The powerful gay man behind Tucker Carlson's bloodcurdling hate
Justin Wells is in charge of Carlson's entire Fox News empire. He's helped ramp up vitriol against LGBTQ people while rising higher still at News Corp.
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On his first Fox News broadcast following the November 19th mass shooting at Club Q, the LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs in which five people were murdered and at least 17 were injured, Tucker Carlson was undaunted, continuing his relentless smearing of LGBTQ people as “groomers” who are dangerous to children.
After a perfunctory condemnation of the violence, Carlson pivoted back to railing against “drag time story hour for fifth graders” and “genital mutilation of minors” while a graphic image behind him blared, “STOP SEXUALIZING KIDS.”
The following night, Carlson promoted the grotesque view that the staff and patrons of Club Q — where a drag performance was scheduled on that Saturday night of the attack — had it all coming to them. He brought on a guest who said the shooting was “expected and predictable,” and that “it won’t stop until we end this evil agenda that is attacking children.”
Twisted enough. But even more shocking is the little-known fact that a gay man helped craft, mold and disseminate these bloodcurdling distortions and the horrendous demonization against his own community.
A gay man supercharges Carlson’s promotion of Florida’s odious “don’t say gay” law, which stigmatizes queer kids, teachers and parents — a brutal campaign in which Carlson at one point said teachers who don’t comply “should be beaten up.” And a gay man empowers Carlson’s crusade against trans teens and and their parents, a crusade in which Carlson stated that hospitals should expect violent threats for providing gender-affirming care.
That gay man, Justin Wells, helped promulgate the kind of hate that leads to violence. A mass shooting that happened in the same kind of nightclub at which Wells, in years past, danced the night away in Miami Beach and elsewhere, liberating himself from the world outside and surely never imagining he’d be shot dead.
Now he’s aided the extremists who deny that sense of safety and liberation to every future generation of queer people.
Wells runs the entire Tucker Carlson operation, and is responsible for imprinting the Tucker Carlson brand, which is all about emboldening white heterosexual male grievance, furthering the racist conspiracy theory of “replacement theory” and pushing an increasingly virulent anti-LGBTQ agenda. Wells is Senior Executive Producer of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and also holds the title of Vice President of Tucker Carlson Digital Products.
“He’s been promoted to a level that no other producer has been since, maybe, David Tabocoff at O’Reilly,” a former Fox employee told me, describing how Tabocoff, who was at Fox with Bill O’Reilly for 16 years, produced O’Reilly’s shows, all of his various specials and interviews, and oversaw his entire brand, including his merchandising.
“I think that Justin has more power than Tabby [Tabacoff] ever had,” another former Fox employee, a former producer, countered. “And there’s not another show that out-rates it. Influence-wise, everyone who’s conservative wants to be on Tucker.” Indeed, Wells has his own website, independent of Fox News’s site, JustinWells.com, something that surprised the former Fox News producer.
On the site, Wells touts his accomplishments: “Television Creator & Journalist. Senior Executive Producer & Vice President at Fox News Media.” It brims with photos meant to convey his power and importance: Wells, out on remotes with Carlson, helping to craft the story; Wells, shoulder-to-shoulder with military Special Forces in front of their Airbus chopper; and Wells, meeting with former president Donald Trump. The site describes Wells as “leading the Tucker Carlson Team across multiple platforms at Fox News Media,” and lays out the Carlson Fox empire he oversees.
Angelo Carusone, President and CEO of Media Matters, the media watchdog group that is laser-focused on Fox News and Carlson, observed, “It’s unlikely that any narrative would get broadcast by Tucker without significant buy-in from Justin.” In a clip highlighted by Media Matters in which Wells was interviewed by Carlson on Carlson's show last year as Carlson’s Fox Nation documentaries began launching, Wells brags about the latitude Fox News executives give him: “They believe in what we're doing and have since we launched ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight.’”
It’s beyond horrific to think a gay man has helped to shape and widely disseminate a message of hate against LGBTQ people. This story is not, however, about a warped closet case, tormented by self-loathing, hiding his true self while bashing those like him. And thus, this story is not an outing, which involves exposing someone who covers up their sexual orientation while publicly presenting as heterosexual — though it certainly may be a startling revelation to a great many. It is, rather, about connecting the dots regarding a reality that seems to have been hiding in plain sight.
Wells has been married to another man for almost 10 years, and they openly celebrated their wedding among family and friends. They live together in a residence they purchased in New York shortly after they married. And they also own a country home together, with both names on the deed.
I have reviewed the relevant marriage and property data, and have viewed evidence of their publicly sharing their wedding day with friends. (I’m not referencing this information, nor reporting Wells’ spouse’s name, to protect the spouse’s privacy.)
I’ve also spoken with individuals who knew Wells in years past, including former Fox News colleagues and members of NLGJA, the association of LGBTQ journalists, a well-known and highly-public organization to which Wells apparently was once a member and a group whose events he most definitely attended over a decade ago. (These people spoke only without attribution because they are either former Fox employees who signed non-disclosure agreements or work for other news organizations, or both.)
Contacted for a response, neither Wells nor his representative offered a statement.
