In the waning months of 2020, Fox was in a bind. It had helped peddle Donald Trump’s election lies and built a hungry audience for the unfounded conspiracy. Ultimately, though, the news network needed to concede that Joe Biden had won the presidency—so, how were they supposed to feed their frenzied audience?
While parts of the network reversed course on the Trump train, Tucker Carlson decided to feed into the mystery around Trump’s stolen election by promoting a list of dead voters touted by the Trump campaign, according to Brian Stelter’s latest book, Network of Lies, a dissection of thousands of pages of texts and emails obtained from the Dominion v. Fox lawsuit.
With show producers, Carlson privately complained that Trump’s lies were “disgusting,” but in order to maintain competitive ratings he knew he needed to extend the yarn.
“Obviously [the Trump campaign needs] to do whatever they can to help us,” Carlson messaged producer Alex Pfeiffer on the eve of announcing the dead voter conspiracy, according to Stelter’s book.
“Do we have enough dead people for tonight?” Carlson asked in another text.
When Carlson went on air that night, he announced several names of voters that he claimed to be dead but who were, in fact, alive—they simply shared names with the deceased.
“What we’re about to tell you is accurate. It’s not a theory. It happened, and we can prove it. Other news organizations could prove it, too. They’ve simply chosen not to,” Carlson told his hungry audience on a segment bannered, “Yes, Dead People Did Vote In The Election.”
Years later and long after other news organizations had knocked on doors and debunked the lie, Carlson would recall that moment as a turning point in his relationship with Trump, whom he later called a “demonic force.”
“And so I said to the Trump people, you know, ‘You’re saying the election was rigged. Send me some examples of it and I’ll put it on the air,’” Carlson told WABC’s Bo Snerdley’s Rush Hour.
“And one of them was these dead voters. Well, it turned out some of them were still alive. And I was so mad by the incompetence of that campaign, which was completely incompetent. I mean, completely, you know, I’m like the one guy who’s open minded about the election being unfair. And—and that’s what they send me? Anyway. Whatever. I was mad. That was a moment in time,” he added.