NEW YORK — A defamation lawsuit reveals contemptuous behind-the-scenes views from Fox News figures about Donald Trump, including a text message from Tucker Carlson declaring “I hate him with a passion.”
Carlson’s private text conversation was revealed in court documents around the same time the former president was greeting the Fox News host on social media. Trump said he did a “wonderful job” of showing excerpts from the US Capitol security video of the January 6, 2021 riot — although Carlson used the footage to create a false narrative of the attack.
The documents also come to light at a time of heightened tension between Trump and the conservative-leaning mainstream media force as he campaigns to reclaim the presidency.
Voting machine maker Dominion Voting Systems is suing Fox News for $1.6 billion, alleging the network aired false allegations that the company was responsible for rigging the 2020 presidential election. The case is set to go to trial this spring and a series of documents related to Fox’s post-election actions are published in advance.
A common theme emerging from the internal documents and depositions is that Fox executives and hosts doubted the campaign claims made by Trump and his allies, but promoted them anyway. Fox grew increasingly concerned about declining ratings as Trump supporters defected from the network after it — correctly — named Joe Biden the presidential winner in Arizona on election night.
The exchanges include Carlson’s Jan. 4, 2021, text conversation with an unidentified person in which the prime-time host expressed anger toward Trump.
Carlson said “we’re very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights” and that “I’m really looking forward to it.”
Carlson said he had no doubt the 2020 election was rigged, but that Trump and his lawyers had so discredited their case — and media figures like himself — “that it’s infuriating. It absolutely infuriates me.”
Federal and state officials, courts, exhaustive reviews in battleground states and Trump’s attorney general have found no widespread fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election, even as Trump continues to falsely claim that his presidency was stolen.
Addressing Trump’s four years as president, Carlson said: “We all pretend we have a lot to show for it, because admitting the devastation that has been is very hard to digest. But come on. There’s really no upside to Trump.”
In another text exchange more than a month earlier, Carlson disparaged Trump’s business skills: Trump’s talent (he said) is to “destroy things. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong.”
Fox, responding to these and other court exhibits released late Tuesday, said that “Dominion has been caught using more distortions and misinformation in its public relations campaign to discredit Fox News and trample on free speech and freedom of the press. We already know that they will say and do anything to try to win this case, but to smear or even misattribute quotes to the highest levels of our company is really beyond the pale.” .
Fox founder Rupert Murdoch has a complicated relationship with Trump: “I wasn’t close to him,” Murdoch said in a deposition in the defamation suit.
Indeed, although Murdoch admitted to occasionally speaking with Trump, he said he also sought inside information from Sean Hannity, one of his network’s hosts, because Hannity was the closest person at Fox to Trump.
After Trump’s defeat in November 2020, Murdoch despaired of the president’s behavior.
“The real danger is what he might do as president,” Murdoch wrote in an email to a friend that month. “She’s obviously not sleeping and she’s bouncing off walls! I don’t know about Melania, but the kids aren’t helping.”
But Murdoch told his network officials that he also didn’t want to “race” Trump: “He had a very big fan base and it was probably mostly Fox viewers, so it would be silly,” Murdoch said in a filing with Dominion case.
In separate questioning on the case, Murdoch acknowledged that he believed the 2020 presidential election “wasn’t stolen.”
On social media recently, Trump has been critical of Fox after other court documents released in the Dominion case made clear that some network executives and personalities privately believed the election fraud claims were moot.
Trump and his team also accused Fox of paying little attention to his latest presidential campaign and favoring a potential challenger for the GOP nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSandis.
In a fiery speech at the Conservative Political Action Committee last week, Trump ally Steve Bannon complained that Fox disrespected the former president.
“You thought Trump wasn’t going to be president,” Bannon said. “Well, we think you won’t have a network.”
On Saturday afternoon. Fox News aired Trump’s entire CPAC speech.
Riccardi reported from Denver. Associated Press writers Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta, Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix, Gary Fields in Washington and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report.