Wells, a veteran Fox News producer who cut his teeth at Fox as a field producer on Greta Van Susteren’s “On the Record” from 2008 until 2016, not only launched “Tucker Carlson Tonight” as Carlson’s executive producer, heading the program’s team in 2016; he became indispensable and in 2018 was given the loftier title of Senior Executive Producer. And as Carlson further pushed white nationalism, attacked transgender people and embraced Hungary’s authoritarian leader Victor Orban, Wells, in 2021, was named a Vice President at Fox News, in charge of all Carlson product that airs on Fox News TV as well as on Fox’s streaming network, Fox Nation.
Wells’ Twitter feed shows how he ramped up Twitter activity in early 2021, after years of relative dormancy after Van Susteren’s show ended, around the time of his promotion to VP and the launching of the Carlson Fox Nation projects. Twitter is also a place where far-right conservatives lobby Wells for coveted coverage on Carlson’s show, and where some even complain when they don’t get it.
In an exchange he tweeted out earlier this year, far-right conservative Dinesh D’Sousa, who made the bonkers election denial documentary “2000 Mules”, quoted a response he received from Wells as he tried to promote the film: “Dinish. Justin Wells here. VP and EP of everything in the Tucker world. I just want you to know that I/we won't forget your little stunt today. If you want to decide how much time to give content on the most watched show in America--then I suggest you produce one in the future.”
Before joining Fox News 14 years ago, Wells, as his Linkedin page describes, worked in news at several local TV stations, mostly in Florida. He’d grown up in St. Petersburg, and worked for stations in Tampa, Miami and West Palm Beach. Colleagues remember him out on the gay nightclub and bar scene on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach with his boyfriend of the time, also a TV journalist.
They both became involved in NLGJA, attending events and traveling to conferences, though the boyfriend was, according to these people, more involved. NLGJA, like many such groups, provides networking and connection, and a social life of gatherings and parties. (I’ve attended and spoken at NLGJA events on and off over the years; I have no recollection of having met or known of Wells or his then-boyfriend.)
“I always felt Justin was a little more buttoned up. Timid. Not quite as outgoing as [the boyfriend],” a member of NLGJA remembers, noting how it suited them as a couple. “It’s one of those things where I just saw them as a unit.”
Even after joining Fox in 2008, Wells apparently stayed involved in NLGJA at least for a little while, before breaking up with his long-time boyfriend. But he’s not had any involvement with the group for years, and certainly not since joining Carlson’s show.
Some of those who knew Wells in years past are baffled. A former Fox producer who socialized with Wells and his then-boyfriend remembers a “quiet dude, unassuming,” adding, “if you would have told me in 2008 [when we knew one another] that Justin would be the executive producer of the number one right-wing TV show in America, I would have said you’re out of your mind.”
“It really blows my mind that he — who he is as a person and what he does as a job — it’s beyond the scope,” said another former Fox employee who knew Wells, distinguishing between those working for someone like Carlson and others working at Fox.
“I don’t know if he’s just completely blinded by the money. It’s mind-boggling.” he said.
But not everyone is shocked. “It’s a very clear manifestation of someone who showed their true colors,” said a person in the industry who is highly respected, and who knew Wells for many years. This individual was referring to Wells sharing Carlson’s broader far-right views. “I’m not at all surprised. They are two peas in a pod. Simpatico.”
Still, it’s quite stunning that Wells would work for Carlson, who has a well-known history of visceral homophobia. That’s something that came to light again last year when it became known that Carlson had offered a tribute to Dan White, the assassin of San Francisco supervisor and gay civil rights leader Harvey Milk, in his college yearbook back in 1991, as well as to the late vociferously anti-gay Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who whipped up homophobia during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
I wrote about those jarring revelations when they surfaced last year, as well as about what I dubbed Carlson’s “pathological obsession with homosexuality” throughout his career. Carlson has expressed revulsion at homosexuality, and in one incident he reveled in a violent response. In a TV interview in 2007 he described having smashed a man’s head “against the stall” in a public rest room, after the man “bothered” him.
After an uproar, Carlson claimed the following day he was “assaulted” by the man, implying it was an act of self-defense. But in fact, according to his own description, it was not: Carlson said he’d left the rest room after the man had “bothered” him, and then went back with a friend, explaining that they then “grabbed” the man and “hit him against the stall with his head.”
Given these sentiments and incidents, some might think it’s bizarre that Carlson would even want a gay man such as Wells around him. But Carlson also has always reveled in having members of minority groups he bashes standing up for him and against the group, sort of like trophies — much as Trump infamously asked, “Where’s my African-American?” at a rally, and used his friendship with Kanye West in the past as a way to claim he wasn’t racist. It’s certainly a power trip, having the loyalty of that individual who helps to legitimize pushing hate against the group.
In that respect, Wells, as a gay man, only emboldens Carlson further. He gives him permission to launch the ugly attacks and helps Carlson validate, for himself (and likely for executives at Fox News), the vitriol he espouses. That makes Justin Wells’ presence as the powerful gay man behind Tucker Carlson all the more newsworthy. And all the more dangerous.