During the zero hour of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as most Americans, regardless of political affiliation, expressed horror at what Vladimir Putin had begun, two of Fox News’s biggest stars used their Wednesday night programs to instead facilitate the spread of pro-Russia talking points and criticize U.S. president Joe Biden.
Laura Ingraham had on Donald Trump, who gave his live reaction to the violence taking place in Ukraine—airtime that Trump used to express his anti-democratic grievances about the 2020 U.S. election and lash out at his successor. Biden “doesn’t know what the hell he is doing,” he told Ingraham, accusing the Biden administration of “weakness and incompetence” and calling its energy policy “an absolute disgrace.” Despite praising Putin’s aggression on Ukraine as “genius” and “wonderful” earlier this week—and reportedly again referring to Putin’s invasion as “pretty smart” on Wednesday—Trump insisted on Fox that “this would have never happened” if not for “a rigged election” that supposedly kept him out of office. “[Putin] was going to be satisfied with the peace,” continued Trump. “And now he sees the weakness and the incompetence of the stupidity of this administration.”
Meanwhile, Ingraham’s colleague, Tucker Carlson, who has spent recent weeks minimizing the conflict, falsely told his millions of viewers that Ukraine is a puppet state propped up by the U.S. “Ukraine, to be technical, is not a democracy,” he said. “Ukraine is a pure client state of the United States State Department. Again, that’s fine. We are not mad about that, go ahead and run Ukraine if you want if you think you can do a better job than Ukraine is, just don’t tell us it’s democracy.”
Fox’s top-rated host also suggested a connection between the Russia–Ukraine conflict and Trump’s “stolen election” theories, declaring that the U.S. establishment’s treatment of Ukraine as a democracy subverts the meaning of the word and allows for “[tampering] with the way we live here in the United States.” This theory, which Carlson hedged by saying that he was “just spitballing,” mirrored comments he made on Tuesday night when he suggested that U.S. elites deserve more hatred than Putin. “Why do Democrats want you to hate Putin? Has Putin shipped every middle-class job in your town to Russia? Did he manufacture a worldwide pandemic that wrecked your business? Is he teaching your kids to embrace racial discrimination?” he wrote on Twitter, after saying in a segment on his show: “But Joe Biden likes Ukraine. So Putin bad, war good.”
Carlson and Trump’s monologues were noticeably out of step with the latest statements from Democratic and even Republican lawmakers. “It should concern us all that Putin is exactly the kind of leader Trump would like to be, and that so few Republicans have the courage to say this out loud,” wrote Senator Bernie Sanders in a Thursday tweet. Alexander Vindman, a Ukrainian American who served as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, also condemned Carlson and Trump’s remarks during a Wednesday night appearance on MSNBC. “Once the blood starts to flow as a result of them cheerleading for Vladimir Putin, they will own this,” he said.
In a Thursday column, The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan argued that Carlson’s show is “entertainment…not news.” Though, the media columnist added that Carlson is still “dangerous” due to his cult following. “The millions who tune in to Carlson every night to get their outrage on should remember what their favorite host traffics in: bloviation, demagoguery, and unrighteous indignation,” wrote Sullivan. The White House has not officially addressed the controversial segments aired on Fox News, but a source reportedly told Politico reporter Max Tani that the White House views Carlson and his “toxic ideology” as him “playing a character he invented—not communicating sincere beliefs.”
But the White House has come out swinging in response to Trump’s praise of Putin: “Two nauseating, fearful pigs who hate what America stands for,” tweeted White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates on Thursday morning, noting that “every action” taken by Trump and Putin is driven by “their own weakness and insecurity, rubbing their snouts together and celebrating as innocent people lose their lives.”
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