The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Some conservative media hosts ridiculed Biden’s warnings of a Russian attack. Now they say it’s his fault.

Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo, center, has placed blame on President Biden for Russia's strike on Ukraine. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

Many top hosts for Fox News and other conservative media voices are blaming the White House for supposedly enabling Russia’s attack on Ukraine — even some of the same personalities who previously ridiculed President Biden’s warnings that an invasion was imminent.

“It’s just extraordinary what this president has allowed our adversaries to do,” Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo told viewers Thursday morning, as reports of Russian incursions across Ukraine poured in. She argued that Biden “has not been tough enough on Russia” and, “so far, anything that this administration has said has been weak.”

But days earlier, Bartiromo had sounded confident the Biden administration was inflating the threat of Russian aggression to distract from bad political news at home — particularly, a motion filed by special counsel John Durham that was described by many Fox News hosts as a massive scandal.

“Was this a ruse?” she asked her audience Wednesday last week. “Was this whole thing an effort to take everybody’s attention away from what Hillary Clinton did and what we know to be a complete hoax over this Russia investigation?”

Fox News host Greg Gutfeld also said late last week that “there is something going on here that feels very, very manufactured.”

On Thursday, after U.S. warnings about Russia’s military designs proved accurate, Fox contributor Charles Hurt argued that it was still unclear why Americans should care. And that, he said, was the president’s fault, too. Biden “has failed to make the case that this is a vital U.S. interest,” he said. “The president is entirely out of bluffs.”

“You’re right,” host Pete Hegseth responded. “He has not made a case for the national security implications.”

Hurt also offered a line of argument that has been popular on conservative media outlets: “There’s a reason that this did not happen under a Trump administration.”

In fact, Fox News host Laura Ingraham had interviewed the former president during her 10 p.m. show Wednesday, on the brink of Russian strikes. She told Trump that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky put on “a pathetic display” when he pleaded with Russian President Vladimir Putin not to invade his country.

“How would you have avoided this conflict?” Ingraham asked Trump. The 45th president talked up his close relationship with Putin and decried the Biden administration’s “weakness.”

What’s next for Ukraine? Our reporters answer your questions about Russia’s assault.

Across the right-wing media spectrum, the crisis in Europe proved an opportunity for talking heads to compare leaders — sometimes concluding that Putin is the more impressive.

“They have a president, and we don’t,” former Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani said on the conservative network Newsmax on Wednesday night. “Putin is prepared for this. Our incompetent [president] isn’t prepared for it.”

“Biden presidency has made the U.S. look weaker to Putin,” Kyle Smith argued in a column published by the New York Post on Wednesday night.

Congressional Republicans have blamed President Biden’s actions and “weakness” for leaving an opening for Russia to attack Ukraine. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

Clay Travis, a conservative radio host, said Thursday that “America has spent decades fetishizing soft, cuddly, emotional power,” which Putin doesn’t respect. “This is the result,” he said, adding that “a lack of strength will be exploited by those who respect only strength.”

“Of course we should be rooting for Ukraine,” conservative pundit Ben Shapiro said on Twitter. “Ukraine is a democracy looking to ally itself with the West. Putin is a thug dictator seeking to rebuild an empire on the back of pure aggression while simultaneously allying with China and Iran.”

But readers of the influential online news website Shapiro founded, the Daily Wire, got a different take: An article published Thursday morning trumpeted a call by Ronny Jackson, a former White House physician turned Republican congressman for Texas, for Biden to take a cognitive exam during the invasion.

“This whole thing is a scam. It’s a total and complete scam,” former Trump White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon said on his podcast before the Russian strikes, defending Putin as “anti-woke.”

Other conservative outlets elected to ignore or play down the crisis. One America News spent most of Thursday morning airing extended live coverage of the Conservative Political Action Conference, with only brief mentions of Ukraine.

Biden’s arduous balancing act on an ill-timed Russia-Ukraine conflict

Fox’s news division took a more conventional journalistic approach. The network’s reporters and news anchors have largely acknowledged the severity of Russia’s incursion, which anchor Bret Baier on Wednesday night called “the darkest hour for Europe since World War II.” National security correspondent Jennifer Griffin has consistently backed up the Biden administration’s warnings about Russia’s intention, going so far as to chide the dismissive commentary of some colleagues.

Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine escalated late last night, and some of Fox’s biggest personalities have not yet had a chance to weigh in on their evening shows.

Tucker Carlson, the network’s most-watched host, has used his prime-time show in recent days to suggest that Putin is being unfairly victimized and has argued from the beginning of the conflict that Americans shouldn’t worry about what’s happening in Ukraine, guided by his anti-interventionist leanings.

As chance had it, it fell to Fox News’s prime-time opinion host Sean Hannity to break news of Russia’s planned military assault to the network’s audience Wednesday night.

His guest, former White House press secretary and Fox News contributor Ari Fleischer, placed blame on Russia. “Make no mistake, the biggest problem here is Vladimir Putin. Despite Joe Biden’s weakness and the mistakes Joe Biden made that encouraged Vladimir Putin, the first person all Americans need to blame is Putin.”

Hannity, seemingly caught off guard, responded: “Well, I think, obviously, it does have to go with him.”

Paul Farhi contributed to this report.

Loading...