Fox News is facing a disgruntled duo seeking to upstage the right-wing network as it hosts the first Republican presidential primary debate Wednesday night: criminally indicted former President Donald Trump, who is skipping the debate altogether, and fired former Fox News star Tucker Carlson. To counterprogram the debate, the two of them will air an exclusive interview on Carlson’s streaming show on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter.
- For each of the two men, this is a chance to get back at Fox for various perceived or actual slights, ranging from Carlson’s firing — after which both sides have suffered in reaching an audience — to Trump’s belief that the network has been flirting with other presidential candidates.
- All signs still indicate that Fox News still supports Trump, particularly as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign has fallen apart.
- Trump promoted the interview with a post on his Truth Social site, written in all-capital letters: “‘SPARKS WILL FLY.’ ENJOY!”
- The interview also constitutes a public reconciliation, whether sincere or simply opportunistic, after Carlson’s private text messages trashing Trump behind his back were publicly exposed.
Tucker Carlson privately railed against Trump after the 2020 election
During Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox News, which resulted in a $787 million legal settlement paid by the network, publicly released evidence showed that Carlson repeatedly denounced Trump for spreading baseless conspiracy theories that Carlson knew to be false, and that Carlson was eager to see Trump finally removed from office after his election defeat in 2020.
- In a text message sent on November 9, 2020, Carlson declared, “The software shit is absurd.” Carlson made clear that he did not believe Trump’s central claim that voting machines had switched votes from himself to Joe Biden.
- Carlson described Trump's refusal to accept his 2020 election defeat as “destructive” and “disgusting.” In a text on November 11, 2020, following news that Trump would not attend Biden’s inauguration, Carlson slammed Trump’s behavior on November 11, 2020, as “so destructive” and “disgusting,” adding, “I’m trying to look away.”
- “He’s only good at destroying.” Responding to a text on November 13, 2020, from an unknown person bemoaning the damage Trump was doing to the Republican Party by not conceding, Carlson added, “He’s only good at destroying.”
- “He doesn’t care. I care.” In a text message sent November 23, 2020, Carlson lambasted Trump for undermining Republican prospects in U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia: “And now Trump, I learned this morning, is sitting back and letting them lose the senate. He doesn’t care. I care. I've got four kids and plan to live here.”
- “I hate him passionately”: Carlson was eager to see Donald Trump ushered off the political stage following his 2020 election defeat. In a text on January 4, 2021, Carlson declared, “We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait.”
- Trump and his allies “have so discredited their own case, and the rest of us to some extent.” In the same January 4, 2021, text exchange, Carlson expressed one source of his frustration, saying that Trump and those surrounding him failed to demonstrate that there was mass election fraud, which on some level Carlson continued to believe: “I have no doubt there was fraud. But at this point, Trump and Lin [Wood] and [Sidney] Powell have so discredited their own case, and the rest of us to some extent, that it's infuriating. Absolutely enrages me.”
- Carlson called Trump “a demonic force, a destroyer.” In a text the night of January 6, 2021, Carlson told a Fox News producer that Trump was a “demonic force, a destroyer.”
During this same period, Carlson also privately tried to get a Fox reporter fired for actually debunking Trump’s election claims, which Carlson knew were false. Over the next two and half years, Carlson would continue pushing election lies, along with veiled threats of political violence and lies about January 6.
After Carlson’s texts were publicized, he began an apology tour
- After Carlson’s private texts criticizing Trump were published, he called in to a right-wing radio show and said, “I love Trump.” During his call into a WABC show, Carlson said: “Oh, let’s see. I spent four years defending his policies and I, I’m going to defend them again tonight. And actually, and I’m pretty straight forward, I’m um I love Trump. Like, as a person, I think Trump is funny and insightful.” [The Hill, 3/21/23]
- Carlson reportedly reached out to Trump to resolve the situation and blamed former Trump lawyers. The Washington Post characterized Carlson as saying he’d been “blowing off steam” over his interactions with Trump’s election legal team and other allies. The Post also noted that Trump publicly promoted Carlson’s propaganda special seeking to rewrite the January 6 insurrection. On his Truth Social platform, Trump posted that Carlson “doesn’t hate me, or at least, not anymore!” [NBC News, 3/20/23; The Washington Post, 8/22/23]
- Weeks later, Carlson gave Trump a softball interview on Fox News. As Rolling Stone reported, Carlson had “been laying the groundwork for a friendly Trump interview for weeks” by then, and was “launching a counter-offensive in defense of the former president.” During the interview, which Rolling Stone characterized as Trump steamrolling Carlson, the then-Fox host allowed Trump to rant on various topics rather than the ostensible topic of Trump’s first criminal indictment in New York. Carlson also apologized to Trump at one point when the former president complained that Carlson had caused him problems during Trump’s trip to North Korea. [Rolling Stone, 4/11/23]