The April 24 departure of Fox News host Tucker Carlson from his job sent ripples all the way to Moscow. The decision seemed so important to the Kremlin that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov publicly questioned it and RT, Russia’s most prominent propaganda network, immediately offered Carlson a slot.
The RT offer, unavailable in the many countries where it is banned, was spelled out to Newsweek in a statement. “We already had the pleasure of working with the greats like [the imprisoned] Julian Assange and the late Larry King and had extended an invitation to President Trump in 2020, and we continue to welcome outspoken, diverse personalities on our network,” it said.
Not to be outdone, the Russian television host Vladimir Solovyov used his Telegram channel to make another offer. “Tucker, come and join us. You don’t have to be afraid of taking the p*** out of Biden here,” he said.
Official Russia’s affection for Carlson seems genuine and profound. Even before Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine 14 months ago, Carlson’s clips were a mainstay on Russia’s tightly controlled state-funded television. The American television host is a household name in Moscow, along with domestic TV figures like Solovyov, Margarita Simonyan, Dmitry Kiselyov, and other spokespeople for the war. Carlson has never outright endorsed the full-scale invasion, but has repeatedly questioned US support and asked, “Why is it disloyal to side with Russia but loyal to side with Ukraine?”
Solovyov’s show returned to Carlson-related events on April 25. While Solovyov Live has previously boasted the participation of Scott Ritter — a former US marine who attributes the Russian army’s Bucha massacres to Ukraine — guests said dreaming of a Tucker hiring was a bridge too far.
Israeli ex-diplomat and politician Yaakov Kedmi taunted Solovyov on his own show when he said: “You offered Tucker Carlson to join you. Volodya, you don’t have that much money!” Solovyov retorted: “I will find it! We will sell two soccer players and buy one Tucker Carlson!” Kedmi raised his voice: “He doesn’t need you!”
On the other hand, Moscow still needs Carlson and dreams of his triumphant return. Russia’s political scientists and prominent talking heads are already brainstorming about what he might do next. Andrey Sidorov, Deputy Dean of World Politics at the Moscow State University, suggested that Carlson should run for President. Addressing Solovyov, Sidorov noted: “At some point, you suggested that he should announce his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States. I don’t see why not. His 3.5 million nightly viewers would translate into 3.5 million voters, which means he has support. His position is a lot more clear than Trump’s stance, which is veering every which way.”
For Russian commentators, the bloom is off the rose where Trump’s candidacy is concerned. Their disdain now seems to match Carlson’s (private and leaked) description of the former US president as a disaster whose administration had been “a s*** show.” Most say Trump would be the easiest candidate for President Joe Biden to defeat. More creatively, they suggested that Trump might serve as a vehicle for Carlson by becoming his running mate. Solovyov noted: “If he [Trump] takes Tucker as his vice president, that would be truly excellent!”
Sidorov questioned this logic, doubting that Trump would cherish the notion of being outshone: “He [Trump] won’t take Tucker. He certainly won’t take him. He will choose someone like Pence, a bland nobody, somebody faceless.”
Whether or not Carlson has ever aimed for such an influential fan club in Moscow, his segments have been much valued in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Carlson had a huge US audience and his themes chime with state propaganda by demonstrating that it is not just pro-Kremlin voices who argue that US foreign policy is built on a hidden agenda concealed to ordinary people. That echoes the long-running campaign by RT and others to describe US democracy as itself a sham.
With guests such as his Russia expert, Clint Ehrlich — a former researcher at Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry’s MGIMO university — Carlson’s show emphasized doubt and the risks of open war with Russia. Another frequent participant, Col. Doug Macgregor (rtd.), former advisor to the Secretary of Defense in the Trump administration, expressed the view that Ukraine would soon be overrun by superior Russian forces.
Carlson’s departure is in this sense a loss to the Kremlin’s information war. But it can also be used to underline the Kremlin message that all countries behave cynically, that hidden forces determine the real outcome, and that resistance to any government is a hopeless undertaking. Russia is once again stating that the US does not enjoy freedom of speech or freedom of the press. That in turn helps to justify the jailing of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and open acts of repression like the 25-year sentence handed to Vladimir Kara-Murza.
While Maria Zakharova, of Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, says she cannot remember Gershkovich’s name, none of Russia’s government officials and talking heads seem to experience the same memory lapse with Tucker Carlson — for reasons that are all too apparent.
Julia Davis is a columnist for The Daily Beast and the creator of the Russian Media Monitor. She is a member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Screen Actors Guild, and Women In Film.
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.