Flashback, 2008: When A Russian Invasion Made Fox News Shrug

Fox News commentators have been rushing in to blame President Obama for the Russian military's excursion into Ukraine. It's because of Obama's “weakness” that Vladamir Putin has seized the military initiative, announced Sarah Palin.

The crisis proves Obama's guilty of misunderstanding the Russians and not being “interested in American national security affairs,” according to John Bolton. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told Fox viewers Obama “left a vacuum that Putin is filling,” and Steve Doocy complained the president hasn't done “much” to solve the situation.

Also, Obama needs to get a “backbone” and he's "lost moral authority." All this while Fox has marveled over Putin's prowess as a true "leader," and swooned his supposed physical superiority over Obama.

Please note that in August 2008, during President Bush's final months in office, a strikingly similar scenario played out when Russian forces invaded the former Soviet state of Georgia. At the time, the Bush White House sounded an awful lot like today's Obama White House. From Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino, now a Fox host:

“The United States supports Georgia's territorial integrity. We call for an immediate ceasefire. We urge all parties Georgians, south Ossetians, Russians to deescalate the tensions and to avoid conflict. We are work on mediation efforts and to secure a ceasefire, and we are urging the parties to restart their dialogue.”

Yet unlike today, the Putin-led excursion in 2008 completely failed to spark the panicked rhetoric that's become Fox News' trademark since Russian troops crossed over into Ukraine last week. Notably absent from the 2008 Georgia coverage was relentless finger pointing and blaming the White House for the extreme actions of a foreign leader thousands of miles away. There was also none of the Putin cheerleading that we hear on Fox News today.

In fact, some of the Fox commentators currently stoking the flames of “crisis” were rather non-judgmental when Russian tanks moved into Georgia. “I don't think the Russians are reckless,” Charles Krauthammer announced on August 8, 2008, as Russian fleets advanced into the Black Sea and Russian jets launched raids targeting government buildings in Georgia. “What they are doing here is reasserting control of this province. And when it's done, which will probably happen in a couple days, the firing will crease.”

Three days later, Krauthammer insisted there was nothing for the United States to do as the crisis escalated: “Well, obviously it's beyond our control. The Russians are advancing. There is nothing that will stop them. We are not going to go to war over Georgia.” Krauthammer's Fox colleague Jeff Birnbaum, agreed: “Because Georgia is not part of NATO, there's really no danger the United States or Europe will get in involved in what is really a civil war almost between--within this small part of Georgia.”

Fox News' message to America then? Just relax. There's nothing the U.S. can do about Russia invading its sovereign neighbor and it will all be over soon.

Bill O'Reilly agreed with the laissez-faire analysis. “Even if President Bush wanted to help Georgia we simply don't have the ground forces to do it,” said O'Reilly on August 11.
“And confronting the Russians in the air would lead to major hostilities that the USA cannot afford right now.”

Even Fox's usually bellicose, right-wing think tank commentators demurred. “There's no easy answer; there's only tough choices,” said the Heritage Foundation's Peter Brookes on August 12, 2008. “Russia is a tough nut to crack.”


Recall that early in his presidency Bush famously announced he had peered into Putin's soul and spotted goodness in the Russian leader. The Georgia invasion belayed Bush's gut instincts, but few Fox commentators mocked the president's for his misreading of Putin. (Nor was there discussion that Bush's failed war with Iraq had created an opportunity for Russia's military expansion.)

“I don't think that Putin spit in the eye of the president,” insisted Karl Rove in 2008.  And John Bolton, who this week accused Obama of not “paying attention” to Ukraine? Back in 2008, he gave Bush a pass when Russian troops poured into Georgia. “I think a lot of people missed it, not just the administration.” Bolton said on Fox.

Whereas the current Ukraine conflict is all about Obama on Fox News (i.e. Putin: leader; Obama: weak), Bush was portrayed as a minor figure when Russia waged war in Georgia six years ago.