In 2021, Dominion Voting Systems filed a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News. The company accused Fox personalities of repeatedly airing debunked election-fraud theories involving Dominion’s voting machines, which saw heavy use in the 2020 election. It’s notoriously difficult to win defamation cases in American courts; Dominion must prove that Fox News hosts knowingly disseminated falsehoods to their viewers. To that end, the company subpoenaed extensive internal text messages and emails from and between prominent names in the Fox News infrastructure, including Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Rupert Murdoch himself.
In the messages, all from the weeks after the election, the hosts discuss Donald Trump, Fox News’ dramatic Arizona call for Biden, and their own thoughts on 2020 election fraud — thoughts that often conflict with Fox’s public-facing coverage. In advance of a planned trial beginning next month, Delaware Superior Court judge Eric M. Davis has been unsealing more of the missives every day. Here, some of the most striking ones so far:
On Fox News’ Arizona call:
“We devote our lives to building an audience and they let Chris Wallace and Leland fucking Vittert wreck it,” Carlson texted in a group conversation with Ingraham and Sean Hannity roughly two weeks after the election. Vittert was a Fox News reporter who was frequently criticized by Trump, and he left the network in April 2021 for NewsNation.
On hating Trump:
“I hate him passionately … What he’s good at is destroying things. He’s the undisputed world champion of that. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong,” Carlson texted a colleague on January 4, days prior to the riot at the U.S. Capitol. He added, “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.”
On the antics of Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood:
“Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It’s insane,” Carlson texted Ingraham on November 18.
In a message from November 4, Carlson texted a colleague that there was “no doubt there was fraud” in the election. “But at this point, Trump and Lin and Powell have so discredited their own case, and the rest of us to some extent, that it’s infuriating. Absolutely enrages me.”
In a text on November 9, Carlson referenced Powell’s Dominion claims, commenting, “The software shit is absurd.” (Carlson then said on television that night, “We don’t know anything about the software that many say was rigged. We don’t know. We ought to find out.”)
In a text on November 22, Carlson also called Powell a “cunt.”
On certain colleagues undermining the network:
“We devote our lives to building an audience and they let Chris Wallace and Leland fucking Vittert wreck it,” Carlson texted to Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. Both Wallace and Vittert, who sometimes appeared on Fox and Friends and other shows, have since left Fox News.
On Trump skipping Biden’s inauguration:
“Hard to believe. So destructive,” he texted a staffer on November 10. “It’s disgusting. I’m trying to look away.”
On the prospect of ditching Trump coverage on Fox:
Two days before the Capitol riot, Carlson wrote to a colleague that “we are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait.” The day after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, he texted his producer that “Trump has two weeks left. Once he’s out, he becomes incalculably less powerful, even in the minds of his supporters. 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.”
Rupert Murdoch, Fox Corporation chairman
On Hannity’s and Ingraham’s on-air claims of election fraud:
“Maybe Sean and Laura went too far,” Murdoch wrote the day after Biden’s inauguration in an email to Fox CEO Suzanne Scott. “All very well for Sean to tell you he was in despair about Trump … but what did he tell his viewers?”
On the infamous Rudy Giuliani press conference with the hair dye:
“Stupid and damaging,” Murdoch wrote to a friend on November 19, the day of Giuliani’s meltdown. “The only one encouraging Trump and misleading him. Both increasingly mad.” Murdoch said he had heard that Trump was “apparently not sleeping and bouncing off walls” and that he worried about “what he might do as president.”
On calling the election for Biden:
“I hate our Decision Desk people!” Murdoch emailed former New York Post editor Col Allan on the day the election was called. “And pollsters! Some of the same people I think. Just for the hell of it still praying for Az to prove them wrong!” Later that day, he emailed his son Lachlan, writing that Fox News “should and could” have called the election for Biden before any other network. “But at least being second saves us a Trump explosion!”
On how to handle Trump postelection:
“The more I think about McConnell’s remarks or complaint, the more I agree,” Murdoch wrote in an email on Biden’s Inauguration Day. “Trump insisting on the election being stolen and convincing 25 percent of Americans was a huge disservice to the country. Pretty much a crime. Inevitable it blew up Jan. 6th. Best we don’t mention his name unless essential and certainly don’t support him. We have to respect people of principle and if it comes to the Senate, don’t take sides. I know he is being over-demonized, but he brought it on himself.”
Laura Ingraham, Fox News host
On pressure from Fox News executives:
“We are officially working for an organization that hates us,” Ingraham texted Carlson and Hannity on November 16.
“Why would anyone defend that call?” Hannity asked in response, referring to the early decision to call Arizona for Joe Biden.
“I’m disgusted at this point,” replied Carlson.
“I think the three of us have enormous power,” Ingraham wrote. “We have more power than we know or exercise.”
