New York (CNN Business)A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
On Thursday night he hosted the Committee to Protect Journalists’ annual fund-raising dinner.
This was Smith’s first public appearance after he abruptly left Fox News last month. He embraced several of his former colleagues, including John Roberts and Jennifer Griffin, who were seated at tables near the front. He accepted congratulations from other journalists who lined up to say hello at a pre-gala reception. He joked about whether he’d remember how to use the TelePrompTer.
“I have long admired the work” of CPJ, he said, recalling how the group helped when two Fox staffers were kidnapped in Gaza in 2006.
“Tonight,” he announced, “I’m donating half a million dollars to this cause.”
“It’s your turn,” he added after a standing ovation, urging others to donate.
The gala raised about $2.7 million for the nonprofit’s mission of defending the rights of journalists around the world.
Smith didn’t say anything about Fox during his remarks, nor did he bring up President Trump by name. His resignation from Fox, in the middle of a multi-year contract, came amid increasing tensions between Fox’s news division and the network’s pro-Trump opinion shows.
Smith did speak generally about press freedom. “Intimidation and vilification of the press is now a global phenomenon. We don’t have to look far for evidence of that,” he said.
Smith also said “we know that journalists are sometimes wary of being perceived as activists for some cause. But press freedom is not the preserve of one political group or one political party. It’s a value embedded in our very foundational documents. Journalists need to join hands to defend it.”
He thanked the 43 news outlets and organizations that have joined a new public service announcement campaign called Protect Press Freedom. Other Murdoch-owned properties, including the Wall Street Journal, are supporting the campaign, but so far Fox News has not joined.
Joel Simon, the executive director of CPJ, spoke at the end of the evening and said that the U.S. president’s anti-press rhetoric “is empowering autocratic leaders around the world, who are cracking down with greater ferocity.”
Earlier in the week, Simon and other officials of the group had a long-sought-after meeting with Vice President Pence. Simon wrote in an op-ed for USA Today that “a group of courageous journalists from Pakistan, Nicaragua, Tanzania, India and Brazil” attended the meeting.
Those journalists were honored at Thursday’s gala.
“Several of the journalists raised concern about the proliferation of laws criminalizing ‘fake news’ and the ways these laws are used to target critical media,” Simon wrote, citing the term that Trump weaponized in late 2016. Pence “was deeply engaged by these stories and reaffirmed his commitment to press freedom,” according to Simon.
So what about Trump? That’s the obvious question. “The journalists who met with Vice President Pence told him they would like the United States to be an ally and an inspiration. He seemed to get this,” Simon wrote. “Let’s hope he can persuade his boss.”