Fox Has a Secret ‘Oppo File’ to Keep Tucker Carlson in Check, Sources Say
Fox News executives have in their possession a dossier of alleged dirt on Tucker Carlson should he attack the network in the wake of his departure, eight sources at and close to the network tell Rolling Stone.
When Fox announced Carlson’s departure on Monday, the network presented the separation as amicable. But according to one former on-air Fox personality, the anchor and some of the channel’s top executives are parting ways on “the worst” and “messiest possible terms.” Indeed, in private communications released last month as part of the Dominion-Fox lawsuit, the now-fired Fox host gossiped that one such exec “hates us,” claiming she was covertly working against him and other hosts.
But if Carlson attempts to torch the network he’s leaving, Fox is prepared, the sources say.
Eight people familiar with the situation tell Rolling Stone that Fox News and its communications department — long led by the notoriously aggressive Irena Briganti — has assembled damaging information about Carlson. One source with knowledge calls it an “oppo file.” Two sources add that Fox is prepared to disclose some of its contents if execs suspect that Carlson is coming after the network.
The file includes internal complaints regarding workplace conduct, disparaging comments about management and colleagues, and allegations that the now-former prime-time host created a toxic work environment, three of the sources say. (Carlson is currently facing a lawsuit from a former senior booking producer, Abby Grossberg, alleging a toxic and misogynist workplace environment. The lawsuit details repeated instances of misogynist behavior at the network, including frequent lewd and sexual discussions of female guests and public figures. Grossberg “continued to endure a work environment that subjugates women based on vile sexist stereotypes, typecasts religious minorities and belittles their traditions, and demonstrates little to no regard for those suffering from mental illness.” Fox denied the allegations when the lawsuit was filed, saying the claims were “without merit.”)
A network spokesperson denied the existence of the file on Carlson. “This is patently absurd and categorically false,” the spokesperson said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “We thank Tucker for his service to the network as a host, and prior to that, as a contributor.”
Many sources within the network disagree. “Irena will never be shy about using these things,” says one network source who is familiar with the Carlson-related complaints.
Over the years, Briganti and Fox PR’s tactics have been turned against its own most prominent talent. For instance, The Daily Beast reported in 2018 that “emails reviewed and verified” by the outlet “show that Fox’s communications brass have planted negative stories about some of their own top stars, including hosts like Bill O’Reilly and Stuart Varney — the latter of whom is still a Fox employee.”
Those methods for keeping personnel in line are an open secret among current and former Fox News staff. Four former Fox News personalities confirmed Briganti likes to keep “dirt files” on Fox News talent, including one on Carlson.
An ex-Fox News anchor laments, “Irena tries to keep a file on everybody.… Any talent like Tucker would have a lot of things; other people complaining. They encourage it, and then just keep it on file. It’s just a classic dirty trick.”
“[Briganti] keeps files on everybody to screw with them,” a departed Fox News host adds. “It’s classic Fox.”
The sources say it was not clear what might prompt Briganti or Fox News to use the file. On Monday, it was revealed that Carlson had hired Bryan Freedman, a high-powered entertainment lawyer, to represent him following his Fox exit. Rolling Stone did not receive comment from Carlson at the time of this piece’s publication. Freedman did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.
It’s also unclear what precisely triggered Carlson’s abrupt departure. In addition to the Grossberg suit, he was a prominent figure in Dominion Voting Systems’ legal action against Fox News, which the network settled for $787.5 million earlier this month. In the run-up to trial, it was revealed that Carlson had bashed top brass in text chats with fellow network talent.
“Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience?” Carlson wrote shortly after Fox News projected Joe Biden had beaten Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Regarding Fox News executives, Carlson also privately sniped: “A combination of incompetent liberals and top leadership with too much pride to back down is what’s happening.”
Harshly trashing leadership is considered to be a major transgression at Fox News and Fox Business, where those who step out of line may find themselves on the receiving end of an unfavorable story.
Fox News has a history of taking punitive measures against departed personnel. When Megyn Kelly left the network in 2017 to host a morning talk show on NBC, it was reported that Briganti tried to push stories about the cable news star’s poor television ratings at the time, as well as her asking a Will and Grace fan if the show led him to being gay. Kelly has spoken out against Briganti, publicly noting the Fox spokeswoman’s “vindictiveness.” Briganti’s aggressive methods are widely known in the media. A 2016 New York magazine story titled “The Silencing of Fox News’ Powerful Publicist Irena Briganti” cited several then-Fox female employees who claimed “one of the reasons they did not speak up about sexual harassment in the past was that they were terrified Briganti would find out and smear them in the press.”
A current Fox News journalist says that Briganti won’t be afraid to use similar tactics against Carlson: “Irena is Fox’s fighter. She is very good at her job. I gotta believe she’s ready to fight Tucker if/when he takes this war publicly.”
Diana Falzone, one of the authors of this article, worked at Fox News from 2012 to 2018.