Gawker’s J.K. Trotter reports today that “multiple sources” say Fox News anchor Shepard Smith approached network honcho Roger Ailes about the possibility of coming out as gay and was rebuffed. Smith subsequently was moved from prime-time to an afternoon slot, a move that one of the sources in the story called a “demotion.”
Trotter’s piece involves dramatic events at a picnic:
A few weeks before approaching Ailes about coming out, Smith surprised Fox staffers by bringing his boyfriend, a 26-year-old Fox producer named Gio Graziano, to a company picnic at Ailes’s compound in Garrison, New York. Held annually on Independence Day weekend, the picnic is a small gathering—only executives, on-air talent, and their frontline producers are invited—so Smith likely felt comfortable bringing along his steady partner.
Despite the intimate venue, the new couple put several Fox executives on high alert. According to multiple sources with knowledge of the picnic, the most dramatic reaction came from Bill Shine, the channel’s Executive Vice President of Programming. Shine “flipped out,” one source said, after* Smith introduced Graziano to attendees. (Within and outside of Fox, Shine, who is 50 and grew up on Long Island, carries a reputation for insensitivity toward gay people. “He’s a major, major homophobe,” a Fox insider said.)
This doesn’t look good for the news network, which, politics aside, is owned by 21st Century Fox, a public company whose diversity statement asserts that “embracing” individuals of different backgrounds and sexual orientations is a corporate goal.
Additionally, “multiple sources with knowledge of the picnic” is the hot new catchphrase of the summer.
Update, April 30, 4:50 p.m.: Gawker has corrected its story to indicate that Shine may not, in fact, have been in attendance at the picnic but says he reacted negatively after hearing later that Smith had brought his boyfriend to it. We’ve altered the excerpt above to reflect Gawker’s current wording. Meanwhile, a Fox News spokesperson has passed on the following statements from Ailes, Smith, and Shine. From Ailes and Smith jointly:
This story is 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.
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.