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  • Ben Herneman

How we allow ourselves to be manipulated by Tucker Carlson and Vladimir Putin.


We have become cripplingly addicted to the “car crash interview”. It is the only kind of interview that our popcorn brains can focus on for more than 45 seconds. “RISHI SUNAK CAR-CRASH INTERVIEW PILE UP" was the title of one recent absurd Owen Jones tagline.  We get our news from 6 second videos on TikTok, unregulated, unfact-checked podcasts or flashy partisan talk-shows. Such cheap media retains our attention by appealing to our prejudices and maintaining a constant state of hyperbole. The News has essentially become entertainment. Enter Tucker Carlson, an extremely funny and entertaining man. But that is all he is. The task of interviewing Putin demanded a fearless, serious and objective journalist.  Carlson fell severely short. 


“Will this be a talk show or a serious conversation”, Putin remarked; an obvious disparagement of Western Media, leading Carlson to display his ingratiating Pennywise-the-clown laugh . A depressing start that set the tone for the entire interview. Putin is aware that Western media is becoming increasingly sensationalist and short form (Carlson is no exception). Therefore by speaking in full sentences for half an hour he is able to feign a certain wisdom and historical understanding. The most galling moment of the interview was when Putin claimed that Poland went “too far” when they refused to cede the Danzig corridor to the Nazis, pushing them to trigger the Second World War. Carlson did not challenge this claim. When Putin claimed that the Ukraine invasion was triggered by a coup d'etat in Ukraine and violence in the Donbas, Putin did not challenge this claim. Putin claimed that Boris Johnson deliberately sabotaged peace negotiations. Tucker Carlson took this at face value with no interrogation. 


This is entirely conjecture, but it is not unreasonable to assume that Carlson wanted Putin’s approval. Even Putin was bewildered at Carlson’s “lack of tough questions” as he expressed in an interview with Russian presenter Pavel Zarubin. New York Times columnist Bret Stephens characterises Putin’s regime as a “cult of machismo”. His hatred for international law, his crusades against “LGBT ideology” and “Western decadence”, his use of crude thuggery in order to hide from legitimate opposition including the alleged murder of Alexei Navalny. I can’t list all of Putin’s crimes, but it would be no use. There is a contingent of the MAGA right that admires Putin as a strong leader and his despotic behaviour is simply taken as further evidence of that.


Carlson has spent the week making slick videos parading Russia as this marvellous place (definitely not a repressive authoritarian regime). He went on to praise how “clean” and unriddled with “bums or rapists” the subway is. And under Mussolini the trains ran on time. One might ask, if only the President of the US would focus on passing infrastructure legislation that Carlson clearly wants… Never mind. Tucker Carlson also went shopping in a Russian supermarket where he said their lower food prices should, “radicalise us against our leaders”. This claim is misleading as the average Russian wage (in dollars for comparison) is $14,771 compared to the $56,313 US average. 


Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson (and yes, that is his real name) fancies himself a sworn enemy of the establishment. However, this anti-establishment hobby horse of his appears to be a recent invention. I might as well quote the man himself from an appearance on the Bubba the Love Sponge show; “I'm an out of the closet elitist. I've never had to work, I'm extraordinarily loaded on all the money I've you know,  inherited. This whole TV journalism thing is just a phase for me.” Not exactly a horny handed son of toil. But American Right Wingers have long sought to redefine what anti-establishment means. Instead of standing up for the downtrodden, you can be anti-establishment by simply being as kooky as possible. They are not simply lying, they have convinced themselves that they are actually questioning the mainstream narrative. When Carlson worked at his lucrative Fox gig, he became the most prominent advocate of Donald Trump. That was publicly at least. We know that in private he said, “I hate him passionately”, “we're all pretending we've got a lot to show for it because the truth is too hard to digest”. We know this because these messages were unsealed in a court case where Carlson was accused of defamation and lying about election fraud. I raise this to highlight how Carlson has a troublesome history with the truth, therefore his real talking outsider schtick must be taken with a grain of salt


Tucker Carlson’s soft ball interview with Putin would not be possible without a backdrop of sensational, hyperbolic and unregulated media to blur the line between truth and fiction. In reality, every time the US has increased its defence spending, the congressional GOP have voted for it. During the period of United Government under the Republicans in the first half of Donald Trump’s presidency, they added $200 billion more to the defence budget than was projected. Ukraine aid accounts for roughly 1.5% of that budget. For that, the US is able to stand up for democracy in #

Europe, hold Putin accountable and deter other regimes from invading sovereign countries without a single US soldier being deployed.


Image: Wikimedia Commons - Kremlin.ru


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