In April, just as Dominion Voting Systems’s defamation lawsuit against Fox News was going to trial, Fox settled the case with a $787.5 million payment. Days later, in shocking news that may or may not be directly related to revelations the Dominion lawsuit uncovered, Fox News fired Tucker Carlson, its biggest star. (And, as of May 9, now Twitter’s biggest broadcast star.)
Dominion had accused Fox personalities of repeatedly airing debunked election-fraud theories involving Dominion’s voting machine used in the 2020 election. Dominion would have had to 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 Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Rupert Murdoch himself.
In the messages, all from the weeks after the election, the hosts discuss Donald Trump, their often-critical thoughts on Fox management, and their opinions on 2020 election fraud — opinions that often conflict with Fox’s public-facing coverage.
‘It’s not how white men fight’
Perhaps the most shocking message to come out has been a racist one Carlson sent to a producer hours after the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, referring to street fighting in Washington between Trump supporters and anti-fascists — one that he hoped resulted in murder.
“A couple of weeks ago, I was watching video of people fighting on the street in Washington. A group of Trump guys surrounded an Antifa kid and started pounding the living shit out of him. It was three against one, at least. Jumping a guy like that is dishonorable obviously. It’s not how white men fight. Yet suddenly I found myself rooting for the mob against the man, hoping they’d hit him harder, kill him. I really wanted them to hurt the kid. I could taste it. Then somewhere deep in my brain, an alarm went off: this isn’t good for me. I’m becoming something I don’t want to be. The Antifa creep is a human being. Much as I despise what he says and does, much as I’m sure I’d hate him personally if I knew him, I shouldn’t gloat over his suffering. I should be bothered by it. I should remember that somewhere somebody probably loves this kid, and would be crushed if he was killed. If I don’t care about those things, if I reduce people to their politics, how am I better than he is?
On Fox News’ fateful Arizona call:
The Daily Beast reports that in a text exchange with Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott on November 4, Carlson expressed concern that the network was “getting hammered” after calling Arizona for President Biden before anyone else. Scott responded that Fox needed to “let the data folks defend their decision,” and Carlson wrote back that “if I can help in any way, I hope you’ll let me know.”
In more urgent texts to Bret Baier, Carlson wrote ““I continue to think the company isn’t taking the [sic] seriously enough. We need to do something to reassure our core audience. They’re our whole business model.” Carlson floated various ideas, including interviewing Fox News Decision Desk Director Arnon Mishkin on his show, to “help calm our viewers down.”
Carlson also lamented to Baier that “we could really fuck up a lot of what we’ve built,” and that “when Trump loses, he’s going to blame us. That’s going to be very bad.” Reflecting on his position at the network, he wrote, “I’ve got four more years here. I’m stuck with Fox. Got to do whatever I can to keep our numbers up and our viewers happy.”
“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.
“What he’s good at is destroying things,” Carlson texted producer Alex Pfeiffer on November 5. “He’s the undisputed world champion of that. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong.”
“I hate him passionately,” Carlson texted Pfeiffer on January 4, days prior to the riot at the U.S. Capitol. He added, of Trump’s presidency, “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 election denialism:
On November 5, in response to his producer Alex Pfeiffer, who had written that “I really think many on ‘our side’ are being reckless demagogues right now,” Carlson wrote, “Of course they are. We’re not going to follow them. The sun will rise tomorrow and we want to wake up intact. I always think that.”
On Sidney Powell:
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.” (Tucker was referring to Lin Wood, another Trump lawyer.)
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.”)
Per Slate, around November 16, Carlson texted a producer that “Sidney Powell is lying. Fucking bitch.” He also called Powell an “unguided missile,” “dangerous as hell,” and a “crazy person.”
“Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It’s insane,” Carlson texted Ingraham on November 18.
The Daily Beast reports that on November 20, during an exchange with Fox News anchor Bret Baier, Carlson referred to Powell as a “cunt,” adding “I mean it.” The comment came after Baier and Carlson discussed an appearance Powell made on Maria Bartiromo’s show, in which Powell dismissed Carlson as “rude” for demanding that she back up her fantastical election-fraud claims with evidence.
On November 21, Carlson referred to Powell as a “nutcase.”
In a text on November 22, Carlson again called Powell a “cunt,” this time to an unnamed Fox News staffer. (His use of this slur may have been a precipitating factor in his ouster from Fox News.) He added, “I hope he’s punished.”
On the same day, he told Ingraham that Powell was “a nut, as you said at the outset. It totally wrecked my weekend. Wow… I had to try make the WH disavow her, which they obviously should have done long before.”
And in another exchange on November 22, this time over email, Carlson confirmed to Daily Caller co-founder Neil Patel that he had been behind Powell’s dismissal from Trump’s legal team, and wrote “I’ve got a high tolerance for crazy as you know but she was too much.”
On a Fox executive
Per the Wall Street Journal, Carlson also called an unnamed Fox News executive a “cunt.” The exact wording of the text is not known.
On Trump skipping Biden’s inauguration:
“Hard to believe. So destructive,” he texted Pfeiffer 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 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 Rudy Giuliani
“Rudy such an idiot,” Ingraham texted to an unknown recipient on January 12, 2021.
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.”
On Rudy Giuliani
“Rudy is acting like an insane person,” Hannity texted to an unknown recipient on November 11.
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.”
In a memo from Shah to Lachlan Murdoch on November 13, Shah wrote that “Fox News is facing a brand crisis” and “open revolt.” He added that the “precipitous decline in Fox’s favorability among our core audience… poses lasting damage to the Fox News brand unless effectively addressed soon.”
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.
Gary Schreier, Fox Business Network SVP
On Mario Bartiromo’s false allegations of election fraud:
After Bartiromo tweeted a baseless allegation on November 5 about Democrats adding “vote dumps” overnight, she left Twitter for the conservative platform Parler. “How about get off social all together,” Fox Business News President Lauren Petterson wrote to Schreier. He responded: “I mean if you say crazy wrong shit on Parler is that better just because Parler won’t flag you?”