Fox News is denying allegations that anchor Shepard Smith was demoted after approaching network chief Roger Ailes about the possibility of publicly coming out as gay.
In a story published Wednesday by Gawker, the New York-based news and gossip site, the anchor attended Ailes' annual Fourth of July picnic with a colleague said to be his boyfriend. According to Gawker, around the same time Smith was also renegotiating his contract with the network and had asked Ailes for the OK to publicly acknowledge his sexuality.
Concerned that their audience was "not ready for a gay anchor," Bill Shine, executive vice president of programming, allegedly convened a meeting of top-level executives and orchestrated Smith's move from "The Fox Report" at 7 p.m. to "Shepard Smith Reporting" at 3 p.m., according to the Gawker story.
On Wednesday afternoon, Fox News strenuously denounced the Gawker account.
In a joint statement, Ailes and Smith called the story "100% 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," it read.
Shine also issued the following statement:
"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. 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.”
According to a Fox News representative, Shine was on a family vacation in South Carolina and not present at the Fourth of July picnic.
"No such meeting ever took place in regard to Shep, nor would it," said the spokesperson, who also counters that Smith began speaking to Ailes about the possibility of a new role in April 2013 and was promoted to managing editor in June. Further, the spokesperson added, as part of the news division Smith is overseen by Michael Clemente, executive vice president of news, and Jay Wallace, senior vice president of news, not Shine, who is in charge of the network's opinion programming.
Smith's sexuality has been the subject of continued speculation at Gawker. In November, New York Times media columnist David Carr suggested the website's focus on the anchor's personal life was "sadly old school."