Russian state TV and right-wing media are pushing the same line of attack on WNBA player Brittney Griner almost verbatim in the wake of her release from Russian prison as part of a negotiated prisoner exchange, arguing she was prioritized over another American prisoner in Russia because the other is a straight white man.
Multiple right-wing media personalities have pitted Griner’s freedom against that of Paul Whelan, a former Marine who has been accused of espionage by the Russian government, a charge the United States disputes. In reality, a senior administration official told CNN, “The choice was bringing Brittney Griner home right now, or bringing no one home right now,” and in his speech announcing the deal, Biden said the Russian government was treating Whelan’s case “differently” because of the espionage charges, which the president described as “totally illegitimate.”
Whelan’s brother David put out a statement on December 8 saying Griner’s release was the “right decision” given that Paul’s release “wasn’t going to happen.”
The Daily Beast’s Julia Davis shared a translated clip from RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan saying the United States chose a “black lesbian, hooked on drugs,” over a “decorated Marine covered in medals” whose “three problems” are that “he is white,” “he is a man,” and “he is a heterosexual.” Another host, Vladimir Solovyov, added that Griner was freed on the basis of her identity “for the sake of PR.”
MARGARITA SIMONYAN (EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, RT): He is a spy, therefore, to them he is a hero. He is a hero, a decorated Marine covered in medals. He only has one, no, two, no, three problems. His first problem is that he is white. His second problem is he is a man. His third problem: He is a heterosexual. This is not something that can be forgiven today. It’s just a catastrophe.
VLADIMIR SOLOVYOV (HOST): Yes. Here Griner beats him in every aspect.
SIMONYAN: American voters were given a choice: A hero who suffered while serving his fatherland, a medal-covered hero who suffered during his service to his fatherland, the United States, or a black lesbian, hooked on drugs, who suffered for a vape with hashish.
SOLOVYOV: And well-known, for the sake of PR!
Right-wing media made the same attacks, some almost verbatim.
On his Daily Wire podcast, anti-LGBTQ hatemonger Matt Walsh said that Whelan and Mark Fogel, another American detained in Russia, “both made the mistake of being straight white men” and that “people in that category when it comes to getting aid and help from the Biden administration” are “put at the back of the line.”
Newsmax host Greg Kelly said that Whelan is devalued “in the court of public opinion” because “he’s straight, he’s white, and he’s a man. And also, this is key, he’s not famous. That’s bad for him.”
White supremacist prime-time Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has a history of embracing authoritarian regime and is frequently lauded on Russian state TV, attacked the deal for choosing “the basketball player over the Marine” and said the White House made this choice because Griner is “not white and she’s a lesbian.”
On his Newsmax show, Turning Point USA’s Benny Johnson said the Biden administration “wouldn't allow a Black woman, lesbian woman, drug addict, America-hating woke, to be kept in prison in Russia” because she is “on the identity politics spectrum.” He added that “Brittney Griner broke the law,” even though the United States designated her as being wrongfully detained.
Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk asked on his radio show, “If you're a WNBA, pot-smoking, Black lesbian, do you get treated better than a United States Marine?”
Editor emeritus and founder of the Daily Wire Ben Shapiro said, “It looks a lot as though Whelan was given second status here to Brittney Griner presumably because she is very famous and also intersectional.”
Update (12/9/22): This piece has been updated with additional examples.