A report from The New York Times highlighted how an ongoing, years-long trend of right-wing media figures praising Russian President Vladimir Putin has helped President Donald Trump downplay the fast-growing Russian scandal surrounding himself, his family, and his administration.
Right-wing media has long been obsessed with Putin’s masculinity and authoritarian tendencies. In 2013, Fox News analyst Ralph Peters, when speaking about Putin said, “I respect that guy,” adding “he presents himself as a real He-Man.” The same year, Matt Drudge tweeted “Putin is the leader of the free world.” FoxNews.com previously published a “must watch” video of “Putin doing macho things.” And Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle once said she wanted Putin to be US president for 48 hours in order to defeat ISIS.
Essentially, right-wing media effectively built a normalization machine working to sanitize Putin, and it had results.
In a July 14 New York Times article, Jeremy Peters noted that while “such fondness for Mr. Putin fell outside the Republican Party’s mainstream” previously it became a widely held sentiment in the conservative movement by the time Mr. Trump started running for president in 2015.” Peters wrote that “the veneration of Mr. Putin helps explain why revelations about Russia’s involvement in the election ... and Mr. Trump’s reluctance to acknowledge it, have barely penetrated the consciousness of the president’s conservative base.” Media Matters President Angelo Carusone added that the mythologizing of Putin by right-wing media has led to him enjoying “a Paul Bunyan-esque persona among this audience.” From the July 14 article:
Years before the words “collusion” and “Russian hacking” became associated with President Vladimir V. Putin, some prominent Republicans found far more laudatory ways to talk about the Russian leader.
“Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and longtime friend and adviser to President Trump, gushed in 2014.
Mr. Putin was worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, K. T. McFarland said in 2013, before going on to serve a brief and ill-fated stint as Mr. Trump’s deputy national security adviser.
“A great leader,” “very reasoned,” and “extremely diplomatic,” was how Mr. Trump himself described Mr. Putin that same year.
Though such fondness for Mr. Putin fell outside the Republican Party’s mainstream at the time, it became a widely held sentiment inside the conservative movement by the time Mr. Trump started running for president in 2015. And it persists today, despite evidence of Russian intervention in the 2016 American election and Mr. Putin’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies at home.
The veneration of Mr. Putin helps explain why revelations about Russia’s involvement in the election — including recent reports that members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle set up a meeting at which they expected a representative of the Russian government to give them incriminating information about Hillary Clinton — and Mr. Trump’s reluctance to acknowledge it, have barely penetrated the consciousness of the president’s conservative base.
In this view, the Russian president is a brilliant tactician, a slayer of murderous Islamic extremists — and not incidentally, a leader who outmaneuvered and emasculated President Barack Obama on the world stage. And because of that, almost any other transgression seems forgivable.
The unflattering comparisons with Mr. Obama became especially personal in 2014 after Mr. Putin invaded Crimea, an act of aggression that was widely condemned by the United States and its allies but praised as a display of brawn and guts by many on the right.
Sarah Palin, for one, questioned Mr. Obama’s “potency” and added that no one had any such doubts about Mr. Putin. “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil,” she told Sean Hannity on Fox News.
“He’s looking like a real man,” Mr. Limbaugh declared approvingly in 2014.
Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, which has tracked the conservative media’s depiction of the Russian president, described Mr. Putin as taking on “a Paul Bunyan-esque persona among this audience.”
Mr. Putin’s mystique for conservatives resembles in many ways the image that Mr. Trump has cultivated for himself.