Shepard Smith, or rather the outing of Shepard Smith, has been the white whale of Gawker’s J.K. Trotter for months now. Trotter was the one who “broke the story” about Shep losing his cool at a Manhattan bar back in October of last year, which provided him with an excuse to mention that Shep was in the company of a man and that they seemed intimate; he’s the one who delved into that relationship just a couple of days later; he’s the one who almost literally stalked Shep at a journalists’ gathering last month to the point where he was thrown out. So you have to take anything Trotter writes about Shep with a grain of salt, because so far there’s no news value in the question of whether Shepard Smith is or isn’t gay. As I’ve said before, it’s only news if Shep wants to make it news and it may not be news even then. I thought we’d moved beyond this kind of thing in our culture but there’s no accounting for what can happen when a pissy Gawker writer gets a bug up his ass.
That said, there is one thing that would, in fact, make Shep’s sexual orientation fair game for the press, and that’s if it could be proven that it has in some way impacted his status at Fox News. So lo and behold, what do we have today but J.K. Trotter claiming that he has it on good authority that Shep Smith was “demoted” at Fox News because he wanted to publicly come out.
The details, according to Trotter:
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, when 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.)
If it’s true, of course this is a big deal. It would prove what people have been wondering about Fox News with regard to Shep’s sexual orientation for quite some time: essentially, how can a network that’s so right-wing back Shep? It wouldn’t, however, answer the question of why Shep is sitting still for this kind of treatment if Trotter’s story is for real. Sure, he’s making a fortune right now at FNC but he could pretty much go anywhere he wanted in television and make just as much, with even more on-air clout.
I’m pretty well-versed in spotting demotions disguised as promotions or lateral moves in TV news and no major alarms went off in my head when Shep got his new gig and impressive new set, but there’s no denying that anytime you’re taken off prime-time questions should be asked. The fact is that true or not, several outlets are already running with this so at some point it may be something that needs to be officially addressed.