To Text or Not to Text
Texting anxiety. That’s the phrase for a malady defined as the “fear of sending or receiving text messages.”
According to choosingtherapy.com, a find-a-therapist website, as many as one out of five people experience severe anxiety, including a racing heartbeat, at the mere thought of drafting and sending a simple text message. They fear how it will be received or the kind of response it might provoke.
Tucker Carlson, who lost his job in April as anchor of Fox News Tonight, does not suffer from texting anxiety. Or at least he didn’t when he hosted the highest-rated cable news program in prime time.
Carlson’s spectacular downfall was partly due to what he apparently assumed were “private” texts to his television producer. This case illustrates the dangerous foolhardiness of employees who feel compelled to write their innermost thoughts about the workplace (or themselves) in text messages to co-workers.
Carlson was fired on Monday, April 24, just days after Fox News agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems $787.5 million to settle Dominion’s defamation lawsuit against Fox. Video of his show the preceding Friday evening, where he signed off with, “See you next week,” indicates he had no idea his job was on the chopping block.
Many of his texts had been uncovered in the ongoing Dominion litigation and disclosed to the public, including his post-Jan. 6 observation that Donald Trump was a “demonic force” and a “destroyer.”
While those texts cast Carlson as a hypocrite, they weren’t necessarily bad for the bottom line. They weren’t damaging enough in the minds of Fox owner Rupert Murdoch and his son, Lachlan, CEO of Fox Corp., to settle the case during the preceding two years of litigation.
But Exhibit 276, known as Carlson’s “it’s not how white men fight” text, went too far for the Fox board and the Murdochs.
On Jan. 7, 2021, Carlson sent a 200-word, carefully crafted text to a co-worker, bemoaning a pre-Jan. 6 video he’d seen where “a group of Trump guys [in Washington] surrounded an Antifa kid and started pounding the living s— out of him.” (Carlson used the full profanity.)
Carlson wrote: “It was three against one, at least. Jumping a guy like that is dishonorable obviously. It’s not how white men fight.” Carlson went on to admit he rooted “for the mob…hoping they’d hit him harder, kill him.”
But then, as Carlson framed it, an “alarm went off” in his head.
He wrote: “I should remember that somewhere somebody probably loves this kid, and would be crushed if he was killed. If I don’t care about those things, if I reduce people to their politics, how am I better than he is?”
Fox’s payout to Dominion is believed to be the highest defamation settlement on record.
While Exhibit 276 had been redacted in the court discovery documents, the Fox board was given the unvarnished version the weekend before trial.
According to The New York Times, Fox leadership and its lawyers feared that putting Carlson on the witness stand subjected the company to untold risk, in light of his on-air claim that the Jan. 6 rioting was a “peaceful exercise,” a view seemingly belied by his earlier “how white men fight” text.
In summary, Carlson had simply become too problematic for the Murdochs. Had they settled the Dominion case earlier, however, Carlson’s texts—others of which featured misogynistic tropes about Fox co-workers—might never have surfaced.
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Working in an environment featuring constant paranoia about legal action or lawsuits does not make for happy or productive employees.
Yet the urge to text, especially to a work friend whom you trust and who shares your views about politics, company leadership, and/or irritating or disliked co-workers, generally results in written, permanent testimonials that serve no purpose other than venting for the texter.
Carlson, a former magazine journalist, obviously needed to vent and apparently exonerate himself to his Fox producer.
For most workers, emoji-filled texts that bemoan a boring work assignment pose little risk.
Yet the speed, secrecy, and informality inherent in the very act of texting render this particular digital platform dangerous.
No wonder texting makes people feel anxious. In Carlson’s case, he obviously wasn’t anxious enough.