Suzanne Scott, Fox News CEO
On the Arizona call on Election Night:
“Listen, it’s one of the sad realities: If we hadn’t called Arizona those three or four days following Election Day, our ratings would have been bigger,” Scott said in a Zoom meeting on November 16. “The mystery would have been still hanging out there.”
“Viewers going through the 5 stages of grief,” Scott texted Fox co-chair Lachlan Murdoch two days after the election. “It’s a question of trust — the AZ [call] was damaging but we will highlight our stars and plant flags letting the viewers know we hear them and respect them.”
On how the network should proceed postelection:
“Audiences don’t want to see too much of the Mayor Pete’s and Coons etc in the news hours,” Scott wrote to Fox News president Jay Wallace. “Need to be careful about bookings next 2 months - especially in news hours.” Scott had forwarded Wallace an email from Rupert Murdoch, in which he observed that Fox News was losing to CNN in the ratings.
On how fact checking Trump is “bad for business”:
“This has to stop now,” Scott wrote in an email to a network vice-president in early December, referring to anchor Eric Shawn’s fact-checking of Trump. “This is bad business and there clearly is a lack of understanding what is happening in these shows. The audience is furious and we are just feeding them material. Bad for business.”
Bill Sammon, former Fox News managing editor
On the mess inside Fox News:
Sammon oversaw the Fox News Decision Desk on Election Night. He retired in January 2021 amid heated Republican criticism over the call that Biden would win Arizona.
“More than 20 minutes into our flagship evening news broadcast and we’re still focused solely on supposed election fraud — a month after the election,” Sammon texted editor Chris Stirewalt. “It’s remarkable how weak ratings makes good journalists do bad things.” Sammon added, “In my 22 years affiliated with Fox, this is the closest thing I’ve seen to an existential crisis — at least journalistically.”
Chris Stirewalt, former Fox News politics editor
On the fallout from election coverage:
“What I see us doing is losing the silent majority of viewers as we chase the nuts off a cliff,” Stirewalt responded to Sammon’s texts. Stirewalt, who made the decision that Fox News would call Arizona for Biden on Election Night, was removed from his job in January 2021 for the controversial (but correct) choice.
Bret Baier, Fox News host
On the difficulty of defending the Arizona call:
“I know You guys are feeling the pressure,” Baier wrote to Fox News executives two days after the election. “But this situation is getting uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable … I keep on having to defend this on air. And ask questions about it. And it seems we are holding on for pride (I know the confidence you say you had and the numbers — but it’s at least within the realm of possible that he closes the gap now). And It’s hurting us. The sooner we pull it — even if it gives us major egg. And we put it back in his column. The better we are. In my opinion.”
Raj Shah, Fox Corporation senior vice-president
On Rudy Giuliani
During Giuliani’s infamous press conference during which hair dye ran down his face, Shah texted to an unnamed respondent or respondents: “This sounds SO FUCKING CRAZY btw.” When a deputy wrote back that Giuliani “looks awful,” Shah remarked, “he objectively looks like he was a dead person voting 2 weeks ago.”
After the press conference, a Fox News reporter appeared on the network and cast doubt on some of Giuliani’s claims. Shah then texted the deputy, “This is the kinda shit that will kill us. We cover it wall to wall and then we burn that down with all the skepticism.”
On Fox News’ favorability rating dropping dramatically after the election
In an internal message, Shah shared a survey with colleagues showing that the network’s brand was “under heavy fire from our customer base.” In a different email, he wrote, “We are not concerned with losing market share to CNN or MSNBC right now. Our concern is Newsmax and One America News Network … I’d like to get honest/deeper feedback from Fox viewers on the brand, the handling of the election, if they feel like they have been somehow betrayed by the network.”
On Sidney Powell:
In another message to senior colleagues, Shah called Powell’s election-fraud claims “totally insane” and “just MIND BLOWINGLY NUTS.” Shah also told his bosses in a November 23, 2020 email that, “We encouraged several sources within the administration to tell reporters that Powell offered no evidence for her claims and didn’t speak for the president.”
Maria Bartiromo, Fox News and Fox Business Network host
On not wanting to acknowledge Biden’s win:
“I want to see massive fraud exposed,” Bartiromo texted Steve Bannon a week after the election, adding that she instructed her team to hold off on referring to Biden as “president-elect” — “not in scripts or in banners on air. Until this moves through the courts.”
Abby Grossberg, Maria Bartiromo’s producer
On how to cater to audiences postelection:
“Our audience doesn’t want to hear about a peaceful transition,” Grossberg texted Bartiromo, who had asked whether she should have covered the topic on a recent show. Grossberg later added that Fox viewers “still have hope.”
On March 20, Grossberg filed a lawsuit against Fox News, alleging the network had pushed her into giving misleading testimony in the Dominion case in an attempt to set her and Bartiromo up as patsies.