I will bet dollars to donuts that Ray Epps is at least part of the reason Tucker Carlson got fired.
If you’re not familiar with the name Ray Epps, he’s a former Marine whom Tucker Carlson repeatedly claimed was an FBI plant who incited the January 6, 2021 violence as a false flag operation against Donald Trump and his supporters. Although I’d probably find little common ground with Epps, I couldn’t be more supportive of his defamation suit against Fox for an unspecified amount of damages.
From The New York Times:
After the unfounded accusations about Mr. Epps were aired on Mr. Carlson’s show, they quickly spread to online communities of Trump supporters and to the political world as Republicans in Congress tried to link Mr. Epps to a fictitious conspiracy theory that he was involved in planning the Jan. 6 attack. They included Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky, both of whom made Mr. Epps — a two-time Trump voter — a focus of concern at public hearings.
The publicity had damaging consequences for Mr. Epps and his wife, Robyn, who received numerous death threats and were forced to sell their five-acre ranch and wedding business in Arizona and move into a 350-square-foot mobile home parked at a remote trailer park in the mountains of Utah. Online retailers began selling T-shirts that said “Arrest Ray Epps.” Some people even recorded songs about him and posted them on YouTube, the complaint states, adding that he had been reduced “into a character in a cartoonish conspiracy theory.”
Mr. Epps was in the Marine Corps but said under oath in his deposition before the Jan. 6 committee that he had otherwise never worked for law enforcement or spoken with anyone at various government agencies, including the F.B.I., the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency. Through his lawyer, Michael Teter, Mr. Epps demanded in March that Fox and Mr. Carlson retract its stories about him and his purported role in the Capitol riot and issue an on-air apology. Neither the network nor Mr. Carlson, whose prime-time show has since been canceled, responded.
Interestingly, Epps’ complaint blames Fox News lies about the 2020 election for Epps’ presence at the January 6 rally:
7. The lies that Fox told were heard by Ray and Robyn Epps, loyal Fox viewers and fans of Tucker Carlson and other Fox personalitie
8. Ray and his wife Robyn voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and in 2020.
9. From the stories they heard on Fox and from their own experiences, Ray and Robyn believed that the 2020 election had been stolen from Donald Trump.
10. Ray and Robyn were persuaded by the lies broadcast by Fox asserting that the election had been stolen to exercise their perceived responsibilities as patriotic citizens to gather in the nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021 to “stop the steal.”
20. Still, just as Fox had focused on voting machine companies when falsely claiming a rigged election, Fox knew it needed a scapegoat for January 6th that would help absolve itself and would appeal to its viewers. It settled on Ray Epps and began promoting the lie that Epps was a federal agent who incited the attack on the Capitol:
The tragedy here is that Fox and Carlson targeted one of their own fans, according to the complaint. It states that Epps was “an avid and loyal Fox viewer and a fan of Mr. Carlson’s.” The complaint provides a long explanation of Epps’ behavior in Washington on January 5th and 6th, 2021. Assuming the facts are correct, and they ring true, Epps saw it as his duty as an ex-Marine to try to prevent violence and calm the crowd.
It wasn’t just Carlson, either. Fox hosts Laura Ingraham, Will Cain and Sen. Ron Johnson, while appearing on the Hannity show, all took part in the smear-fest.
The threats Epps reportedly received are horrible, too. For example, this voicemail: “I was just checking to see if you guys are planning any more insurrections. Haha. So, it’s going to be fun to see your place go down in flames. Haha.” This text: “You better sleep with one eye open mother f**ker. Your time is up. The game is over buddy. You lost. Times up. Tick Tock.”
Epps' complaint also cites the complaint and comments of a former producer for the Tucker Carlson Tonight show, Abby Grossberg, as proof that Carlson’s team knew that his accusations against Epps were baseless. Included are her remarks in an MSNBC interview with Nicolle Wallace. I wrote about it an April 27, 2023 post for Crooks and Liars, called, “Do Abby Grossberg’s Comments About Ray Epps Hold The Key To Tucker’s Firing?”
“I found it difficult to cover the kind of stories that they wanted me to cover,” Grossberg said. She cited January 6th as an example. “Tucker was very set on finding an FBI person who was implanted in the crowd and spinning this conspiracy that they were ultimately the ones responsible for the Capitol attack,” she added. She went on to explain that she could find no evidence for such a thing, that an attorney for one of the Proud Boys had told her, twice, "There is no conspiracy, get away from this stuff. This is dangerous, tell Tucker to stop.”
"The response was, 'Well, find somebody else. Tucker is really intent on this.'"
Grossberg added in that interview that she was never able to find a lawyer willing to say there were FBI informants infiltrating the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. Epps’ complaint cites that interview as well as Grossberg’s complaint against Fox News (the case has since settled) in which she said Carlson's senior producer, Tom Fox, told her, “That doesn’t fit with what Tucker is looking for. You’ll have to find someone else who will say that.” She also alleged that Carlson told her to talk to another Proud Boys attorney in the hope of backing up his conspiracy theory (Pages 26-27).
Grossberg reportedly has 90 tapes from her time at Fox News. One of them may well have proof that Fox/Carlson knew he was recklessly smearing Epps.
The Epps lawsuit was percolating along during Grossberg’s case and the Dominion defamation case. So, something else may have been discovered in the course of those cases.
From Media Matters:
Epps appeared on CBS News’ 60 Minutes the night before Carlson’s ouster and said the Fox host’s commentary had resulted in death threats.
Last month, a lawyer representing Epps sent a letter to Carlson demanding he retract his “false and defamatory statements” about Epps and issue an apology, a potential precursor to a defamation lawsuit against Fox.
So Fox knew about Epps' potential lawsuit well before it fired Carlson. By the way, Carlson claims he still doesn't know why he was fired. Maybe this suit will be a clue.
I hope the case will provide more details about how Fox allowed or maybe even encouraged dangerous smears against a fan. Sadly, I expect the network will settle before we ever learn more details.
You can watch MSNBC’s Ari Melber discuss Epps’ suit below, from the July 12, 2023 The Beat with Ari Melber. In it, Melber erroneously states that Epps is suing Carlson. For some reason, Carlson is not named as a defendant in the suit.
Since this lawsuit has been pending for at least two months, I suspect there have been settlement negotiations that were not resolved. I think it’s quite likely that one of Epps’ demands is for some kind of big, on-air retraction, which he obviously has not gotten.
I am so hoping he holds out for that and that he gets one.