A defamation lawsuit is revealing scornful behind-the-scenes opinions by Fox News figures about former U.S. president Donald Trump, including a Tucker Carlson text message declaring, “I hate him passionately.”
Carlson’s private text comments were revealed in court papers at virtually the same time the former president was hailing the Fox News host on social media. Trump said he was doing a “great job” in presenting excerpts of U.S. Capitol security video of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection — though Carlson used the video to produce a false narrative of the attack.
The documents are coming to light at a time of increased tension between Trump and Fox.
Voting machine manufacturer Dominion Voting Systems is suing Fox News for $1.6 billion US, claiming the network broadcast false claims that the company was responsible for fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
The case is to go to trial this spring, and a trove of documents related to Fox’s actions after the election are being publicly released in advance.
Election fraud claims doubted at Fox
A common theme emerging from the internal documents and depositions is that Fox executives and hosts doubted the election claims being peddled by Trump and his allies, but aired and emphasized them anyway.
Fox was growing concerned about a decline in viewership as Trump supporters turned away from the network after it — correctly — called Joe Biden the presidential winner in Arizona on election night.
The exchanges include Carlson’s text conversation on Jan. 4, 2021, with an unknown person, in which the prime-time host expressed anger toward Trump.
Carlson 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 that Trump and his lawyers had so discredited their case — and media figures like himself — “that it’s infuriating. Absolutely enrages me.”
Federal and state officials, courts, exhaustive reviews in battleground states and Trump’s attorney general found no widespread fraud that could have changed the outcome of the 2020 election, although Trump continues to falsely state that the presidency was stolen from him.
Texts differ from public comments
Addressing Trump’s presidential term, 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 another text exchange more than a month earlier, Carlson denigrated Trump’s business abilities: Trump’s talent, he said, is to “destroy things. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong.”
Publicly, Fox viewers heard very different views, such as a 2017 exchange between Carlson and colleague Greg Gutfeld in which Carlson agreed that Trump was “the greatest president that ever will be.” On his show in 2019, Carlson said Trump fought as hard as he could to make sure everyone in America was treated equally under the law.
Fox, in response to the court exhibits quoting Carlson that were released late Tuesday, said that “Dominion has been caught red handed using more distortions and misinformation in their PR campaign to smear Fox News and trample on free speech and freedom of the press. We already know they will say and do anything to try to win this case, but to twist and even misattribute quotes to the highest levels of our company is truly beyond the pale.”
Carlson has continued rolling out security video from the Capitol attack, footage handed to him by U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
The selective release of the footage to sway the historical account has drawn criticism, including from U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday called on Fox to stop spreading election lies.