to last 10 hours today at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Herridge's son Peter was born in December  with the rare condition known as biliary atresia. Herridge, 42, covers homeland security for the cable network. Both mother and son face about two months of recovery after the surgery.
It’s now thirteen years later, and Herridge has two teenage children including a son, now thirteen, who at one time was gravely ill. Her schedule at Fox News recently has been grueling, including not only on camera news reports during the day but live appearances well into the evening hours on prime-time opinion programs like Hannity, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and the Ingraham Angle. One possible explanation for her leaving Fox News is that a less-demanding job at CBS News – which like the other alphabet channels rarely covers breaking news anymore – will afford her a more flexible and less demanding work schedule.
People outside of the breaking news business often fail to realize the exhausting nature of reporting the news today – really reporting, that is, which has been Herridge’s stock in trade. This is why most of the reporters you see on the cable television news channels are young, and not only for their youthful good looks; it tends to be a young person’s game.
So, it’s entirely plausible that Catherine Herridge, after almost four decades in the trenches reporting breaking news, has reached a point in her career of wanting to wind it down a notch or two. One is hard pressed in these times to maintain one’s job on the day-to-day, crazy news cycle schedule forever. And not only that. As essentially a mainstream, non-ideological news person, Herridge might understandably at this point be looking to spend the next few years in a media environment that is perceived as less controversial and ideologically-driven. The facts, of course, are that Fox News is, in fact, the most fair and balanced mainstream news media source but that is far from the almost universally skewed perception of it in major media and academic circles.
A tenure at CBS News, which is part of what used to be called the “Tiffany Network,” will likely burnish or restore Herridge’s reputation as a mainstream reporter of the top tier, positioning her for a rewarding post-broadcast future in academia, writing, public speaking, or serving on corporate boards.
CBS News No Longer Murrow’s and Cronkite’s Boys’ Club
The long-running era of CBS News as the stomping ground for Edward R. “Murrow’s Boys” and their decades of male successors, including in top management positions, is no more.
A more hospitable and welcoming environment for a female news person than CBS News would be hard to find today. Under its current management, CBS News has become an especially friendly shop for women. As one of her first acts last spring, the newly installed CBS News President, the “legendary” Susan Zirinsky, 67, fired CBS Evening News host Jeff Glor and elevated Nora O’Donnell to the lead anchor position. Meanwhile, Gayle King was anointed as the top anchor at CBS’s 2-hour daily morning show. In the wake of the ignominious departure two years ago of prominent host Charlie Rose, one of the first casualties of the #MeToo movement, women are now firmly in charge of CBS News.
Since Herridge has never worn her own politics on her sleeve, the claim by some that her departure has a hidden meaning beyond the person and her own needs is hard to credit. The two most prominent FNC news people who preceded Herridge in leaving, Carl Cameron and Shepard Smith, are both unabashedly left of center. Cameron, the channel’s most prominent political campaign reporter for two decades, bashed Fox News after leaving the channel and has joined a new progressive site, Front Page Live. A year and a half before he abandoned the FNC ship, Shep Smith came out openly criticizing the conservative direction of FNC. Less than two weeks after Shepard Smith quit Fox News, CNN head Jeff Zucker, responsible for taking CNN in its hard left direction, commented “that he's interested in hiring former Fox News anchor Shepard Smith when he's able to join a new company,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. If anything, the departure from FNC of these two men, Cameron and Smith, would seem to promise better days ahead for the prospects of fair reporting from the Fox News channel’s news department.
The Wider Angle View
Looking at the bigger picture, much of the recent conservative criticism of Fox News is largely the product of the channel’s de facto competitors, including “citizen journalists” and YouTube political podcasters. The reality is that the financial success of their platforms depends on them dissing Fox News and saying to their Internet audience, in effect, “Since you can’t trust the MSM including Fox News, turn it all off and pay attention to and support me instead.”
Despite a few left-leaning news people, including Chris Wallace (who hosts one show a week on FNC), and leftist contributors like Donna Brazile, Juan Williams, Marie Harf, and Jessica Tarlov, conservatives outnumber liberals on Fox News by a significant ratio, not only in quantity but in quality. (Does the left have anyone on Fox, for example, who can come close to the excellence of a Victor Davis Hanson?)
For the past two years, the entire prime time opinion program line-up on Fox News has been hosted by conservatives. The seven day a week 3- or 4-hour morning show Fox & Friends is hosted by conservatives (with the exception of co-host Ed Henry on weekends). Mark Levin, Jeanine Pirro, Greg Gutfeld, Jesse Watters, and Steve Hilton in prime time on the weekends are all conservatives. Finally, Fox News is the only cable news channel to promote and broadcast President Trump’s campaign speeches live, uninterrupted, and in their entirety, even allowing them to preempt scheduled prime time programming. This is what happened last Friday when Hannity at 9 P.M. E.T. was completely preempted by President Trump’s rally in Mississippi.
Catherine Herridge’s departure, absent any factual evidence to the contrary, should not be immediately interpreted as having an ominous broader meaning about the future of Fox News and its direction leading up to the 2020 elections. That, of course, could change in the future. Nothing in media today is set in stone. For the moment, however, with impeachment of the president and next year’s critical elections looming, and considering the competition of CNN and MSNBC, I am comfortable with the Fox News channel status quo.
Peter Barry Chowka writes about politics, media, popular culture, and health care for American Thinker and other publications. Peter's website is http://peter.media. Follow him on Twitter at @pchowka.