But behind the scenes, Mr. Carlson and his producers were among those scoffing.
In the days before the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, they discussed their intense hopes that Mr. Trump would soon leave the political scene. They mocked his plans to block the certification of Mr. Biden’s win and raged at how Mr. Trump’s lawyers had undermined their own arguments about fraud with sweeping conspiracy theories and debunked allegations.
Two weeks after the election, Mr. Carlson, his executive producer and a top Fox executive named Ron Mitchell traded texts about a news conference at which one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Rudolph W. Giuliani, unspooled a litany of debunked allegations while hair dye dripped down his face. “I don’t see how to cover this,” Mr. Mitchell wrote. (That night, Mr. Carlson devoted his opening monologue to the news conference, carefully asserting that Mr. Giuliani “did raise legitimate questions and in some cases, he pointed to what appeared to be real wrongdoing.”)
Mr. Carlson has claimed to “never look at the ratings” for his show. But Dominion texts show Mr. Carlson, his bosses and his fellow hosts obsessing over them. Within weeks of the election, it became clear to them that Fox viewers badly wanted them to focus on supposed evidence of voter fraud.
“Tucker wrote me and Laura and said last nights numbers were a disaster,” Sean Hannity wrote to Fox producers in late November 2020, referring to Mr. Carlson and Laura Ingraham. (His executive producer, Robert Samuel, noted that the previous week’s most highly rated programming minutes “were on the voting irregularities.”) Mr. Carlson had also texted the two other hosts about ratings earlier that month, joking that an angry Fox viewer who had ranted against the network on Twitter would get “way better numbers than what we have” and warning Mr. Hannity that “the 7:00 was third last night,” referring to the time slot immediately preceding his own.
As Mr. Carlson’s broadcast was coming to an end on Nov. 10, a Fox staff member warned the host that he was being attacked on Twitter for not covering allegations of voter fraud. “It’s all our viewers care about right now,” the staff member wrote. Mr. Carlson replied that it had been a “mistake” but that “I just hate” the topic.
That night and the next morning, Mr. Carlson and the unnamed colleague brainstormed how to get into the story, trading links and tweets, eventually seizing on a local news report in Nevada suggesting a woman who had died in 2017 had voted there in November. (An investigation later determined that the woman’s husband, a Republican, had used her ballot to vote twice, then claimed her ballot had been stolen.) They debated whether they could “get up to five examples of specific names of dead people that voted,” and reached out to Jason Miller, a Trump campaign official, asking for evidence that they could then present on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
“Obviously they need to do whatever they can to help us,” Mr. Carlson told his Fox colleague.
On the afternoon of Nov. 11, as the next evening’s broadcast approached, the staff member texted Mr. Carlson again.