‘Tucker the Untouchable’ goes soft on Putin but remains Fox News’s biggest power | Fox News

Last week, two Fox News journalists died in Ukraine, and the news channel grieved along with the rest of the country amid anger at the Russian onslaught. Republicans, too, rapidly shed past views on Russia and some called for no-fly zones and supplying Ukraine with Polish MiG fighter jets as Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion ground on.

But the far-right Fox News host Tucker Carlson, the alternately flabbergasted and outraged primetime host and Trumpist standard-bearer, carried on presenting his conspiratorial show with such a seeming lack of regard that the Kremlin itself reportedly considers his equivocations over the causes of the conflict vital to its propaganda apparatus.

Even Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov – no doubt largely thanks to Carlson – had praise for Fox’s coverage of the conflict. “If you take the United States, only Fox News is trying to present some alternative points of view,” he said on Friday.

But no action has apparently yet been taken by Fox News executives to rein Carlson in. The 52-year-old host has taken on the mantle of “Tucker the Untouchable”, even taking huge public offense when a senior Republican lawmaker called his show “an organ of disinformation”.

The criticism came from the Texas congressman Michael McCaul, one of two Republicans who have expressed concern in recent weeks that Carlson’s nightly show – clips of which have in turn been relayed on Russian state media in recent weeks – has veered too close to defending the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Outrage is, of course, Carlson’s specialization. On Thursday, he amped it up after McCaul’s comments. “In other words, not only are we wrong – which is fine – we’re disloyal Americans doing the bidding of a foreign power. It’s not fine. It’s 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, typically enough, returned him to the subject of Hunter Biden, who is reportedly being investigated by the Department of Justice over payments he received from a number of foreign companies, including the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.

Carlson has long questioned Putin as a villain. At the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, he went on air to tell his viewers: “Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?”

Last weekend, the US website Mother Jones reported that the Kremlin told Russian media it was “essential” that Carlson’s pro-Putin rhetoric was aired, though the outlet did not publish the documents it cited.

It comes as his employer lost two members of its newsgathering operation – the Ukrainian producer and fixer Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, 24, and Fox News cameraperson Pierre Zakrzewski, 55, to shelling in Gorenka, outside Kyiv, on Monday. Another Fox journalist was badly injured and evacuated.

Yet, amid a huge outpouring of sympathy for Fox’s staff, and anger at the Russian army, Carlson, on successive nights last week, devoted segments to promoting Moscow’s unfounded propaganda claims of secret American biological warfare labs in Ukraine.

US officials have said the labs are Ukrainian and part of an initiative called the Biological Threat Reduction Program that has received US financial assistance. The White House has warned that the Kremlin’s conspiracy theory, used to justify its invasion of Ukraine, could itself be a prelude to a Russian chemical or biological attack.

Adam Kinzinger, who has refused to go on Carlson’s show.
Adam Kinzinger, who has refused to go on Carlson’s show. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

“This is a classic move by the Russians,” warned the US director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, this week. The Democratic senator Chris Van Hollen told the Senate foreign relations committee that Carlson and others were behind the spread of the bioweapons rumors, which are gaining credence in the US far right.

Other Republicans, including the Illinois representative Adam Kinzinger, have refused to go on Tucker Carlson Tonight because of his alleged pro-Putin agenda. Kinzinger has accused Carlson of pushing the narrative that the US is to blame for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“There’s no way I’ll go on his show, for a number of reasons,” Kinzinger, a US air force veteran, said in a Twitter video. “His insistence that the west was provoking war with Putin, his spreading lies about biolabs, and his continued spewing of conspiracy theories are nothing but complete evil. His show is full of Russian propaganda and not news.”

Carlson’s power comes amid the rise of far-right groups, individuals and opinions across the US. Whether from militia supporters seeking power in California local government, or in the Idaho state office, or on new social media platforms, the far right in America is undergoing something of a boom.

Carlson, experts say, is part of that. And so too is a fondness – or at least a respect – for Putin. According to Scott McLemee, who reviewed a newly published study on the right in Inside Higher Ed last week: “There is no question about Carlson being at very least a white nationalist, which might not be fascist, but close enough.

“The appeal of Russian authoritarianism for the American far right is considerable, and not just because of Trump’s fealty to Putin. A common skin color and shared hostility to feminism and gay rights counts for a lot.”

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the daily images of suffering it has produced for US media, have complicated Carlson’s platform, at least in terms of the broader US media landscape, even if not within Fox itself.

“This balancing act he’s been playing on so many different levels is getting a lot more precarious,” said Bob Thompson, a former professor of media studies at Syracuse University and current director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture.

Carlson’s equivocation on Russian aggression is complicating the ideological real estate he occupies. “It’s not only confused, it’s almost dada,” Thompson says. “You see it playing out on the show when someone makes a rational argument and it’s deflected not with an alternative, but the abandonment of rationality.”

But that may also be what Carlson’s avid supporters and equally avid detractors come to see.

It’s the nature of cable news that relatively few viewers are required to establish a commercial footing, so the power of advertisers to speak for the body politic by pulling advertising when a host says something egregious 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 that it powers.

Which leaves Carlson and others on the right and left to indulge whatever particular train of thought, or lack thereof, they choose to follow.

“The whole point of these shows is to outrage viewers across the country, which will in turn strengthen the very small audience you need for it to be a hit,” Thompson said. “Carlson is, in a sense, untouchable because outrage is a genre of entertainment all of its own.”






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