In doing so, Mr Carlson becomes the first Western journalist to be granted a sit-down with Putin since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, a conflict the Russian originally insisted was a “special military operation” intended to root out a non-existent neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv.
Mr Carlson has long spoken of his admiration for authoritarian leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban and, before he was abruptly removed from Fox last April amid the fallout from the Dominion Voting Systems affair, frequently took to the air with anti-Ukraine diatribes that will have been watched with great interest by President Putin.
For exploits like these, the preppy conservative has been warmly received in Red Square, posing for pictures with the locals and stopping by Russia’s off-brand answer to McDonald’s for a burger and fries, with Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov applauding his arrival on the grounds that it will “break through the blockade and the narrative of Putin’s unprovoked, brutal invasion of Ukraine”.
His mission to Moscow has been rather less enthusiastically covered at home, with David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s former chief strategist, telling CNN on Monday night: “When I first heard that he was there, I assumed he was there to get an award because there probably isn’t an American who has done more for Vladimir Putin in the last couple of years than Tucker Carlson.”
What has Tucker Carlson said about his Putin interview?
Mr Carlson posted a video on X on Tuesday afternoon entitled “Why I’m interviewing Vladimir Putin” in which he appeared, standing against the Moscow skyline by night, to explain himself to his followers.
“Here’s why we’re doing it. First, because it’s our job,” he began.
“We’re in journalism. Our duty is to inform people, two years into a war that’s reshaping the entire world. Most Americans are not informed. They have no real idea what’s happening in this region, here in Russia or 600 miles away in Ukraine. But they should know. They’re paying for much of it in ways they might not fully yet perceive.”
Why I'm interviewing Vladimir Putin. pic.twitter.com/hqvXUZqvHX
— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) February 6, 2024
Mr Carlson declared that favourable coverage of President Zelensky in the United States had amounted to “fawning pep sessions specifically designed to amplify Zelensky’s demand that the US enter more deeply into a war in Eastern Europe, and pay for it”.
He continued, without irony: “That is not journalism. It is government propaganda, propaganda of the ugliest kind, the kind that kills people.”
After chastising America’s media for “promoting a foreign leader like he’s a new consumer brand”, Mr Carlson then made the patently false assertion that “not a single Western journalist has bothered to interview the president of the other country involved in this conflict, Vladimir Putin”.
They may not have succeeded in securing an audience, but it is certainly not for the want of asking.
Continuing, he again insisted: “Most Americans have no idea why Putin invaded Ukraine or what his goals are now. They’ve never heard his voice. That’s wrong. Americans have a right to know all they can about a war they are implicated in and we have a right to tell them about it because we are Americans too.”
He then launched into the familiar and tiresome claim that his freedom of speech was under threat from the Biden administration before using that freedom by placing himself at the service of the Kremlin to parrot its talking points to his audience of the gullible, credulous and ill-informed.
“We’re not here because we love Vladimir Putin,” Mr Carlson concluded, unconvincingly. “We’re here because we love the United States and we want it to remain free and prosperous.”
At which point his trousers slid slowly down to reveal a pair of moth-eaten Stars-and-Stripes boxer shorts as he saluted the camera with a tear in his eye. Well, almost.
Covering his pronouncement on CNN on Tuesday evening, anchor Abby Phillip, visibly irritated by it, accused Mr Carlson of “lying from the streets of Russia” and took particular issue with his criticism of mainstream networks, pointing out that “serious news outlets, including CNN, have requested Putin to interview over and over again” but had been refused, a point also made by the BBC’s highly-respected Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg.
.@juliaioffe on Tucker Carlson interviewing Putin in Russia: “What's really shocking is the way he just walks right into Moscow and presents himself on a silver platter to the Kremlin. Doing the Kremlin’s job of misinforming, disinforming the American population.” pic.twitter.com/1ySqKpNH2I
— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) February 7, 2024
Ms Phillip also stoutly defended US media’s coverage of the war and rebuked Mr Carlson for his posturing at a time when the American journalists Evan Gershkovich and Alsu Kurmasheva remain imprisoned in Russia on trumped up charges.
“What’s really shocking is the way he just walks right into Moscow and presents himself on a silver platter to the Kremlin, doing the Kremlin’s job of misinforming, disinforming the American population,” her guest Julia Ioffe commented, invoking President Putin’s explicit attempts to appeal to American conservatives by claiming to be fighting many of the same “culture war” battles in Ukraine that they are incensed by at home.
What has the Kremlin said?
President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that Mr Carlson had indeed been granted the interview and that it had been recorded on Tuesday, adding that he had been chosen for this dubious honour because his attitude to the Ukraine war contrasted with that offered by the majority of Western media.
“He has a position that differs from the rest,” Mr Peskov said. “It is in no way pro-Russian, not pro-Ukrainian, it is rather pro-American, but at least it is contrastingly different from the position of traditional Anglo-Saxon media.”
Asked about Mr Carlson’s claim that no Western journalist had approached the Kremlin for an interview, Mr Peskov found himself in the unusual position of agreeing wholeheartedly with CNN and the BBC and disputing his statement.
“No, Mr Carlson is wrong,” he said. “In fact, he cannot know this. We receive many requests for interviews with the president, but mainly, when it concerns the countries of the collective West, we are talking about large online media – traditional TV channels, large newspapers – which cannot boast of attempts to at least look impartial in terms of covering what is happening.
“All of these are media that take a one-sided position. Of course, there is no desire to communicate with such media and there is hardly any point in this. It is unlikely that there can be any benefit from this.”
Mr Peskov was also forced to deny that an early “transcript” of Mr Carlson’s interview said to be circulating online was real.
“It is obvious that we are talking about an absolute fake,” he said. “There were a lot of them, there are and will be, they need to be treated accordingly.”
He refused to give any further details about the interview and said only that Mr Carlson’s promise to interview President Zelensky as well was “a matter for the Kyiv regime”.
When will the interview be aired?
Tucker Carlson said in his video that the exchange would appear on his website and that X owner Elon Musk had promised that it would be allowed to appear on his platform without being suppressed or blocked (although, ironically, his original video has been given the “added context” treatment to report Mr Peskov’s rebuttal of his false claim about media approaches to the Kremlin).
He has since posted that the video will be going live at 6pm EST (11pm GMT) on his website on Thursday.
That may not be the end of it for the American, however, with Newsweek quoting ex-Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt as saying the European Parliament could sanction him for serving as a “mouthpiece” for President Putin.
“As Putin is a war criminal and the EU sanctions all who assist him in that effort, it seems logical that the External Action Service examine his case as well,” Mr Verhofstadt said, alluding to the bloc’s diplomatic arm, responsible for enforcing its foreign policy positions.
Former MEP Luis Garicano told the same outlet: “[Tucker Carlson] is no longer a newsman, but a propagandist for the most heinous regime on European soil and the one which is most dangerous to our peace and security.”
Urmas Paet, another MEP, added: “It should be remembered that Putin is not just a president of an aggressor country, but he is wanted by the International Criminal Court [ICC] and accused of genocide and war crimes.
“Carlson wants to give a platform to someone accused of crimes of genocide – this is wrong. If Putin has something to say he needs to say it in front of the ICC.
“So, for such propaganda for a criminal regime, you can end up on the list of sanctions. This concerns primarily [a] travel ban to EU countries.”