The growing divide between Fox News' pro-Trump opinion hosts and news anchors is on full display

Fox NewsNews headlines scroll above tthe Fox News studios in the News Corporation headquarters building, in New York, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017.AP

  • A tonal rift between Fox News' opinion hosts and anchors became more apparent amid the whistleblower scandal that has clouded Capitol Hill this week.
  • During Fox News anchor Shepard Smith's show on Tuesday, former judge Andrew Napolitano described the Trump White House as being "on very thin ice" and unequivocally said it was a "crime for the president to solicit aid for his campaign from a foreign government."
  • Hours later, on Fox News opinion host Tucker Carlson's show, his guest, former US Attorney Joseph diGenova, called Napolitano a "fool."
  • Smith later characterized diGenova as a "partisan guest" and challenged his derogatory comments about Napolitano.
  • Fox News executives are clamping down on Smith for his coverage, according to a Vanity Fair report published Thursday.
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A tonal rift between Fox News' opinion hosts and anchors became apparent amid the whistleblower scandal that has clouded Capitol Hill this week.

During Fox News anchor Shepard Smith's show on Tuesday, former judge Andrew Napolitano, a frequent guest on the network, described the Trump White House as being "on very thin ice" and unequivocally said it was a "crime for the president to solicit aid for his campaign from a foreign government."

Hours later, on Fox News opinion host Tucker Carlson's guest, former US Attorney Joseph diGenova, called Napolitano a "fool."

"What he said today is foolish," diGenova said, adding that President Donald Trump's statements during a controversial phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky were not considered a crime.

Trump's phone call with Zelensky on July 25 caught the attention of a whistleblower in the intelligence community, who filed a complaint alleging the president may have been abusing his office for political gain - by pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political opponents. The whistleblower complaint has since launched an investigation and spurred House Democrats to announce a formal impeachment inquiry.

On Wednesday, Napolitano, a frequent guest on the network, admitted there were a lot of attorneys who would disagree with his analysis during Smith's show. Smith characterized diGenova as a "partisan guest" and challenged his derogatory comments about Napolitano.

"Last night on this network, during primetime 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,'" Smith said on his show.

"Attacking our colleague who's here to offer legal assessments on our air, in our work home, is repugnant," he added.

Smith's previous reporting caught the attention of Trump, who likened the anchor to a competitor network and described him as Fox News's "lowest rated anchor."

"Watching Fake News CNN is better than watching Shepard Smith, the lowest rated show on @FoxNews," Trump said on Twitter on August 7.

Immediately following Trump's tweet, Smith appeared to take his coverage and his differences with the president in stride.

"Good afternoon, Mr. President," Smith said on his show after returning from a commercial break. "It's nice to have you with us."

"We're being watched as you know," Smith said to his guest with a smile. "A number of people. Some of them are not too happy. Which is too bad."

Screen Shot 2019 09 26 at 6.12.14 PMBusiness Insider

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Prior to the recent spat, a different Fox News anchor deflected the criticism from the White House and appeared to distance himself from Trump's network allies who cover him favorably.

Following a Fox News poll that showed Trump lagging behind several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates - 12 points behind former Vice President Joe Biden, nine points behind Sen. Bernie Sanders, and seven points behind Sen. Elizabeth Warren - Trump told reporters he was "not happy" and claimed "there's something going on at Fox."

Bret Baier, one of Smith's daytime colleagues and host of Fox News' "Special Report," responded by emphasizing the difference between the network's objective reporting during the day, and its opinion-focused commentary during the evening.

"Fox has not changed," Baier said during his show on August 19. "We have a news side and an opinion side. Opinion folks express their opinions. We do polls. Our latest poll had the Democratic candidates head to head, several of them ahead of President Trump."

"Mr. President, we've invited you on 'Special Report' many times," Baier added. "We'd love to have you back on."

Fox News executives are clamping down on Smith for his coverage, according to a Vanity Fair report published Thursday. CEO Suzanne Scott and president Jay Wallace directed anchor Smith, a longtime Fox News veteran, to limit covering President Donald Trump critically, according to a source who was informed of the talks, Vanity Fair reported.

"They said if he does it again, he's off the air," the person said.

A Fox News spokesperson denied to Vanity Fair that a direct conversation between executives and Smith occurred.

Smith, who has been with Fox News since 1996, previously signaled he was willing to break from his colleagues on the opinion side of the network if warranted.

"A lot of our audience is a right-wing audience," Smith said in 2017. "They're a conservative audience. They're a traditional audience. But it's not as if they don't understand that sometimes the facts aren't on your side."

"There's an enormous audience out there that won't believe that," Smith added. "Those in the far right and far left, because - so often, the facts fly in the face of your own worldview. Sometimes your side is wrong. And when they are, I'm here to give the facts. And I don't really care what you think."
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