Thursday was an awful day for the Big Lie.
First, a judge in Georgia released a report from the special grand jury investigating Donald Trump for crimes related to his attempts to overturn the election, in which the 26-member grand jury found “by a unanimous vote that no widespread fraud took place in the Georgia 2020 presidential election.”
Then on Thursday, the New York Times and Washington Post reported that Dominion Voting Systems had filed a 178-page brief in its $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News detailing how, in the words of the brief, “from the top down, Fox knew ‘the dominion stuff’ was ‘total bs.’ ” To demonstrate this case, Dominion revealed embarrassing excerpts of text messages and depositions from Fox News executives, journalists, staff, and program hosts demonstrating a widespread acknowledgment in the company that the claims some Fox programs were propagating about Dominion stealing the election for Joe Biden were “really crazy stuff,” as Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch put it.
The brief’s showcase of the near-unanimous views inside Fox News is fascinating. It’s worth it, though, to focus on the text messages and testimony from just one person for their entertainment value alone: Fox News’ top-rated host Tucker Carlson.
Carlson did not push the outlandish and completely unfounded conspiracy theories by Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell that Dominion’s voting machines had rigged the election for Biden; the host even pushed back against Powell during one interview segment on his primetime show. Carlson, though, also never let his viewers know the extent to which he felt the claims were “ludicrous” and “totally off the rails” at the time, as the brief reveals he did in private in text messages to his producers and fellow hosts. (The brief is partially redacted and doesn’t always say whom Carlson is talking to, but we’ve included that information below where it is available.) Then on Jan. 26—six days after Biden was sworn in, despite Trump’s efforts at insurrection on Jan. 6—Carlson put My Pillow executive and then-prominent Fox News advertiser Mike Lindell on his show to spew those same conspiracy theories.
Carlson’s messages are delightful to read, because of the ridiculous gap between what Carlson and his less popular Fox colleagues were telling one another in private and what they were refusing to tell their viewers on the air. Here’s a quick timeline of those statements.
• On Nov. 5, Carlson seemed to acknowledge that there was a financial incentive for Fox News to go along with Trump’s fraudulent claims about the election, while also acknowledging just how dangerous they were. “We worked really hard to build what we have. Those fuckers are destroying our credibility. It enrages me,” Carlson wrote to his producer, of the Fox News decision desk that had been calling key races for Biden. The primetime host continued to express to the producer his belief that his team had to kowtow to Trump: “What [Trump]’s good at is destroying things. He’s the undisputed world champion of that. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong.”
• On Nov. 7, as the presidential election was being called for Biden, Carlson expressed to a producer his dismay at how the network was presenting the news: “Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience? We’re playing with fire, for real … an alternative like newsmax could be devastating to us.” (Dominion argues that this proves that Fox News had a financial incentive to lie to its viewers about the election results and defame the voting machine company.) Still, there were certain lines Carlson wouldn’t cross. That same day, Fox anchor Maria Bartiromo began airing Powell’s deranged theories about Dominion. “The software shit is absurd,” Carlson wrote at the time in a text. “Half our viewers have seen the Maria clip.”
• On Nov. 10, Carlson said to his producer that it had been a “mistake” to not present Trump’s voter fraud claims while also acknowledging, “I just hate this shit.”
• On Nov. 12, Carlson took another turn. Talking about Fox reporter Jacqui Heinrich’s tweet fact-checking the lies Trump and certain Fox News hosts were spewing about Dominion, he texted Sean Hannity: “Please get her fired. Seriously…. What the fuck? I’m actually shocked… It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.” Carlson then informed Hannity that he “just went crazy on” an executive over Heinrich’s accurate reporting. The next morning, Heinrich deleted her tweet.
• On Nov. 13, Carlson wrote that he wanted Trump to concede the election and that “there wasn’t enough fraud to change the outcome.”
• Around Nov. 16, Carlson was sharing with his producer his thoughts on the statements Powell was making, which Fox News had been airing: “Sidney Powell is lying. Fucking bitch.” He also described Powell as “unguided missile” and “dangerous as hell,” calling her a “crazy person.”
• On Nov. 17, Carlson called Powell a “lunatic.”
• On Nov. 18, Carlson told fellow host Laura Ingraham that “Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It’s insane.” Of Powell’s and Giuliani’s claims about fraud, Carlson said “It’s unbelievably offensive to me. Our viewers are good people and they believe it.” He also responded “yep, it’s bad” when he was told that Powell’s fraud claims could undermine voters’ views of Biden’s legitimacy.
• On Nov. 21, Carlson sent a text saying it was “shockingly reckless” to accuse Dominion of fraud without some proof, which, he insisted, “there isn’t.” He also referred to Powell as a “nutcase.”
• On Nov. 22, Carlson 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.” (This was the same day that Trump said publicly that Powell did not represent the president or his campaign.) Of the silence from serious lawyers in Trump’s orbit failing to disown what Powell and Giuliani were doing, Carlson said “they said nothing in public. Pretty disgusting.” Around this time, Carlson texted a producer saying “We won the battle with Powell. Thank god.” (Trump would later seek to appoint Powell as special counsel to “investigate” the nonexistent voter fraud.) In another text, Carlson said that “I’ve got a high tolerance for crazy,” but that Powell was “too much.”
• On Nov. 23, Carlson said that Powell was “poison.”
• On Jan. 6, 2021, after the insurrection attempt, Carlson texted a producer that Trump was “a demonic force, a destroyer. But he’s not going to destroy us.”
After all this, on Jan. 26, Carlson had Lindell on his show to talk about “new machine election fraud” and to claim that Dominion “hired hit groups of bots and trolls” to have him “cancelled.” Lindell then discussed how he “found” “the machine fraud” and had “all the evidence” about “Dominion” without any pushback from Carlson. “Mike Lindell, I really appreciate your coming on tonight. Thank you very much,” Carlson concluded. “God Bless you.”
Jury selection in the Dominion trial is currently scheduled to start in April.