By early January 2021, Fox News hosts and executives were ready to move on from then-President Donald Trump and his insistence that the election was stolen.
"it's been 8 weeks and none of them has produced anything tangible or verifiable. and now he wants thousands of his supporters to go to DC without shelter or food to demonstrate," host Lou Dobbs texted a producer on his show on Jan. 3. "I believe the election was stolen — but without evidence we can do nothing significant."
"We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights," Tucker Carlson wrote in a Jan. 4 text to an unidentified person. "I truly can't wait."
"I hate him passionately," he continued. "I can't handle much more of this."
The revealing private messages were unsealed Tuesday night, part of a massive cache of evidence in the $1.6 billion Dominion defamation suit against Fox News and the Fox Corp. They paint a remarkably frank picture of how key players at Fox News viewed the stolen election lie that motivated a mob to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Fox News argued the voting systems manufacturer was skewing the evidence.
“Dominion has been caught red handed again using more distortions and misinformation in their PR campaign to smear FOX News and trample on free speech and freedom of the press," a Fox News spokesperson said in a statement.
Dominion has said the released documents speak for themselves.
Trump and his lawyers "have so discredited their own case, and the rest of us to some extent, that it's infuriating," Carlson continued in his texts. "Absolutely enrages me."
The next day, Jan. 5, Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch tapped an email out on his iPhone: Maybe our top talent needs to take a stand.
"It's been suggested our primetime three should independently or together say something like 'the election is over and Joe Biden won. We are all disappointed by it happened. We love America and have to turn the page. We will now be the loyal opposition criticizing every liberal mistake the new administration makes,'" Murdoch wrote to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott.
"Not those words, but a refinement would go a long way to stop the Trump myth that the election stolen," he added. "And the basis of his 2024 campaign."
Scott forwarded the email to Meade Cooper, the executive vice president of prime-time programming.
"I told Rupert that privately they are all there — we need to be careful about using the shows and pissing off the viewers but they know how to navigate."
Trump's troubles multiplying. His businesses now ruined! Who is going to throw a party at one of his golf clubs or hotels?
Rupert Murdoch in an Email on Jan. 12, 2021
But the top talent at Fox News never did take a stand.
Instead, prime-time hosts talked up the Stop the Steal rally taking place in Washington on Jan. 6.
On the night of Jan. 5, prime-time host Sean Hannity put Eric Trump on the air, who ran through a laundry list of exaggerated or debunked fraud claims he suggested cost his father the election.
"The Republic, its future, our futures, are hanging in the balance," Dobbs said on Jan. 5, teeing up Judicial Watch's Tom Fitton, who argued that the outcome of the election could be changed by state legislatures and Congress on Jan. 6.
And next morning, a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in an effort to block the certification of the results of the 2020 election. Rioters smashed windows and doors, looted and ransacked offices and engaged in hours of violent clashes. About 140 officers were assaulted that day, and two pipe bombs were also planted nearby, but did not detonate.
The private texts and emails included in Dominion's evidence offer a remarkable snapshot of the frustration and discontent at Fox News hours and days after the attack — messages that were far different from what they were putting on air.
"he isn't saying what's actually going on. just beating around the bush," Carlson producer Alex Pfeiffer complained in a text exchange with Carlson senior executive producer Justin Wells and an unnamed individual, dissecting Carlson's show on Jan. 6. "why do people think it was stolen? didn't happen immacutately. trump told them thats what happened."
Inside the Fox companies, the shift was urgent, sometimes frenzied.
"Fox News very busy pivoting. ... We want to make Trump a non person," Murdoch wrote in one email on Jan. 8.
Fox News "is pivoting as fast as possible. We have to lead our viewers which is not as easy as it might seem," he wrote in another days later.
- 'I hate him passionately': Tucker Carlson was fed up with Trump after the 2020 election
- In private, Fox News stars and staffers blasted election fraud claims as bogus, court filing shows
- Steve Bannon declares war on Fox News: 'You’ve disrespected Donald J. Trump long enough'
- Rupert Murdoch admits some Fox News hosts 'endorsed' false election fraud claims
- Fox Corp. and the Trump campaign hit with FEC complaints over Dominion revelations
The day after Biden's inauguration, Murdoch was facing heat from Republican senators.
That morning, he met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and other GOP senators who were opposed to impeaching Trump.
“Still getting mud thrown at us!” Murdoch wrote. “Maybe Sean and Laura went too far,” he continued, referring to Hannity and Laura Ingraham.
He asked Scott whether it was “unarguable that high profile Fox voices fed the story that the election was stolen and that January 6th an important chance to have the result overturned.”
Scott punted the request to a group of executives, noting “please send specifics.”
Six hours later, Irena Briganti, the Fox News executive in charge of communications, responded with more than 15 pages of transcripts of examples.
In a Jan. 12 email exchange with former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Murdoch said "everything changed" on the day of the riot.
"Trump's troubles multiplying. His businesses now ruined! Who is going to throw a party at one of his golf clubs or hotels?"
He went on: "Could he still resign and get Pence to pardon, then just disappear? Would Mike Pence agree?"