The defamation case filed by the Dominion voting machine company against Fox News was settled on Tuesday, April 18, 2023, the day when the trial was supposed to begin, for a whopping $787 million. That Fox wanted and needed to settle the case was evident since the discovery process had revealed all manner of highly damaging information that the upper echelons at Fox knew the serial sex abuser Donald Trump’s (SSAT) claims of election fraud and of Dominion’s involvement were without merit even as they publicly supported them.
Fox News’s most high-profile personality Tucker Carlson was abruptly fired on Monday, April 24, just six days later, reportedly on the direct orders of Rupert Murdoch, even though Murdoch reportedly liked Carlson and got on well with him on a personal level and he brought in good ratings and revenue for the network.
The close juxtapositioning of the two events strongly suggested that they were connected but there was nothing in the settlement agreement that said it was the case and both Dominion and Fox were tight-lipped about it. While Carlson had denigrated SSAT and said that he hated him passionately and described SSAT’s lawyer Sydney Powell as lying and her claims as insane, he was yet willing to go along with the fraud claims because Fox viewers were angry with the network for calling Arizona for Joe Biden and effectively dooming SSAT’s chances of winning. But while Carlson was the star of the network, others like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Maria Bartiromo and others were also promoting the Big Lie. So it was not clear why Fox fired its star while keeping the rest.
Since the Dominion settlement said nothing about firing Carlson, it was assumed that some unknown reasons were behind the action. Operatives at Fox leaked news that suggested other reasons for the firing, such as the bad work climate created by Carlson, his withering denigration of top management, misogynistic comments, and other innuendos. But nothing definite was revealed.
We may now have an answer to this puzzle. In his new book The Fall: The End of Fox News and the Murdoch Dynasty, Michael Wolff lays out why Carlson’s was fired. Wolff is not the most reliable of reporters but what he describes is plausible and is the only theory that I have heard to date that makes any kind of sense.
It hinges on several factors. One is that Fox and Murdoch desperately wanted to avoid going to trial. The pre-trial release on internal memos and conversations at Fox were bad enough. They did not want to have their prominent personalities and Murdoch himself to face the additional humiliation of their top people being cross-examined under oath. So they were desperate to settle and Dominion knew this and was holding out for a billion dollars. But a billion was a psychological threshold that Murdoch would not cross, so Fox offered to settle for less but secretly threw in a sweetener and that was that Carlson would also be fired. But Fox did not want that to be part of the written settlement arrangement since it would enrage their viewers. But why would Dominion take that offer on faith? It turns out that they did not have to. According to Wolff, when settlements are reached, there is a period of sometimes up to one week given to both parties to officially file the settlement document with the court. During that time, parts of the deal which were privately agreed to but not part of the written agreement must be implemented by the parties. If they do not do so, the deal can be called off by the other party by not filing the settlement with the court. So Wolff’s account suggests that Carlson’s firing six days later was part of such an unwritten agreement.
Here are the relevant excepts from the book.
The positions were: Fox’s — or Murdoch’s — continued determination not to go to a billion but with anything under it fair game, and Dominion’s expectation that it had considerable room to go above $500 million with the hope that it could yet break through Fox’s billion-dollar resolve.
There was also a sweetener: putting Hannity on the table. The Fox News host would be fired concurrently with the settlement. Murdoch had always wanted to get rid of Hannity, and perhaps MAGA insider Hannity’s scalp would make Dominion more likely to accept a nine-figure settlement? It was a thing they might have done without this suit, and might do in the future anyway. Still, rolling it into the deal was convenient psychologically and tactically.
But it would be a gentleman’s agreement. There would be no official side letter about firing Hannity, no real acknowledgment even in the settlement that they were doing this as part of the deal. In one sense, there would be no enforcement mechanism. But, practically speaking, after a settlement is reached, the parties have a period of time, often up to a week, to file with the court. Technically, a settlement could come apart in that time if anticipated conditions or actions — for example, a gentleman’s agreement — were not honored. So Fox would make its gesture, this coincident event, within a week.
Hannity had been offered as a sweetener. But Carlson, the ratings leader, increasingly the real, hard-core face of the new demagogic right wing, was sweeter. He won’t go to a billion. He just won’t. Not going to happen. It’s Rupert. You know Rupert and money, when he digs in. So that’s it. We’re here.
Seven hundred and eighty-seven million dollars. There it is. Far and away the largest defamation award ever made, outside of Alex Jones — and Jones isn’t good for it and we are. And while we’re not making this a part of anything — he can’t live with that — we do understand what you want and things will happen. It will happen by the end of the week. It will be done.
Can you live with that? Can you live with $787 million … and Carlson?
As I have said, Wolff is not the most reliable of sources. But his account is plausible and fits the facts as we know them.