February 12, 2024
Tucker Carlson is a talk show celebrity, not a journalist, and his recent “interview” for two hours with Vladimir Putin demonstrated the difference. He passively listened as Putin spewed fake historical facts. Carlson never challenged Putin, nor did he ask the obvious question as to why his version of history or his perceived grievances against the West justified Russia’s murderous rampage against civilians, children, cities, historical sites, and schools in Ukraine. He didn’t hold Putin to account for killing and wounding more than half a million people in the past two years. He let Putin off the hook for destroying homes and infrastructure or for causing the death of 10,000 civilians and triggering the exodus of more than six million refugees to Europe. And Carlson didn’t raise the issue of Russian warcrime allegations in Bucha in 2022 nor the March International Criminal Court allegations against Putin for the unlawful deportation of thousands of children from occupied Ukraine. Carlson’s “interview” wasn’t journalism, It was collaboration.
Before the meeting took place, Carlson portrayed his decision to trek to Moscow as “an act of journalistic duty and personal bravery”. He said it was necessary because “not a single Western journalist has bothered to interview the president of the other country involved in this conflict, Vladimir Putin… Most Americans have no idea why Putin invaded Ukraine or what his goals are now. They’ve never heard his voice. That’s wrong.”
The fact is that scores of real journalists have requested interviews but been refused. Carlson, on the other hand, was selected because he regularly spouts Russian talking points. As BBC Moscow correspondent Steven Rosenberg said: “He was chosen because he made many pro-Putin and Russia comments and didn’t challenge the alternative reality presented by Putin. For two hours he [Putin] was pretty much unchallenged.”
The timing of the interview was helpful for the Kremlin because Washington still wrestles with the issue of providing military aid to Ukraine. And Putin was “loaded for bear” and wove into his rants four narratives designed to undermine Ukraine’s alliance: 1. Ukraine cannot defeat Russia; 2. The war will only end when America stops supplying weapons to Ukraine; 3. Russia has no intention of invading Poland or the Baltics, and 4. Russia will negotiate. But the caveat to these assertions is that Putin won’t keep promises to stop or negotiate, any more than he has acceded in the past to international law or to treaties like the 1994 Budapest Memorandum when Moscow promised to never invade Ukraine. He’s already invaded Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine twice, contrary to international law. But Tucker Carlson never brought up any of these lapses.
Russian author and Putin biographer, Masha Gessen, excoriated Carlson’s interview in a New Yorker piece because he allowed Putin to tell lies. She cited, for instance, Putin’s statement that the Russian Army withdrew from the suburbs of Kyiv after a month of invasion in 2022. “Putin claimed that this was a gesture of good will aimed at achieving a speedy negotiated peace; in fact, it was a military defeat. This would also have been a good moment for Carlson to ask Putin about the well-documented war crimes [in Bucha] Russian soldiers allegedly committed during that month of occupation. He passed up this opportunity,” she wrote.
Unfortunately, the damage is done. Carlson’s American fans are now as ignorant about the war as they ever were, and the Russian press had a field day. “They see Carlson, not unreasonably, as a representative of a future Trump Administration, a preview of the coming America in which the liberals who support Ukraine are finally displaced,” wrote Gessen. She also took issue, Carlson didn’t, when Putin claimed he had no interest in invading Poland or the Baltics. “It’s telling, too, that Putin took the time to accuse Poland of both allying with Nazi Germany and inciting Hitler’s aggression,” she wrote. “As he has done with Ukraine in the past, he is positioning Poland as an heir to Nazism. He mentioned Poland more than thirty times in his conversation with Tucker. If I were Poland, I’d be scared.”
And it is scared and so are Europeans. The day after the interview, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met with President Joe Biden in the White House to show solidarity and support for more military aid. He’s allocated billions for Ukraine and also wrote a powerful op-ed in the Wall Street Journal stating that a Russian victory in Ukraine would “dramatically change the face of Europe.” Euronews, a consortium of European broadcasters, wrote a scathing review of the Carlson train wreck. “The Russian leader repeated many well-worn disputed justifications about the conflict, including that it was necessary to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine and prevent the country [Ukraine] from posing a threat to Russia by joining NATO. He also mentioned various false narratives, that the Kyiv government is filled with neo-Nazis and about Ukrainian history. The interview was a major scoop for the Trump-supporting right-wing commentator Carlson, who has frequently criticised US support for Ukraine and referred to Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a `Ukrainian pimp’ and `rat-like’.”
Instead of reportage or fact-checking, Carlson let Putin claim that NATO conspired to surround and conquer Russia, and that Putin’s puppet, former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych, was unjustly driven out of the country. But the facts are that the Ukrainian dictator, who hired and paid former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort handsomely to do a make-over and advise him, left in a hurry in 2014 for Moscow, along with millions of dollars. None of these pertinent facts were mentioned by Tucker Carlson.
Most unforgiveable, however, is that Carlson repeated, in his post-interview video, Putin’s most vile statement: “Russia is not an expansionist power,” he said. “You’d have to be an idiot to think that… The professional liars in Washington . . . are trying to convince you that this guy is Hitler, that he is trying to take the Sudetenland, or something,” Carlson continued. “Not analogous in any way!”
Ironically, Tucker’s father, Richard “Dick” Warner Carlson, was an actual journalist and became director of the Voice of America between 1986 to 1991, That organization promoted Western values and debunked Kremlin propaganda. His son does not.