A defamation lawsuit is revealing scornful behind-the-scenes opinions by Fox News figures about Donald Trump, including a Tucker Carlson text message declaring, “I hate him passionately.”

Carlson’s private text comments were revealed in court papers at virtually the same time the former president was hailing the Fox News host on social media. Trump said he was doing a “great job” in presenting excerpts of U.S. Capitol security video of the January 6, 2021, insurrection — though Carlson used the video to produce a false narrative of the attack.

The documents are coming to light at a time of increased tension between Trump and Fox, the dominant media force appealing to conservatives, as he campaigns to regain the presidency.

Voting machine manufacturer Dominion Voting Systems is suing Fox News for $1.6 billion, claiming the network broadcast false claims that the company was responsible for fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The case is to go to trial this spring, and a trove of documents related to Fox’s actions after the election are being publicly released in advance.

A common theme emerging from the internal documents and depositions is that Fox executives and hosts doubted the election claims being peddled by Trump and his allies, but aired and emphasized them anyway. Fox was growing concerned about a decline in viewership as Trump supporters turned away from the network after it — correctly — called Joe Biden the presidential winner in Arizona on election night.

The exchanges include Carlson’s text conversation on January 4, 2021, with an unknown person, in which the prime-time host expressed anger toward Trump.

Carlson said that “we are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights” and that “I truly can’t wait.”

Carlson said he had no doubt there was fraud in the 2020 election, but that Trump and his lawyers had so discredited their case — and media figures like himself — “that it’s infuriating. Absolutely enrages me.”

Federal and state officials, courts, exhaustive reviews in battleground states and Trump’s attorney general found no widespread fraud that could have changed the outcome of the 2020 election, although Trump continues to falsely state that the presidency was stolen from him.

Addressing Trump’s four years as president, Carlson said, “We’re all pretending we’ve got a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster it’s been is too tough to digest. But come on. There really isn’t an upside to Trump.”

In another text exchange more than a month earlier, Carlson denigrated Trump’s business abilities: Trump’s talent, he said, is to “destroy things. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong.”

Publicly, Fox viewers heard very different views, such as a 2017 exchange with colleague Greg Gutfeld in which Carlson agreed that Trump was “the greatest president that ever will be.” On his show in 2019, Carlson said Trump had fought as hard as he could to make sure everyone in America was treated equally under the law.

“You can say what you really believe in public,” Carlson said then. “You’re an American citizen. That is your right.” Trump could lose in 2020, he added, “but he’ll be a genuinely great president.”

Fox, in response to the court exhibits quoting Carlson that were released on March 7, said that “Dominion has been caught red handed using more distortions and misinformation in their PR campaign to smear Fox News and trample on free speech and freedom of the press. We already know they will say and do anything to try to win this case, but to twist and even misattribute quotes to the highest levels of our company is truly beyond the pale.”

Carlson has continued rolling out security video from the Capitol attack, footage handed to him by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. For that, Trump said on his social media platform, “congratulations to Tucker Carlson on one of the biggest ‘scoops’ as a reporter in U.S. history.”

The selective release of the footage to sway the historical account has drawn criticism, including from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on March 8 called on Fox to stop spreading election lies, which he said was eroding trust in American democracy.

Fox’s founder, Rupert Murdoch, has a complex relationship with Trump: “I was not close to him,” Murdoch said in a deposition in the libel lawsuit.

Indeed, though Murdoch acknowledged talking to Trump occasionally, he said he also sought inside information from Sean Hannity, one of his network’s primetime hosts, because Hannity was the closest person at Fox to Trump.

Following Trump’s loss in November 2020, Murdoch despaired of the president’s behavior.

“The real danger is what he might do as president,” Murdoch wrote in an email to a friend that month. “Apparently not sleeping and bouncing off walls! Don’t know about Melania, but kids no help.”

But Murdoch told his network’s officials that he also didn’t want to “antagonize” Trump: “He had a very large following, and they were probably mostly viewers of Fox, so it would have been stupid,” Murdoch said in a deposition in the Dominion case.

In separate questioning in the case, Murdoch acknowledged that he believed the 2020 presidential election ” was not stolen.”

On social media recently, Trump was critical of Fox when other court papers released in the Dominion case made clear that a number of the network’s executives and personalities privately believed the election fraud claims were bunk.

Trump and his team also have accused Fox of giving his latest campaign for the presidency little attention and favoring a potential challenger for the GOP nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Fox and Trump have long had a complicated relationship. While he frequently has used the network to reach its audience, he also has been furious at a perceived lack of loyalty, most prominently after the 2020 election.

In a fiery speech at the Conservative Political Action Committee last week, Trump ally Steve Bannon complained that Fox had disrespected the former president.

“You’ve deemed Trump’s not going to be president,” Bannon said. “Well, we deem you’re not going to have a network.”

On March 4, Fox News aired Trump’s speech to CPAC in its entirety. Just two days later on March 6, Carlson threw himself back into the Trump camp. He showed a false version of the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, suggesting it was a mostly peaceful tourist visit rather than the deadly riot it actually was.

Carlson’s false narrative was possible because House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) gave Carlson exclusive access to more than 40,000 hours of video taken in the Capitol on that fateful January 6, illustrating that there is no daylight between the lies of the Fox News Channel and the House Republican leadership.

Outrage over that transaction sparked a backlash. Former officer of the Metropolitan Police Michael Fanone, who was badly injured defending the Capitol on January 6, published an op-ed at CNN saying he knew for certain that Carlson’s version of that day was a lie. “I was there. I saw it. I lived it,” Fanone wrote. “I fought alongside my brother and sister officers to defend the Capitol. We have the scars and injuries to prove it.”

Former representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) tweeted that if the House Republicans want new January 6th hearings, “bring it on. Let’s replay every witness & all the evidence from last year. But this time, those members who sought pardons and/or hid from subpoenas should sit on the dais so they can be confronted on live TV with the unassailable evidence.”

Senate Republicans also spoke out against Carlson’s lies. Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) aligned himself with Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger, who called Carlson’s piece “offensive.” McConnell said: “It was a mistake, in my view, for Fox News to depict this in a way that’s completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here at the Capitol thinks.”

Democrats, along with the White House, also condemned Carlson’s video. White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said the White House supported the Capitol Police and lawmakers from both parties who condemned “this false depiction of the unprecedented, violent attack on our Constitution and the rule of law — which cost police officers their lives.” Bates went on: “We also agree with what Fox News’s own attorneys and executives have now repeatedly stressed in multiple courts of law: That Tucker Carlson is not credible.”

But McCarthy said he does not regret giving Carlson access to the tapes, and Carlson indicated that anyone who objected to the false narrative he put forward on March 6 had revealed themselves as being allied against the Republican base.

David Bauder, Nicholas Riccardi, Heather Cox Richardson, and MI Staff

Associated Press

NEW YORK, New York

Seth Wenig (AP) and Jon Elswick (AP)