Mr. Trump has made dozens of appearances on the network, the vast majority of his one-on-one interviews as president. And he is a devoted viewer, often tweeting his real-time reactions to Fox News shows.
Stars like Mr. Hannity and Jesse Watters — “my Watters,” as Mr. Trump called him at a Friday rally — have dined at the White House. Mr. Hannity and Ms. Pirro once took the stage with Mr. Trump during a campaign rally in Rush Limbaugh’s hometown, Cape Girardeau, Mo.
At the Fox News headquarters in Manhattan, the closeness has brought unease, with the reporting staff and the opinion hosts increasingly at odds over how to cover Mr. Trump and the impeachment inquiry.
Chris Wallace, the “Fox News Sunday” host, has conducted tough interviews with administration players like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. But last month, a guest on Mr. Carlson’s show heckled Andrew Napolitano, the network’s legal analyst, calling him a “fool” for saying that Mr. Trump may have committed a crime. The next day, on his 3 p.m. news program “Shepard Smith Reporting,” Mr. Smith called the guest’s comment “repugnant”; Mr. Carlson fired back with the suggestion that Mr. Smith had a liberal bias.
On Friday, Mr. Smith, the network’s chief anchor and managing editor of its breaking news unit, who had once called out Mr. Trump for “lie after lie after lie,” revealed that he had had enough. In a surprise announcement, he said he would leave the network after 23 years; friends said he was dismayed at the in-house deference given to Mr. Trump’s prime-time cheerleaders.
Such is the scrutiny on Fox News that a theory sprang up on social media tying Mr. Smith’s departure to a meeting last week between Rupert Murdoch and the attorney general, William Barr. In fact, Mr. Smith had been considering an exit for weeks. (It remains unclear what the Barr-Murdoch meeting entailed; aides to both men have declined to elaborate, and the president claimed, in comments to reporters on Friday, that he was unaware of what they discussed.) Still, the Barr-Murdoch meeting hinted at the unusual closeness between a news network and a presidential administration.