Long before Tucker Carlson was ousted from Fox, thanks in part to behavior suggesting he believed himself to be larger than the network, he and his top producer contemplated leveraging his clout to threaten and bully Fox News employees—and to bend the network to their will.
Such revelations are contained within previously unreported text messages obtained and reviewed by The Daily Beast. The exchanges were contained in documents pertaining to Dominion Voting Systems’ now-settled defamation case against Fox News. In the past week, The Daily Beast has reported on other messages included in these materials, including text exchanges between Carlson and Fox colleagues Bret Baier and Jesse Watters.
Fox News declined to comment, and Carlson did not respond to a request for comment. In a text message, Wells suggested without any evidence that Fox News executives leaked the texts to The Daily Beast. He added that he didn’t “quite understand what the story or peg is here” and did not provide any further comment.
In this particular text exchange, which took place on Nov. 19, 2020, Carlson’s senior executive producer Justin Wells told the star host he was apoplectic over a social-media post from the network that seemed to criticize then-President Donald Trump. This was at the same time Fox News suffered a ratings plummet after angry Trump supporters boycotted the network over its Arizona call for Biden—a crisis that prompted Fox to increasingly embrace Team Trump’s wild stolen election rhetoric.
“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,” Wells wrote early in the morning. “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.)”
The Fox News digital story, written the day before Wells’ texts, reported that Trump would proceed with the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon “despite the angst surrounding the growing number of coronavirus cases nationwide and the ongoing upheaval over President Trump’s refusal to concede the election to President-elect Joe Biden.” It added that the then-president was also “ducking reporters and sticking to Twitter tirades about the election.”
Hours later, Carlson responded by assuring his executive producer he was willing to throw his weight around to browbeat lower-level staffers back in line and into respecting the Fox audience.
“We’re not going to succeed if this continues,” the far-right star texted back. “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?”
He added: “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 agreed, replying that he was “going to find out who did this first” because he wanted “to be armed with more detail.” Thanking Wells, Carlson declared that “Fox needs to hire someone to make sure our ‘news’ coverage is right down the middle and fair. Like today.” This back-and-forth between Carlson and Wells—who was also fired by Fox alongside Carlson last month—took place shortly after Carlson and Hannity attempted to get Fox News reporter Jacqui Heinrich fired for fact-checking a Trump tweet that tagged other Fox stars. Carlson would also disparage Heinrich in his texts with Watters days earlier, saying her actions “can’t continue.” (Despite the Fox opinion hosts’ push for the firings of Heinrich, Cavuto, and other journalists, both Heinrich and Cavuto remain in high-profile positions at the network.)
Elsewhere in the exchange, Wells and Carlson discussed possible topics to cover on that evening’s program. While Wells proposed bringing on anti-diversity pundit Heather Mac Donald to fearmonger about how the “mob and violence may only grow in the world led by Biden” and anti-woke comedian Adam Carolla to mock Barack Obama’s audiobook, Carlson noted that “we’ve got to address this press conference.” He was, of course, talking about the off-the-rails presser held by MAGA lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell that pushed the craziest conspiracy theories about Dominion voting machines.
“As long as we find a good way to do it,” Wells replied. “Everyone in our little world is talking about it. But I doubt our viewers will even notice or care by 8pm. Seems like a lot of dumb people making noise.”
Toward the end of that day’s exchange, Wells brought up Fox News host Greg Gutfeld seemingly criticizing then-Fox News correspondent Kristin Fisher for fact-checking Giuliani’s press conference. “He was on fire,” Wells texted, sharing a video of Gutfeld’s on-air remarks. “And was perfect.” Carlson then reiterated that “we have to get this under control,” prompting Wells to reply that the core audience’s willingness to stick with Tucker Carlson Tonight while abandoning the rest of Fox’s lineup could give the pair leverage over the network and pay dividends down the line.
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“We can keep advising them and telling them in very explicit terms that they need to make changes,” Wells proclaimed. “But I want to get you a big, fat contract. And our own network that we run on our own. They’re pissing the audience off but we can be the only thing working in the immediate future. It helps us in the ‘right now.’”
Within months of Wells’ remarks, Carlson inked a new four-year contract that would reportedly pay him upwards of $20 million annually. (In his full deposition, Carlson told Dominion’s lawyers he made $15 million a year.) The then-Fox star also began producing additional content for Fox Nation, the network’s digital streaming service. This included long-form interviews and documentaries, such as the revisionist Jan. 6 special Patriot Purge.
These particular texts indicating a seeming desire to either break free from Fox or turn it into his personal fiefdom have additional relevance now as Carlson now wages war against Fox News to be released from his contract.
Since firing Carlson on April 24, the conservative channel appears to be willing to pay him $25 million to sit on the sidelines under a “pay or play” deal, which would sideline the GOP kingmaker until early 2025—giving him little sway over the presidential election.
The Daily Beast has previously revealed unreported texts showing how Fox’s chief political anchor Bret Baier—long portrayed as a consummate newsman—schemed with Carlson on how to win back irate MAGA viewers shortly after the 2020 election. Baier, the face of the right-wing network’s “hard news” side, even assured Carlson he’d “pressed them to slow” down on calling the election and he thought “they will slow walk Nevada.”
In other texts revealed by The Daily Beast, Fox News opinion host Jesse Watters—often seen as an heir to Carlson in primetime—told Carlson that Fox should fire veteran news anchors Neil Cavuto and Chris Wallace and replace them with “some fresh blood,” preferably “some [T]rump people.” These thoughts echoed Carlson’s own desire to push out members of the network’s news division, which had been previously revealed in text exchanges with Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity.
With Fox News’ ratings in freefall as conservatives boycott the network (where have we seen that before?), Carlson has enlisted a rogues gallery of MAGA influencers to ramp up the pressure on the cable channel. On top of that, he’s accused Fox News of fraud and breach of contract while announcing that he’s launching a new show on Twitter—setting up a potential face-off with the network.
Carlson’s sudden firing, which occurred just days after Fox News paid Dominion an eye-popping $787.5-million settlement, has largely been linked to the texts and emails that surfaced in the Dominion case. Confider reported that Carlson’s frequent use of misogynistic slurs to insult women—notably describing Powell as a “cunt”—played a key role in his dismissal. The Wall Street Journal additionally reported that he directed that same pejorative toward a senior Fox News executive, adding that “the private messages in which Mr. Carlson showed disregard for management and colleagues were a major factor.” The Washington Post also noted that “Carlson’s comment about Fox management” played a role in his firing.
The New York Times, meanwhile, has pointed to a previously redacted text message in which Carlson—long known for his racially inflammatory rhetoric—said this “is not how white men fight” while describing a video of an attack, reportedly alarming the Fox board and setting off a chain of events that led to his termination. Furthermore, Carlson and Wells are also named throughout former Fox News producer Abby Grossberg’s lawsuit claiming widespread discrimination and misogyny at Fox News.
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