Before he was abruptly fired by Fox News last month, Tucker Carlson spent years hosting what many people would agree was—and what The New York Times literally called—“the most racist show in the history of cable news.” He regularly promoted the “great replacement theory,” a concept beloved by white supremacists who falsely claim that Democrats are replacing white Americans with nonwhite immigrants so they can control the country. He told his viewers that Black Lives Matter protesters were coming for them and defended a man convicted of murdering a protester at a BLM rally. He said that immigrants make the United States “poorer and dirtier.” He borrowed material from neo-Nazis. And he insisted—after a gunman wrote about a “Hispanic invasion” in his manifesto and then killed 23 people in El Paso—that white supremacy is “not a real problem.”
Despite all this, there were apparently some people who were still laboring under the impression, or holding out hope, that Carlson himself did not actually believe such things—that he was simply playing a racist on TV. For instance, the higher-ups at Fox News, who were reportedly not just shocked to read a racist text message written by Carlson that came out during its litigation process with Dominion Voting Systems, but used it as part of their decision to give him the ax.
Yes, The New York Times reports that one of Carlson’s texts “set off a panic at the highest levels of Fox on the eve of its billion-dollar defamation trial” and “contributed to a chain of events that ultimately led to Mr. Carlson’s firing.” The message—sent to a producer in the hours following the January 6, 2021, insurrection—reportedly reads as follows:
A couple of weeks ago, I was watching video of people fighting on the street in Washington. A group of Trump guys surrounded an Antifa kid and started pounding the living shit out of him. It was three against one, at least. Jumping a guy like that is dishonorable obviously. It’s not how white men fight. Yet suddenly I found myself rooting for the mob against the man, hoping they’d hit him harder, kill him. I really wanted them to hurt the kid. I could taste it. Then somewhere deep in my brain, an alarm went off: this isn’t good for me. I’m becoming something I don’t want to be. The Antifa creep is a human being. Much as I despise what he says and does, much as I’m sure I’d hate him personally if I knew him, I shouldn’t gloat over his suffering. I should be bothered by it. I should remember that somewhere somebody probably loves this kid, and would be crushed if he was killed. If I don’t care about those things, if I reduce people to their politics, how am I better than he is?
According to the Times, “the text alarmed the Fox board, which saw the message a day before Fox was set to defend itself against Dominion Voting Systems before a jury,” and they grew worried that it could become public while Carlson was on the stand. The message, the Times notes, “added to a growing number of internal issues involving Mr. Carlson that led the company’s leadership to conclude he was more of a problem than an asset and had to go,” according to people familiar with the matter. (The message was also said to play a role in the company’s decision to strike an eleventh-hour, $787.5 million settlement with Dominion.)
One day after the message was discovered, Fox’s board told executives it planned to bring in an outside law firm to investigate Carlson. It‘s not clear what that investigation may have uncovered. Carlson, through a representative, told the Times he had no comment.
At the end of the day, is it a good thing that one of the worst purveyors of right-wing hate and deeply bigoted ideas is off the air? Obviously, yes. Is it nevertheless pretty weird that Fox executives were completely fine with everything Carlson said publicly, five nights a week, to millions of people, but were beside themselves to find out that, off the air, he actually believed it all Very much so.