RUSSIA RUSSIA RUSSIA - Journalists play a vital role when it comes to informing the public on world affairs. To that end, there’s no way around interviewing murderers, war criminals or autocrats consumed by power – or even those that are all three things. Power must be held accountable no matter what.
As such, the fact that Vladimir Putin has agreed to an interview aimed at the Western media is fine from a journalist perspective, as we’re in dire need of answer, which only the Russian president can provide.
Why did he refer to the Crimean Peninsula as Ukrainian in 2008 – only to follow this statement with an invasion six years later? How long are political opponents like Alexei Navalny or foreign correspondents like Evan Gershkovich and Alsu Kurmasheva supposed to languish in prison? Does the president still deny that Russian soldiers have been committing war crimes in Ukraine – and does he have any news about the investigation into the assassinations of Boris Nemtsov or Yuri Shchekochikhin?
Unfortunately, the designated interviewer, Tucker Carlson, won’t be asking any of those questions. If his interview with Viktor Orbán, Putin’s fellow Hungarian strongman, is anything to go by, it’s safe to say that Carlson will be lobbing softballs at Putin while conducting an interview that hardly qualifies as journalism.
If Vladimir Putin is to be interviewed, it should be done by a reporter with extensive knowledge of Russian politics, who can push back on the claims laid forth by Putin, who dares question a brutal autocrat.
Can Carlson even be called a journalist? In a 2020 trial his defense rested on an argument that his talk show doesn’t contain ‘actual facts’, but is rather built on ‘exaggeration’ and 'non-literal commentary.’ In his days as FOX News host he eagerly admitted that we would often lie to get his point across, which eventually became untenable, even to FOX, which booted him following a lawsuit against the network’s dissemination of the big election lie, which Carlson spread while admitting in private to believe none of it.
Tucker is no real reporter, but a conservative front-line warrior with the vague resemblance of a journalist. This is exactly why the Kremlin has chosen him to interview Putin instead of the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, or any of the myriad of journalists that have tried to arrange a sit-down with the Russian president. Tucker’s recent claims that no other Western reporters had tried to talk with Putin was, of course, yet another lie, this time so glaring that even the Kremlin’s spin doctor, Dmitry Peskov, dismissed it publically.
Tucker has repaid the benevolence of the Kremlin by going on a wild propaganda tour of Moscow, where a visit to The Bolshoi and the capital’s metro was followed by a bizarre statement that Russia had achieved “wonders of civilization” that "Americans can't even dream of!" This might come as a surprise to the 20 percent of Russians still living without sewage systems or the hundreds of thousands trying to survive a harsh winter without heating, as the Russian war machine eats a progressively larger part of the state finances. Perhaps a few obvious questions to the president is hidden somewhere in these calamities? But to an ideologue like Carlson, those kind of boring details matter little to none, as he coasts through his well-designed propaganda tour of the capital. In Carlson’s words Russia is "doing very well” – no further probe warranted. Meanwhile, the Russian propaganda machine churns every second of his visit into TV segments.
The useful ally
So why has Tucker Carlson gone to Moscow at this point in time? To amplify the conservative agenda back home. His controversial talk with Putin is all service to one of his favorite viewers, Donald Trump, who has decided to freeze US politics completely ahead of the election. Trump hopes to manufacture a crisis, be it on the border to Mexico, another wave of inflation or more chaos in Ukraine. In lieu of an actual policy platform, Trump’s road to the Oval Office runs through fear-mongering and panic, and with MAGA loyalist Mike Johnson as speaker, further US aid to Ukraine is a long way out. Vladimir Putin desperately wants Republicans to seize control of all three branches of government in November, and sees an interview with Tucker as a boost to the objective of installing a less hostile Trump government in power, thus allowing him to continue his pillage of Eastern Europe in peace.
Carlson’s trip to Moscow has been sharply condemned across the board in the liberal parts of the Western establishment. While several EU politicians have called for sanctions on the ideologue cosplaying as a journalist, Hillary Clinton has described him as the Kremlin’s useful idiot.
But here, Clinton is mistaken. Tucker is no idiot, as this implies he is merely a pawn on a geopolitical chess board; the curious reporter eying a scoop as a return to relevance. Carlson knows exactly what he’s doing and dances to the Kremlin’s tune because he is a useful ally.
Like the Kremlin regime, Carlson wants to dismantle the Western-liberal world order and roll back progressive victories: the LGBT+ movement, equality among genders and races, and female reproductive rights. These are the main adversaries for both Carlson and Putin, whose reactionary right-wing fantasies unite them across continents.
If Vladimir Putin is to be interviewed, it should be done by a reporter with extensive knowledge of Russian politics, who can push back on the claims laid forth by Putin, who dares question a brutal autocrat. In short all the things Tucker Carlson isn’t. As the Kremlin’s useful ally said himself in 2019: Why shouldn't I root for Russia? Which I am.
(Morten Hammeken is a freelance journalist and historian. This article was featured first in CommonDreams.org.)