The real propagandists are those who dismiss Tucker Carlson’s Putin interview

by | Feb 10, 2024

American establishment media spent the days in the run-up to Tucker Carlson’s interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin pre-judging it as propaganda, and soliciting the opinions of establishment figures, like former US secretary of state, first lady, and presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, who dismissed Carlson a “useful idiot.” 

All this before they even had the slightest notion of the interview’s content. All they knew was that Putin would have an opportunity to speak, and that ever since Carlson left Fox News and turned independent, there wasn’t any obvious establishment figure to babysit him or control what went out. Worse, it would air on the X platform (formerly Twitter) owned by Elon Musk, who describes himself as a “free speech absolutist.” So it did not bode well for the kind of propagandistic framing that the Western establishment enjoys when it comes to locking down narratives under the guise of fighting a war on fake news.

The fact that journalists balked at the very notion of Carlson interviewing Putin reeked of professional jealousy. There isn’t a credible journalist out there who wouldn’t leap at the same opportunity if given the chance. Which is why, as journalists from CNN and the BBC confirmed, they’d long sought their own interviews with Putin — unsuccessfully. Presumably, Carlson’s format, audience reach, and freedom from establishment media constraints were appealing enough to land him the opportunity. Good for him. And for the journalistic record that can only benefit from any and all contributions.

It’s not like other media outlets don’t also benefit from their Western colleagues questioning Putin. I experienced this myself when invited to ask a question during one of Putin’s marathon press conferences. For the record, no one had any clue what I’d be asking. Neither did I, actually, as about five or six different themes suddenly went on spin cycle in my mind as I stood to speak. My question ultimately ended up being what Putin thinks about then President Donald Trump’s assertion that Islamic State had been defeated in Syria — Trump’s rationale for announcing the withdrawal of American troops just the day before. Putin’s response, in agreeing with Trump’s assessment, was newsworthy, and was quickly picked up by CNN and other Western media. The difference between me and Carlson? No competitors had to credit me as the source of the question. So the information Putin provided could safely be used without having to credit a “competitor” and denting any egos, as is often the case in press conferences. Not so with exclusive interviews. 

Focusing on Carlson as some kind of flawed messenger serves as a convenient pretext for ignoring critical information and analysis. The fact that some journalists may think that Carlson’s questioning or approach was misguided — or that he didn’t push back enough for their tastes — doesn’t mean that they can’t subsequently take what Putin said and analyze it themselves. Every bit of information, analysis, or interview of any world leader is a valuable contribution. Litmus tests have no place in objective, impartial journalism. Many of those who criticize Carlson are the same ones who routinely search the Wikileaks database for leaked and dumped classified information to flesh out their own stories about various political issues and events that have since materialized — all while refusing to acknowledge that the publisher, Julian Assange, is as much of a journalist as they are. 

Carlson’s flaws arguably even served the American and global public. Much like Carlson erroneously claimed prior to the interview that other journalists couldn’t be bothered to interview Putin before he came along, he also played fast and loose with his very first question to the Russian president, stating that Putin said in his February 22, 2022, national address, at the onset of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, that he had come to the conclusion that the United States, through NATO, might initiate a, quote, ‘surprise attack’” on Russia. “I didn’t say that,” Putin interjected. “Are we having a talk show or a serious conversation?” Carlson’s lack of precision, sounding like a guy who thought he was having a chit-chat with another dude over beers in a bar, created an opportunity for Putin to launch a history lesson going back 2,000 years on how the Ukraine conflict came about.  It’s the kind of long-form discussion that the US mainstream media rarely does anymore, but which is commonplace in Europe. It could only benefit an American audience accustomed to a strict diet of sound bites — particularly in a country where just 14% of eighth graders are considered proficient in history, according to national testing. 

There were a lot of things Putin said that a large cross-section of Western audiences would likely be learning for the first time. That the notion of Russia being a nuclear threat to the West is fear-mongering to extract more cash from US taxpayers for war. That Russia has always been open to negotiations with Ukraine, but that President Vladimir Zelensky has a decree prohibiting them. That former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, serving as Washington’s lapdog, intervened to stop a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine a year and a half ago. That the troubles in Ukraine started in 2013 when the Ukrainian president at the time refused an association agreement with the EU because it would effectively cause the trade border with its main partner, Russia, to close for Moscow’s fear of being flooded with the EU products coming into Ukraine. That Germany could choose to open the one remaining pipeline of Nord Stream 2 right now if it wanted to, and ease the pressure on its economy and people suffering from a deficit of cheap Russian gas — yet Berlin still chooses not to. That Russia has no territorial ambitions, and just wants the weapons to stop flowing into Ukraine and into the hands of neo-Nazis who remain unconstrained by Ukrainian legislation. That the only reason Russia would ever invade Poland or any other part of Europe is if Russia was attacked. 

Finally, Carlson wrapped up with a plea for the release of Wall Street Journal reporter, Evan Gershkovich, imprisoned in Moscow on espionage charges. “I don’t know who he was working for. But I would like to reiterate that getting classified information in secret is called espionage. And he was working for the US special services, or some other agencies,” Putin said. During the Cold War, the Church Committee hearings in Washington found that dozens of American journalists had been used as spies for the CIA. It’s a convenient way for spies to get what they need while hanging someone else out to dry, and the activities can look the same. The difference is in who’s directing the activity (a media outlet or the government) and who’s the end consumer (a spy agency or the public). And it’s a practice that absolutely still continues today, as many journalists who have worked overseas can attest. It’s an unfortunate one, that NGOs have persistently pleaded with governments to stop. Without providing details, Putin suggested that’s what was going on here, and that the issue is being worked out between the US and Russian services. Not exactly the clear-cut narrative that’s being spoon-fed to the Western public. 

The biggest achievement of Carlson’s Putin interview is arguably that it added some much-needed grey matter to the Western depiction of a black and white global landscape. The problem for the Western establishment is that grey areas are notoriously difficult to control, and hard to manipulate for the purpose of driving an agenda.

Reprinted with permission from RT.