On Tuesday afternoon, Fox News employees gathered in Studio F, the opulent new set on the ground floor of the company's Manhattan headquarters, for the network's quarterly meeting.
Executives at the meeting boasted about the network's high ratings. They bragged about the outlet's increased digital presence. As one employee told CNN, "The theme was all very positive."
But the positive feelings coming out of the meeting soon subsided. A note sent by retired Lt. Colonel Ralph Peters, a longtime Fox News analyst, leaked to BuzzFeed. In the note to a handful of colleagues, Peters said that he could not in good conscience renew his contract with the network, explaining that he believed Fox News had become a "propaganda machine" for President Donald Trump.
"The thing hit like a bombshell," a longtime Fox News employee, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter, told CNN.
The stunning note reverberated through the Fox News community. Employees passed it along to other employees, people familiar with the matter said, with many agreeing with the thrust of the note: That Fox News opinion personalities were out of control in their devotion to Trump. One employee even told CNN that they were "jealous" about the way Peters made a splash on his way out and that the person "fantasized" about doing the same.
And it wasn't only the rank-and-file employees who were talking about it. Fox News executives were "rattled" by the leak, afraid that the story has the potential to grow legs, as Peters is a fierce conservative with a lot of credibility within the conservative community, a person familiar with the matter told CNN.
Indeed, it's possible Peters could speak out on rival networks after he is freed from the constraints of his contract, which he said is set to expire next week. And he's not someone who can be characterized as sympathetic to liberal views. He once called President Obama a "total p***y" on-air, a move that earned him a two-week suspension from Fox News.
Thus far, Fox News has only issued a statement in which the network said it is proud of its opinion programming and that Peters is "entitled to his opinion despite the fact that he's choosing to use it as a weapon in order to gain attention." A spokesperson for the network did not provide comment for this story.
Peters' note, however, underscored the divide at Fox News between the network's opinion programming and hard news. Peters cited the Fox News opinion hosts' relentless attacks on the FBI, Justice Department, intelligence agencies, and other branches of government and said he believed Fox News was knowingly causing harm to the country in exchange for profit. His comments helped expand a rift that has grown incredibly deep as of late, the longtime Fox News employee told CNN.
In fact, it's started to boil over into public view. In October, "Fox News Sunday" anchor Chris Wallace told the Associated Press he was bothered by how some of his colleagues on the opinion side of the network used their platforms to attack the media. And Shepard Smith, the chief news anchor at Fox News, was critical of the Fox News opinion bloc in a story published last week.
Smith's comments last week prompted Sean Hannity, the face of the Fox News prime time lineup, to publicly skewer him in a tweet. Hannity said Smith was "clueless" about what Hannity does on his show each night. Laura Ingraham, the latest addition to the Fox News lineup, added fuel to the fire, tweeting that she thought Smith's comments were "inconsiderate & inaccurate."