Air war breaks out between Fox News Channel hosts

The ideological war between prominent Fox News channel program hosts that I first reported on eighteen months ago has gone hot — and this time, the dust-up is approaching near-nuclear levels of direct on-camera mano a mano.  The combatants are veteran Fox News afternoon news program host Shepard Smith and prime-time opinion show host Tucker Carlson.  The foil for pouring gasoline on the long simmering fire between the Fox News opinion and news department sides is prominent Washington, D.C. Republican attorney Joseph diGenova.

Appearing on Tucker Carlson Tonight on Tuesday at 8 P.M. E.T., diGenova called Fox News paid contributor Andrew Napolitano, the channel's "senior judicial analyst," "a fool" for saying on Shepard Smith's show earlier that afternoon that President Trump had clearly committed a crime in his July 25 phone conversation with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Andrew Napolitano on Shepard Smith Reporting, Sept. 24, 2019.


I think Judge Napolitano is a fool. And what he said today is foolish.

When I wrote about the first public skirmishes in this internal Fox News war in March 2018, Smith — a consistent critic of President Trump — was critical of Napolitano for defending the 45th POTUS.  More recently, Napolitano has shifted ground and can be counted on to sound more like a CNN or MSNBC commentator when the subject of Donald Trump comes up.

On his next show on Wednesday, Smith interviewed Napolitano once again, and they both took off on diGenova — with Smith not only criticizing diGenova, but appearing to take the unprecedented further step of directly criticizing Carlson, as well.  Directly addressing the camera with a mien of seriousness, Smith intoned:

Last night on this network during prime time opinion programming, a partisan guest who supports President Trump was asked about Judge Napolitano's legal assessment and when he was asked, he said unchallenged "Judge Napolitano is a fool." Attacking our colleague, who is here to offer legal assessments, on our air in our work home is repugnant.

Shepard Smith on Shepard Smith Reporting, Sept. 25, 2019.

The feud continued on Wednesday evening, when Carlson brought diGenova back for round three in the fight.  After playing the relevant video clips of Napolitano, diGenova, and Smith — including the moment where Smith commented that what was said on Carlson's show Tuesday was "repugnant" — Carlson noted, while smiling and laughing:

Repugnant! It's not clear if that was you [diGenova] or me, but someone's repugnant!

Tucker Carlson (left) and Joseph diGenova on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Sept. 25, 2019.

Carlson next played another clip of Napolitano from Wednesday's Shepard Smith Reporting and made several comments that are sure to keep the dispute between him and Smith going (emphasis added):

Now unlike maybe some dayside host, I'm not very partisan. ... I also know that some things are subjective and people of goodwill have differing views. So that's why it doesn't seem honest to me when a host — any host on any channel including this one — pretends that the answer is obvious, that there is an ironclad consensus about what the answer is, when there in fact isn't — when it's a subjective question. That's not what news is, is it?

As I documented in my March 19, 2018 American Thinker article, Fox News hosts had previously criticized each other in comments to journalists that were cited in news articles and in tweets — but never on any of their programs.  For their disagreements to have broken out now on the news channel itself represents a new front in this ongoing internal ideological war.

Representatives of the Fox News channel news side — namely, Smith, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace — have taken pains over time to distinguish themselves as objective newsmen as opposed to the channel's prime-time, highly rated, and often attacked conservative opinion-meisters — Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham.  Carlson calling out Smith for being "partisan" and not "honest" raises the ante considerably.

Looking back at what was going on as I reported in my article 18 months ago, I quoted a high-level source at Fox News who had tipped me six weeks earlier in February 2018 about the bad blood that was brewing between the channel's news and opinion sectors.  This internal cold war was soon to go public in a variety of news articles, including a fawning profile of Smith in left-wing Time and another puff piece in The Washington Post.  My source, who requested anonymity, told me:

Shep [Smith] and [Chris] Wallace have taken pot shots at [Fox News] opinion programming.  It's a never-ending source of laughter at how [expletive deleted] their ratings are and how they are "pretend journalists" who seem incapable of ever breaking any real news.

The [prime time] opinion programming side of Fox is openly mocked in the halls of Fox by what they [the opinion programming hosts and staff] call "the so-called news division."

The horrendous ratings of Chris Wallace and Shep Smith [Smith's total viewing audience is about 50% of what the prime-time hosts pull in] show how out of touch they are with the Fox audience, and the general consensus is that both Shep and Chris should just pack up and go to work for MSNBC or CNN because the Fox audience hates their biased views.

One need only to look at Fox News election night [coverage in] 2016.  They [Smith and Wallace] were absolutely and visibly stunned by Donald Trump's victory.

And now the internal Fox News battle is joined anew. Stay tuned for further developments that are almost sure to come.

Peter Barry Chowka writes about politics, media, popular culture, and health care for American Thinker and other publications.  Peter's website is  Follow him on Twitter at @pchowka.

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