Shortly after the White House announced the first wave of sanctions against Russia for troops entering eastern Ukraine in a move described by President Biden as “the beginning” of an invasion, Tucker Carlson had a question for Americans: Why do you hate Russian President Vladimir Putin?
But even with the Ukraine conflict and Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Fox News host described the tension in the region as merely “a border dispute” and wondered why Americans should despise the Russian president.
“It may be worth asking yourself, since it is getting pretty serious, what is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much?” he said on his Tuesday night show. “Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?”
Carlson, who has been accused of being “one of the biggest cheerleaders for Russia” during the conflict, asked viewers on his top-rated Fox News show a series of questions about whether Putin had promoted “racial discrimination” in schools, made fentanyl, attempted “to snuff out Christianity” or eaten dogs.
“These are fair questions, and the answer to all of them is ‘no.’ Vladimir Putin didn’t do any of that,” he said. “So, why does permanent Washington hate him so much?”
A clip of the segment, which has been viewed on Twitter more than 2 million times as of early Wednesday, was denounced by critics. Among those was Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), one of the staunchest GOP critics of his own party and former president Donald Trump.
“In 35 seconds here, @TuckerCarlson basically said: ‘Putin isn’t your enemy. Your fellow American is,’ ” Kinzinger tweeted. “This is beyond dangerous, to say the least.”
A spokesperson with Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday.
Carlson’s comments come as Ukraine announced Wednesday that the country planned to declare a state of emergency ahead of an expected Russian invasion. The 30-day state of emergency, which is subject to approval by parliament, would impose curfews and restrict mass gatherings in certain regions of Ukraine “if necessary” to confront increased Russian aggression, according to the country’s National Security and Defense Council chief.
The Fox News host is among the conservative voices to have praised Putin in recent days. Trump described the Russian president on a right-wing radio program Tuesday as “smart,” “savvy” and a “genius” for sending military forces into Ukraine. Trump continued to champion Putin on Wednesday morning at the expense of Biden, who defeated Trump in the 2020 election.
“Putin is playing Biden like a drum,” Trump said in a statement issued by his Save America PAC. “It is not a pretty thing to watch!”
Trump’s remarks echoed those of his former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who said last week that Putin was “very shrewd” and “capable.” In the same interview in which Pompeo said he had “enormous respect” for Putin, the Republican slammed Biden for showing what he said was “enormous weakness” on the conflict.
Biden said at a Tuesday news briefing that the first measures announced against Russia targeted two state-owned banks as well as Russian citizens described by the White House as Kremlin-connected “elites.” The president acknowledged that the conflict could lead to higher gasoline prices. Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the United States, warned that Americans would feel the “consequences” of the announced sanctions.
Americans’ feelings toward Russia became much more partisan after Putin and Russia sought to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Trump. As The Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote last December, Democrats were far more likely to see Russia as a threat than were Republicans after the 2016 election. Data from the Pew Research Centers shows that Republican concern about Russian influence decreased following those revelations.
Carlson has told his viewers that there is no reason the United States should assist Ukraine in its fight against Russia, and has recently doubled down on his support of Putin. The Fox News host, who acknowledged that he’s attempting to interview Putin, said this week that it was “not treason, it is not un-American” to support Putin. “It’s the whole point of America,” he said Monday.
The host has been met with bipartisan criticism over his backing of Russia and questioning why Americans don’t like Putin. Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) tweeted last month how his office was “getting calls from folks who say they watch Tucker Carlson and are upset that we’re not siding with Russia in its threats to invade Ukraine, and who want me to support Russia’s ‘reasonable’ positions.” Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and John Cornyn (Tex.) told Politico this month that they disagreed with Carlson and his views on Russia and Ukraine.
“He’s obviously not in a position of being responsible for those decisions,” Cornyn told the outlet. “And we are.”
As tensions continued this week, MSNBC’s Alex Wagner was among the critics to decry Carlson’s remarks.
“One of the biggest cheerleaders for Russia as it threatens to invade a peaceful and sovereign country is the host of the No. 1 show on Fox News,” she said Monday.
On Tuesday night, Carlson opened his show by downplaying the conflict.
“If you’ve been watching the news, you know that Putin is having a border dispute with a nation called Ukraine,” he said.
After claiming that Americans “now dutifully hate Vladimir Putin,” Carlson framed the conflict between Russia and Ukraine as not being consequential to Americans, despite possible higher gas prices and potential cyberattacks on U.S. businesses. Carlson’s segment featured a chyron that read, “Anything Less Than Hating Putin is Treason.”
More critics weighed in after Tuesday’s show and accused Carlson of being “an instrument of Putin’s war.” Former Republican congressman Joe Walsh, who ran against Trump in the 2020 GOP presidential primary, agreed with Kinzinger about Carlson’s sentiments being “really, really dangerous.”
“Because right here on his show tonight he’s telling his audience that Democrats and our own government are bad, and Putin is good,” he tweeted. “He’s dangerous because millions & millions of Americans are nodding in agreement with him tonight.”
Meanwhile, late-night host Stephen Colbert joked about what the White House’s announced sanctions would mean for one of Putin’s biggest supporters.
“So that means no Russian money can come into the U.S.,” Colbert said. “There goes Tucker Carlson’s sponsors.”
Michael Birnbaum, Shane Harris and Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.