In Jan. 2021, Tucker Carlson told a Fox News colleague that he hated Donald Trump “passionately.” But less than two months earlier he was singing a dramatically different tune, newly leaked texts reveal.
In an exchange with his senior producer, obtained by the Daily Beast (yes, it’s yet more leaked evidence that emerged during discovery in the Dominion defamation lawsuit against Fox News), the recently fired host was so upset about the unusually negative coverage Fox was giving Trump that he said he was “happy to start threating people” to make it stop.
The text exchange happened Nov. 19, 2020, as Fox News was suffering a severe drop in ratings caused by the exodus of viewers angry that it had accurately called the election for Joe Biden and then — temporarily — refused to support Trump’s constant lying about the loss.
The day before, Fox had published this story about Trump’s decision to hold the annual presidential “pardon” of a turkey. The article’s opening paragraph noted this was happening, “despite the angst surrounding the growing number of coronavirus cases nationwide and the ongoing upheaval over President Trump’s refusal to concede the election.”
Carlson’s producer, Justin Wells, was apoplectic. “Pop that open in full. It’s our networks [sic] official Instagram feed. Literally 4-5 separate swipes at Trump for doing the Turkey pardon. It’s actually unbelievable. We’re trying to piss people off for no reason. We can’t fix all of Fox but there is a ‘systemic’ issue here (to use an overused phrase of 2020.),” he wrote, according to the Daily Beast.
“We’re not going to succeed if this continues. The brand will be too damaged. We should jump on a couple of examples just to send a clear message. Let’s start with this one. Can we find out who did this?” Carlson responded. “I’m happy to start threatening people individually. It’s too much. And again, it will hurt us badly if we let it continue.”
Wells, according to the Daily Beast, said he would “find the guy who did this.” After further discussions of possible topics for that night’s episode of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” and more complaints about how the network was covering Trump, Carlson vowed, “we have to get this under control.” Wells then noted that if Carlson’s ratings continued to stay high even as the rest of the network suffered, it would give them more leverage over the network in terms of programming and compensation.
As became abundantly clear thanks to evidence leaked during the Dominion lawsuit, Fox soon enough came around and its biggest stars began embracing the lies Trump was telling about the election. That definitely included Carlson, who nevertheless tried to imply uncertainty about it.
That content of course eventually cost Fox News nearly $800 million, but the lawsuit also uncovered numerous damning details about Carlson that gave the conservative network multiple justifications to cut ties with him.
Carlson was Fox News’ biggest star, a success powered by his elevation of fringe conspiracy theories and blatantly hateful rhetoric. As the New York Times once put it, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” was possibly “the most racist show in the history of cable news.”
Since firing Carlson on April 24, Fox’s primetime ratings in his time slot have suffered significantly.