Conservative Pundits Can't Stop Caping for Vladimir Putin and His Attack on Ukraine

As Russia has intensified its war in Ukraine, the Kremlin’s propaganda outlets have largely been shut off in the West — but Vladimir Putin has some not-so-subtle defenders nestled into America’s far-right media outlets.

That includes from Fox News’ biggest boy, Tucker Carlson, as well as the folks of OAN.  Arguably the front-runner for the most outrageous claim came from OAN correspondent Pearson Sharp, who speculated wildly in a segment last week that Putin’s decision to invade a sovereign country was actually the fault of — wait for it — President Biden. In no uncertain terms, Sharp proclaimed, ”Joe Biden started this war,” arguing that Biden pushed Putin’s buttons over Russian concerns about Ukraine joining NATO in an effort to draw attention away from domestic issues. 

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Elsewhere, OAN has aired news segments focusing primarily on Russian wants and concerns when it comes to peace talks and the reason for the invasion itself. These include boosting the Kremlin’s overblown claims that the Ukrainian government — which is led by a Jewish president whose family includes Holocaust survivors — is rife with far-right extremists and neo-Nazis, which the U.S. government allegedly helped fund and train. It’s a thorny issue: While Congress has passed measures to prevent arms and supplies from getting to far-right Ukrainian groups like the Azov Battalion, as The Daily Beast reported in 2019, it’s hard for the U.S. government to actually ensure that ban is upheld. More broadly, however, Russia is overhyping concerns of far-right extremists — who have a presence on both sides of the Ukrainian-Russian divide — to justify the invasion of its sovereign neighbor.

Meanwhile, the commentary from Fox News’ headlining talking head, Tucker Carlson, has been so effusive on behalf of Russia and Putin that the pundit has earned favorable mentions on Russian state-controlled media. While his colleagues may not have been able to match him, it doesn’t seem for lack of trying.

Correspondent Lara Logan, during an appearance on the Fox Nation streaming service, let loose a tangent on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s past as an actor and entertainer, which quickly veered into Satanic Panic territory. Logan called Zelensky a “puppet” and said you could find him on the internet “in black stilettos and leather pants, shirtless, doing a spoof, Dancing With the Stars kind of entertainment video, that’s a mock-up of a Ukrainian group that does this kind of Satanic, occult kind of music video.”

And just this morning, March 15, Fox and Friends co-host Rachel Campos-Duffy tried to pin the blame for the war in Ukraine on Western provocation. In a potential sign that these propaganda tricks may be running their course, Campos-Duffy’s own colleague Brian Kilmeade pushed back, declaring, “Rachel, they did not provoke the war. They did not provoke this war.”

He added: “[Russia] can’t make a red line in other countries, Rachel! It’s not up to them to make a red line in other countries… Why should a democracy give up because Vladimir Putin is a lunatic?”

In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, footage of Russia’s attacks and news of casualties seemed to quiet some of Putin’s U.S. defenders. But that shame is proving temporary, as their admiration for Putin (whom they see as an ally in the right-wing culture war) and disdain for Biden, has brought back the pro-Kremlin talking points with a vengeance.

Hours after Campos-Duffy caped for Putin and Russia, however, Fox News announced that one of their network’s journalists, videographer and producer Pierre Zakrzewski, had been killed in Ukraine, where he was working to document the on-the-ground effects of Putin’s invasion. Oleksandra Kuvshynova, a Ukrainian journalist, was killed in the same incident. Zakrzewski was in the vehicle with Fox News correspondent Benjamin Hall, who was injured and remains hospitalized. 

The day underscores an ever-present tension at Fox News, where there are some real journalists doing real journalist, at times heroically. But their work is perpetually overshadowed by a cadre of pundits who always seem to find their way on the wrong side of an issue — even when the choice is between civilians and a Russian autocrat whose invasion is killing them.

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