“Those fuckers are destroying our credibility. It enrages me,” Tucker Carlson texted his producer two days after Election Day 2020. The “fuckers” in question were Fox News employees who accurately reported Joe Biden’s victory in Arizona.
It’s hard to think of a more succinct encapsulation of conservative media than one of its biggest stars complaining that reality is ruining his credibility.
Carlson wasn’t alone. A week later, Sean Hannity texted Carlson and fellow Fox personality Laura Ingraham that calling Arizona for Biden — again, we should stress, simply reporting reality — had “destroyed a brand that took 25 years to build and the damage is incalculable.”
Carlson later tried to get another Fox News reporter fired for a tweet questioning Trump’s false assertions of election fraud. Carlson didn’t claim the reporter’s tweets were inaccurate, according to newly revealed text messages. Rather, his main concern was that “The stock price [of Fox’s parent company] is down. Not a joke.”
It may not surprise many readers that Fox News values right-wing propaganda over facts. But newly released documents from a major defamation case against the network show just how deep a cynical disregard for the truth went with its biggest on-air talent.
In a $1.6 billion lawsuit, the voting machine company Dominion Voting Systems says that Fox News defamed it by claiming Dominion machines were switching votes from Trump to Biden. As part of the suit, Dominion gained access to internal Fox communications, some of which were released in a court filing yesterday.
Quotes like Carlson’s about the stock price and continual fretting about low ratings by Fox pundits and executives bolster Dominion’s argument that Fox personalities continued to make claims they knew were false out of a concern for losing viewers to even more extreme outlets like Newsmax. Carlson and Ingraham privately described Trump surrogates with terms like “liar” and “a complete nut.” But in one of the few accurate statements he’s ever made, Carlson got at the heart of the issue. Trump, he wrote in a text to his producer, “could easily destroy us if we play it wrong.”
In their internal communications, Carlson and Hannity sound less like journalists and more like hucksters who realize the jig is up. Stuck between the potential wrath of Trump and his followers on the one hand, and Fox owner Rupert Murdoch’s insistence on reporting material with some semblance of the truth on the other, they panicked.
Fox claims that it was simply reporting claims made by Trump and other newsworthy individuals without propagating false claims itself. But Dominion seems unusually confident in its chances, given how difficult defamation cases are for plaintiffs in the United States.
So far, Fox has managed to keep parts of its communications redacted in the public versions of court filings. Adding to Fox’s legal headaches, the New York Times is suing to unseal the full record. We might not even have seen the worst of it yet.