Inside the ‘Death Match’ that Helped Doom Tucker Carlson at Fox
In the spring of 2020, Tucker Carlson went to war with one of Fox News’ most powerful figures.
Carlson had grown so furious with Fox’s communications and PR chief, Irena Briganti, that he attempted to get her fired, people familiar with the matter tell Rolling Stone. Briganti, formerly a key lieutenant to the late, disgraced Fox News mastermind Roger Ailes, had been an influential figure in the cable-news industry for years, as an infamously aggressive enforcer within Fox’s public-relations apparatus.
But after years of mutual antipathy between the executive and the high-profile host, Carlson attempted to force her out. The sources say Carlson made his case to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, Fox’s chief legal officer Viet Dinh, Murdoch family heir and Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch, and even other Fox News personalities such as Sean Hannity.
In pleading his case, Carlson argued Briganti spent too much time badgering on-air talent and the channel’s personnel; that she was generally incompetent and mean-spirited; and that she regularly engaged in dirty tricks against him and other hosts and contributors, when her job was ostensibly to protect them. One current Fox source with knowledge of the matter described the Carlson-Briganti feud as an intra-network “death match.”
“I do know that he was telling [Fox executives] that [Briganti] should be fucking fired,” a former Fox News commentator tells Rolling Stone. “She’s terrible. He was very bold there.”
But despite Carlson’s high ratings, influence in Republican political circles, and hyper-devoted fan base, he lacked the juice to oust Briganti. Her ties to other top executives were too tight for Carlson to overcome. In some cases, executives laughed off Carlson’s attempt to get Briganti fired, assuring him and others that Briganti was not going anywhere anytime soon.
Word of Carlson’s attempt to get her fired got back to Briganti, exacerbating an already terrible relationship. Briganti “hates all the talent,” the former Fox News commentator says. “She was so disgusted by the level of fucked up idiots who work there, in her opinion, and had to clean up their messes and their overblown egos.”
More importantly for Carlson, the failed attempt to oust Briganti helped erode his goodwill among the Fox News executive class.
“He really thought he was going to make a change, and I kind of shook my head,” says a different former Fox News talent. “It was such a terrible idea. It was such a clear suicide mission … But then again at the time I guess he thought he was big enough to do anything.”
Carlson wasn’t, and last month, he was forced out of Fox News, shocking the political media ecosystem and, within Fox, marking a decisive victory for Briganti.
The precise cause of Carlson’s sacking remains unclear, as high-level Fox sources and others have pushed out a variety of explanations. But it’s widely accepted, inside of Fox and out, that Carlson’s tensions with senior executives — particularly Briganti — helped lay some of the groundwork for his ouster.
One of many factors that looms large in their years-long feuding is a chapter nowadays often described internally at Fox as “cuntgate,” according to current Fox personnel who spoke to Rolling Stone. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that, in the wake of the Dominion lawsuit, redacted legal filings revealed Carlson referred to an unidentified senior Fox executive as the c-word. Several people familiar with the matter are confident the executive in question is Briganti.
“One thousand percent” it was Briganti, the former Fox News commentator says.
Multiple people familiar with the matter tell Rolling Stone that Carlson has repeatedly in recent years, in text messages and elsewhere, referred to Briganti as a “cunt” and other extremely pejorative terms.
In recent months, as Fox’s legal brass pored over discovery documents in advance of the high-profile Dominion-Fox defamation lawsuit (which has since been settled), some of Carlson’s private messages and texts were flagged for high-ranking executives and board members, some of whom now claim to have been utterly floored by them. In this still mostly concealed trove, there were messages written by Carlson calling multiple people the misogynist epithet, including Briganti, according to two sources familiar with the situation. When Fox lawyers asked Carlson about the messages and Briganti, the then-host privately told them that his characterization of the senior Fox exec was “objectively true,” and showed zero contrition for it.
Now, Carlson and Briganti may be gearing up for another round.
Axios reported Sunday that he was “ready to torch” Fox News, saying he hoped to unleash allies in bid to free the former host to start a rival media operation. And in the time since details of some of his private messages have leaked into the press, Carlson has stressed to people close to him that he does not regret sending nor is he ashamed by some of the now-public texts,” sources familiar with the matter say. That includes the vulgar text about the top female executive, as well as a racist text revealed by The New York Times about how white men supposedly fight.
On Briganti’s end, as Rolling Stone previously reported, high-level executives at Fox have kept a secret dossier of workplace complaints and alleged dirt on Carlson — and have been prepared to leak portions of their files.
“Fox News staffers live in fear of Briganti and that’s by design,” says Megyn Kelly, a former marquee name at Fox who also became a target of Briganti’s ire. “They know she will plant negative stories about them, release private unflattering details about them [and] their work that may or may not be true, and generally do what it takes to remind them how dangerous it is to challenge her. She is one of the main reasons Roger Ailes was able to cover up his harassment of women for so long. She was his most loyal protector. Crossing him meant making an enemy of her, which would invite attacks, public embarrassment, and even ruination of one’s career. It’s stunning they kept her after Ailes’s downfall. Clearly, they like what she does.”
Diana Falzone, one of the authors of this article, worked at Fox News from 2012 to 2018.