Although left-leaning Americans may disparage Fox News as a source of conservative opinion rather than objective news, Shep Smith and Neil Cavuto have earned their stripes as legitimate journalists.

Over a week ago, Smith, a veteran broadcast journalist, stepped down from Fox. The unbiased reporting of this authentic journalist was a little unusual for Fox, which is more known for touting conservative viewpoints over more liberal ones, just as other outlets like MSNBC have a liberal bent.

Many on the left felt sure Smith was forced out, because of a meeting between a Trump administration official and the owner of Fox, Rupert Murdoch. But that's likely a conspiracy theory: Smith said Fox executives asked him to stay, but "graciously" let him leave. And the idea that he would want to go comes as no surprise to other journalists, who shun licking the boots of politicians over reporting the truth, although giving up a $15 million gig would give almost anyone pause.

Smith's departure further thins the ranks of journalists at Fox. And make no mistake: Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson are not journalists, per se; they are not unbiased enough to earn that label, and they aren't supposed to be. These men are commentators, and very successful ones. But their job is to advance opinions, not news. And some Fox viewers might be surprised to learn Smith's ratings were better than those of his counterparts at other networks, so President Trump's speculating that "bad ratings" cost Smith his job are likely more a reflection of his own experience as a reality show host, rather than Smith's as a purveyor of truth and fact.

When detractors insisted Smith was drop-kicked to the curb, his pithy response - "Sometimes facts are displeasing; journalists report them without fear or favor" - rings true. At some point for those trained as watchdogs of government, ethics will win out over salary, comfort, or fan base. That is probably what happened with Smith - and he was backed up a few days later on Fox by Cavuto, whose stinging rebuke of Trump is worth watching:

Cavuto told listeners Trump has asserted "to fact-check him is to be 'dead' to him." That sounds more like a remark from the dictator of a communist or fascist regime than president of the U.S. What patriotic American, political leanings aside, would seriously believe a politician shouldn't be answerable to the public, with the legitimate media as conveyor of this information, just as the Framers intended? Or have we reached the point that if a politician validates our own opinions, we believe anything he or she says without question?

Cavuto observed that with Trump, there are "no grays, no middle ground; you're either all in or you're all out," and reminded viewers of Trump's statement that "Fox isn't working for us anymore." Cavuto pointed out Fox does not work for Trump, and neither do its employees: "My job is just to report on you... to keep the scores, not settle the scores. You're not a fan when it's stuff you don't like to hear." Cavuto informed Trump that being fact-checked "comes with the job" of president. He added, "Sorry you don't like these facts being brought up. 'Fake' is when it's wrong, not when it's unpleasant." He capped off his verbal screed this way: "... because you're the leader of the free world doesn't entitle you to a free pass; unfortunately, just a free press."

He's spot-on. Any media outlet that is beholden to, or bows at the feet of, any politician - left or right - is not producing journalism, and is neither free nor independent. That doesn't mean journalists and their companies don't have opinions; they do, and they run the gamut.. The test is whether an outlet will tolerate opinions that differ from its own. Legitimate ones will.

Where readers and viewers must draw the line is between news, and commentary about that news. When the lines are blurred by the medium itself, good journalists sometimes take a powder. As well they should.

Recommended for you