On the eve of a multibillion-dollar defamation trial, a text message sent by Tucker Carlson sparked consternation at the top of Fox, showing its most popular host sharing his message about violence and race Personal, provocative views.
The discovery of the news set off a chain of events that culminated in Mr. Carlson’s dismissal.
In the message, sent to one of his producers by Carlson in the hours after violent Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Mr. Carlson described his How to watch a recent video of a group of people — Trump supporters, he said — raging against “an Antifa kid.”
“At least three against one,” he wrote.
He then expressed a sense of frustration that the attacker, like himself, was white.
“Jumping off someone like this is clearly disgraceful,” he wrote.
“That’s not how white people fight,” he said. But he said he found himself wishing for a moment that the group would kill what he called the Antifa boys.
For years, Mr. Carlson has championed the idea of amplifying white nationalist ideology on his show. But the text messages revealed more about his thoughts on racism.
The text shocked Fox’s board of directors, who saw it a day before Fox was due to defend itself against Dominion Voting Systems before a jury. The board grew concerned that when Mr. Carlson appeared in court, the information could become public during the trial, creating a sensational and disruptive moment that would raise questions about the company more broadly.
The day after the discovery, the board told Fox executives that they were hiring an outside law firm to investigate Mr. Carlson’s conduct.
The text added to a growing list of internal problems involving Mr. Carlson, leading company leadership to conclude he was more of a problem than an asset and had to go, according to several people with knowledge of the decision. . In other messages, he referred to women — including a senior Fox executive — in rude and misogynistic terms. Information about the fight also played a role in the company’s decision to settle with Dominion for $787.5 million, the largest known payout in a defamation case.
A representative for Mr. Carlson said he had no comment.
The text is part of redacted court documents, the contents of which have not been previously reported. The contents of the text were revealed during interviews with several people close to Fox’s defamation suit. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified while discussing information protected by the court order. In public documents, it remains hidden behind a block of black text.
The collection of Mr. Carlson’s information is part of a defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion against Fox, which accuses the network of knowingly spreading falsehoods about election fraud. Much of the information shared in the case, including between Fox executives and hosts, has been released publicly. But others, like the one that happened between Mr. Carlson and one of his producers in the hours after Jan. 6, 2021, were still redacted.
In that essay, Mr. Carlson described his emotions watching a video of the violent clash, which he said took place on the streets of Washington. Mr. Carlson did not describe the race of those attacked.
“I find myself rooting for the mob against this man, wishing they would hit him harder and kill him. I really hope they hurt kids. I can taste it,” he wrote. “And then an alarm went off somewhere in the back of my brain: This isn’t good for me. I’m becoming something I don’t want to be.”
After all, he wrote, “there may be someone who likes this kid and would be crushed if he were killed.”
“If I don’t care about those things, if I boil people down to their politics, how am I any better than him?” he wrote.
The text message didn’t come to the attention of Fox’s board or even some senior executives until last month, the Sunday before the trial began, according to two people with knowledge of Fox’s internal deliberations. At the time, Fox negotiators were discussing an out-of-court settlement before being sworn in, and the jury was forming a diverse jury.
The next day, the board notified Fox’s leadership of its plan to have the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz investigate Mr. Carlson. The disclosure created the possibility that, concurrent with the trial, Mr. Carlson was serving as the head host on primetime, and so may continue to investigate the reasons behind Mr. Carlson’s messages.
Fox did not comment on Mr Carlson’s ouster last week, other than to announce that they had “agreed to part ways” and thanked “his services”. It did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday on the content of Mr. Carlson’s redacted message.
Given that the Fox legal team was aware of that text, along with other offensive texts written by Mr. Carlson, it is unclear how the text escaped greater attention earlier. Lawyers for Fox produced the text as part of the discovery process and participated in the editorial effort. He was even asked about it during one of his depositions, according to several people who have read the unredacted transcript of his testimony.
There is no guarantee that the text will be revealed in open court. Lawyers for Dominion have still not decided whether they will present the text before a jury, according to people familiar with the matter. Whether Dominion’s lawyers could present such a redacted message at trial, if Dominion’s attorneys decide to do so, is at odds with the parties, a decision that will ultimately fall to the judge. That difference became moot after Fox reached an 11th-hour deal on April 18 to pay Dominion $787.5 million and avoid a trial.
How Fox’s executives and board handled the case in the months before the trial is scheduled to begin is expected to spark controversy in a shareholder lawsuit filed against the company in Delaware.
Although Mr. Carlson’s show “Tucker Carlson Tonight” was only a minor factor in the Dominion lawsuit, his personal writings have garnered widespread attention.
The text about the fight comes on top of a chain of damaging information publicly disclosed before the trial that was shocking in its own right. After the attack on the Capitol, Mr Carlson wrote to one of his producers, describing the president he had championed on the show as a “diabolical force” and a “destroyer”.
A recurring theme in his show’s six years of prime-time coverage on Fox News has been the replacement of white Americans by people of color. Mr. Carlson has often framed the topic in the news as part of a larger struggle between “us” and “them,” in which immigrants and other marginalized groups are steadily and surely taking away from white people what they have long held: America political and cultural power.
He attacked black social justice activists and portrayed immigrants from Central America as a national scourge. He said in 2018 that immigration made the country “dirtier”.
After the mass shooting in El Paso, where the gunman cited white supremacist beliefs in his manifesto, Mr Carlson declared on his show that white supremacy was “not a real problem” and likened it to conspiracy theories .
On Monday, The New York Times and other news organizations urged the judge overseeing the Dominion case to release some of the redacted information.