As Russian troops surrounded Ukraine, politicians and media pundits in the United States were largely united in their condemnation of Vladimir Putin’s impending attack.
Tucker Carlson, however, took a different approach. Hours before Putin ordered his forces into Ukraine, Fox News’ biggest star was still praising the Russian president.
Putin’s belligerent threats to Ukraine and the gathering of up to 190,000 troops on the country’s border were, according to Carlson, just a “border dispute.” Carlson, who played in the Kremlin talking points by stating that Ukraine was “not a democracy”launched an apparent attempt to humanize Putin.
“Has Putin ever called me a racist? Did he threaten to fire me for disagreeing with him? Did he send all the middle class jobs in my town to Russia? » Carlson said as he then recited a sheet of right-wing advice on pet causes.
“Did he fabricate a global pandemic that destroyed my business and kept me indoors for two years? Does it teach my children to accept racial discrimination? Does it manufacture fentanyl? Is he trying to stifle Christianity?
Just over 24 hours later, Putin effectively declared war on Ukraine.
Carlson was emphatically condemned, but he wasn’t the only one. Steve Bannon, former adviser to Donald Trump turned podcast host, has rented Putin for being “anti-awake,” for not flying pride flags, and for his hostility toward trans people.
Charlie Kirk, right-wing media personality and founder of Turning Points USA, suggested that Putin felt emboldened by “the energy policies put forward by Joe Biden.”
“Could it be that Greta Thunberg and Leonardo DiCaprio are actually responsible for what Vladimir Putin is doing? Kirk asked on his eponymous internet show.
“It’s a take you won’t hear anywhere else,” he added.
“As Russia prepared to invade Ukraine, Fox News’ biggest star was busy doing what he does best: getting himself utterly and horribly wrong,” said Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan. wrote.
By Thursday night, after Putin’s forces began bombing Ukraine and after widespread US and global outrage at the carnage, Carlson had changed his tune.
“I don’t think anyone approves of what Putin did yesterday. I certainly don’t.” he said on his show.
Carlson added: “Vladimir Putin started this war.” He continued: “He is to blame tonight for what we see tonight in Ukraine.”
But those who expect a mea culpa from Carlson, who recently also fall in love with the authoritarian regime of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán were disappointed.
Overt praise for Putin may have receded, but Carlson and his Fox News co-hosts and pundits continued to blame others for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Well, I think we all know that if Donald Trump had been president, this wouldn’t have happened,” said Lara Trump, Fox News contributor and daughter-in-law of the former president. said Fox and his friends Thursday.
“We exuded strength on the world stage when Donald Trump was there. Now you see Joe Biden in power. And my God, how many times have we all talked about how weak America is since the day Joe Biden was sworn in? »
“Rather than blaming the actual abuser for attacking his weaker neighbor, the right-wing media blamed Biden for allegedly projecting Putin’s weakness and vulnerability,” said Media Matters, a nonprofit organization that monitors conservative media. wrote.
“In the echo chamber of right-wing media […] the blame for this invasion lies with a mind-boggling variety of scapegoats, including Joe Biden, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, American environmentalists, the LGBTQ community, and even the team here at Media Matters for America – anyone is i.e. other than Putin.”
The account was pushed back by reporters at Fox News itself, particularly Jennifer Griffin, the network’s national security correspondent, who spent weeks painstakingly correcting his fellow opinion leaders as Russia surrounded Ukraine.
On Thursday morning, hosts of the Fox and Friends morning show explained that the sanctions against Russia “didn’t work”. Steve Doocy asked Griffin if “people in the Pentagon” were frustrated given that US troops were not involved.
“No, I wouldn’t say that, Steve. In fact, they know they had limited options in this area because Russia is of course a nuclear power, and NATO and the United States do not go to war with Russia over Ukraine, their goal is to contain this and prevent this from turning into an article 5 nation,” griffin said.
“You talk about how the sanctions didn’t work, I don’t know if we can say that yet. Overnight the stock market in Russia fell by half, 50%.
“This is just the beginning of what is described as ‘shock and awe’, if you will, of continued sanctions that haven’t even begun to be felt by Putin, by his oligarchs, by cronies the low.”
The rhetoric and tone of Fox News hosts and other members of the right-wing media ecosystem are unlikely to change anytime soon. But in some corners, there are journalists ready to bring these hosts back to reality.