The $787.5 million settlement between Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems spared executives and on-air talent from taking the stand in a defamation lawsuit that centered on Fox airing false claims of a stolen election in the weeks after former President Donald Trump’s 2020 loss.
The lawsuit still revealed plenty of what Fox personalities had been saying about the bogus election claims, including Tucker Carlson, the network’s top-rated host who was let go Monday. His unexplained departure has turned a spotlight on what he said in depositions, emails, and text messages among the thousands of pages Dominion released in the leadup to jury selection in the case.
Carlson’s messages lambasted the news division and management, revealed how he felt about Donald Trump, and demonstrated his skepticism of the election lies — so much so that Fox attorneys and company founder Rupert Murdoch held him up as part of their defense of the company. The judge who oversaw the case ruled that it was “ CRYSTAL clear ” none of the election claims related to Dominion was true.
Those spreading election lies
“Sidney Powell is lying,” Carlson told a Fox News producer in a Nov. 16, 2020, exchange before using expletives to describe Powell, an attorney representing Trump.
“You keep telling our viewers that millions of votes were changed by the software. I hope you will prove that very soon,” Carlson wrote to Powell a day later. “You’ve convinced them that Trump will win. If you don’t have conclusive evidence of fraud at that scale, it’s a cruel and reckless thing to keep saying.” There was no indication that Powell replied.
Fox attorneys noted that Carlson repeatedly questioned Powell’s claims in his broadcasts: “When we kept pressing, she got angry and told us to stop contacting her,” Carlson told viewers on Nov. 19, 2020.
Carlson told his audience that he had taken Powell seriously, but that she had never provided any evidence or demonstrated that the software Dominion used siphoned votes from Trump to Biden.
Carlson continued to trash Powell and Trump’s legal team in a Nov. 23, 2020, text exchange with fellow Fox host Laura Ingraham and also bemoaned what he considered the president’s passivity in the face of the two Georgia runoffs.
After saying it was “pretty disgusting” that more attorneys hadn’t pushed back on the claims of Trump’s attorneys who were trying to overturn the election results, Carlson wrote: “And now Trump, I learned this morning, is sitting back and letting them lose the senate. He doesn’t care. I care. I’ve got four kids and plan to live here.”
Fox’s 2020 election coverage
Fox viewers were outraged when the network called Arizona for Joe Biden on election night, a race call that was accurate. Fox executives and hosts began to worry about ratings as many of those viewers fled to other conservative outlets.
“We worked really hard to build what we have. Those (expletive) are destroying our credibility. It enrages me,” Carlson said in a Nov. 6, 2020, exchange with an unidentified person.
On Nov. 8, after Biden was declared the winner, Carlson texted a couple of other employees: “Do the executives understand how much trust and credibility we’ve lost with our audience? We’re playing with fire, for real.”
Later in the chain, as others bring up Newsmax as an emerging competitor, Carlson said, “With Trump behind it, an alternative like Newsmax could be devastating to us.”
In text messages to a producer on Nov 13, 2020, Carlson braced for a Trump press conference: “He’s only good at destroying,” Carlson said of the then-president.
He later added, in regard to the fraud allegations being made by Trump and his allies, “He’s playing with fire.”
In a text exchange with an unknown person on Jan. 4, 2021, Carlson expressed anger toward Trump. He said that “we are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights” and that “I truly can’t wait.”
Carlson said he had no doubt there was fraud in the 2020 election, but said Trump and his lawyers had so discredited their case — and media figures like himself — “that it’s infuriating. Absolutely enrages me.”
Addressing Trump’s four years as president, Carlson said: “We’re all pretending we’ve got a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster it’s been is too tough to digest. But come on. There really isn’t an upside to Trump.”
In texts early on the morning of Jan. 7, 2021, a day after the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol, Carlson and his longtime producer, Alex Pfeiffer, bemoaned how the rioters had believed Trump’s election lies.
“They take the president literally,” Pfeiffer said. “He is to blame for everything that happened today.”
“The problem is a little deeper than that I’d say,” Carlson replied.
“Obviously the problems are deep but at the core of it is Trump saying it was stolen,” Pfeiffer wrote.
“Not the core,” Carlson wrote. “Awful but a symptom.”
Later, Carlson writes of Trump: “He’s a demonic force, a destroyer. But he’s not going to destroy us. I’ve been thinking about this every day for four years.”
Fox news department
Some of the most heated vitriol was reserved for colleagues in the news division and included conversations with fellow on-air personalities Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity.
On Nov. 13, the week after the 2020 election, Ingraham, Carlson, and Hannity got into a text message exchange in which they lambasted the news division. It began with Ingraham pointing out a tweet by correspondent Bryan Llenas, saying he had seen no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Pennsylvania.
Carlson replied that Llenas had contacted him to apologize, then added “when has he ever ‘reported’ on anything.”
Ingraham then names another colleague who indicated there was no fraud, with Hannity responding: “Guys I’ve been telling them for 4 years. News depart that breaks no news ever.” In a subsequent Twitter message seconds later, Hannity says, “They hate hate hate all three of us.”
Ingraham responds she doesn’t “want to be liked by them” and Carlson chimes in, “They’re pathetic.” The conversation continues with Hannity bemoaning the damage that has been done to the brand: “In one week and one debate they destroyed a brand that took 25 years to build and the damage is incalculable.”
Another text conversation by the trio three days later had Ingraham telling her colleagues that her anger at the news channel was “pronounced,” followed by an “lol.” In response, Carlson attacked two Fox anchors: “It should be. We devote our lives to building an audience and they let Chris Wallace and Leland (expletive) Vittert wreck it. Too much.” Wallace and Vittert have since left the network.
The three hosts then started musing about a path forward after Ingraham says they have “enormous power,” and that they should think about how, together, they can force a change. Carlson’s response: “For sure. The first thing we need to do exactly what we want to do. That’s the key. Leland Vittert seems to have the authority to do whatever he wants. We should too.”
Associated Press writers Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta, Randall Chase in Dover, Del., and Gary Fields in Washington contributed to this report.
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