ILast week, two Fox News reporters died in Ukraine, and the news channel mourned with the rest of the country amid anger over the Russian onslaught. Republicans, too, were quick to abandon past views on Russia and some have called for no-fly zones and supplying Ukraine with Polish MiG fighter jets as Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion continues. .
But far-right Fox News host Tucker Carlson, the alternately flabbergasted and outraged prime-time host and Trump standard-bearer, continued to present his conspiratorial show with such apparent disrespect. that the Kremlin itself would have considered his equivocations about the causes of the conflict vital to its propaganda apparatus.
Even Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – no doubt largely thanks to Carlson – praised Fox’s coverage of the conflict. “If you take the United States, only Fox News is trying to present alternative views,” he said on Friday.
But apparently no action has yet been taken by Fox News executives to contain Carlson. The 52-year-old host took on the role of “Tucker the Untouchable,” even taking public offense when a top Republican lawmaker called his show “a disinformation outlet.”
The criticism came from Texas congressman Michael McCaul, one of two Republicans who have expressed concern in recent weeks that Carlson’s nighttime show – clips of which have in turn been relayed on Russian state media in recent weeks – has veered too close to defending Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Outrage is, of course, Carlson’s specialty. On Thursday, he amped it up after McCaul’s comments. “In other words, not only are we wrong – which is good – we are disloyal Americans who obey a foreign power. It’s not good. This is slander,” he fumed. Carlson went on to accuse McCaul and other Republicans of “talking like Joe Biden,” who “calls anything he doesn’t like ‘Russian disinformation’.”
And that, quite generally, brought him back to the subject of Hunter Biden, who would be under investigation by the Department of Justice over payments he received from a number of foreign companies, including the company Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
Carlson has long questioned Putin as a villain. At the start of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, he went on the air to tell his viewers: “Has Putin ever called me a racist? Did he threaten to fire me for disagreeing with him?
Last weekend, the US website Mother Jones reported that the Kremlin had told Russian media that it was “essential” that Carlson’s pro-Putin rhetoric be released, although the outlet did not publish the cited documents.
It comes as her employer lost two members of its newsgathering operation – Ukrainian producer and fixer Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, 24, and Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski, 55, to a bombing. in Gorenka, near kyiv, on Monday. Another Fox reporter was seriously injured and evacuated.
Yet amid a huge outpouring of sympathy for Fox staff and anger at the Russian military, Carlson on successive nights last week devoted segments to promoting Moscow’s baseless propaganda claims about secret US biological warfare labs in Ukraine.
US officials said the labs are Ukrainian and are part of an initiative called the Biological Threat Reduction Program which has received financial assistance from the United States. The White House has warned that the Kremlin conspiracy theory used to justify its invasion of Ukraine could itself be a prelude to a Russian chemical or biological attack.
“It’s a classic Russian maneuver,” warned US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines this week. Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Carlson and others were behind the spread of bioweapons rumors, which are gaining credibility on the U.S. far right.
Other Republicans, including Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, declined to participate in Tucker Carlson tonight because of his alleged pro-Putin agenda. Kinzinger accused Carlson of pushing the narrative that the United States is to blame for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“There’s no way I’m going on his show, for a number of reasons,” said Kinzinger, a U.S. Air Force veteran.said in a video on Twitter. “His insistence that the West was provoking war with Putin, his widespread lies about biolabs and his continuous spouting of conspiracy theories are nothing short of absolute evil. His show is full of Russian propaganda, not news.
Carlson’s power comes amid the rise of far-right groups, individuals and opinions across the United States. Whether it’s militia supporters seeking power in local government in California, or in the state office of Idaho, or on new social media platforms, America’s far-right knows a kind of boom.
Carlson, experts say, is one of them. And so is the fondness – or at least respect – for Putin. According to Scott McLemee, who reviewed a study recently published on the right in Inside Higher Ed last week: “There is no doubt that Carlson is at least a white nationalist, who may not be a fascist, but close enough.
“The appeal of Russian authoritarianism to the American far right is considerable, and not just because of Trump’s loyalty to Putin. A common skin color and a shared hostility towards feminism and gay rights mean a lot.
But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the daily images of suffering it produced for American media complicated Carlson’s platform, at least in terms of the broader American media landscape, even if it’s not is not within Fox itself.
“That balance that he’s playing on so many different levels becomes a lot more precarious,” said Bob Thompson, a former Syracuse University media studies professor and current director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture.
Carlson’s equivocation on Russian aggression complicates the ideological real estate he occupies. “It’s not just confusing, it’s almost dada,” Thompson says. “You see it play out on the show when someone makes a rational argument and they’re deflected not by an alternative, but by abandoning rationality.”
But that may also be what fervent Carlson supporters and equally staunch detractors come to see.
It is the nature of cable news that relatively few viewers are required to establish a commercial basis, so the power of advertisers to speak for the body politic by pulling publicity when a host says something blatant has diminished – and with it the chances of getting fired. And Carlson remains a hugely popular figure with Fox viewers and, through them, the Trump base and the Republican politicians she fuels.
Which leaves Carlson and others right and left indulging in whatever particular type of thought, or lack thereof, they choose to follow.
“The point of these shows is to outrage viewers across the country, which in turn will bolster the very small audience that you need for it to be a success,” Thompson said. “Carlson is, in a sense, untouchable because outrage is a genre of entertainment in its own right.”