Conservative media have been praising Russian dictator Vladimir Putin since the Obama administration, and that behavior has continued even after Russia began its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. American right-wing media coverage of Putin has been so over-the-top that Russian state-backed media have used some of it for their own propaganda.
Throughout former President Barack Obama’s administration, Putin was characterized as strong and masculine in comparison to President Obama, whom right-wing outlets went to great lengths to malign. During the 2016 election cycle and throughout the Trump administration, right-wing media embraced Putin and repeatedly defended Trump’s own fawning statements about the Russian leader. Now, right-wing media are still defending Putin and downplaying his belligerence, even after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Fox primetime host Tucker Carlson has passionately defended Putin
Tucker Carlson specifically has been incredibly kind to the Russian president in recent years. Since Russia’s invasion, Carlson has become one of the most prominent voices steering right-wing opinion towards a favorable view of Putin. Russian state outlets even aired clips of Carlson’s favorable coverage in the lead up to the invasion of Ukraine.
- On February 22, Carlson voiced a passionate defense of Putin, claiming there is no reason for the average American to dislike the Russian leader because he is not the source of all America's problems, and absurdly arguing the Biden administration supports Ukraine solely because of Hunter Biden’s connection to the country.
- By March 2, Carlson slightly changed his tune on Putin, saying, “Putin is bad, no one in America is going to argue with that,” before questioning the internationally accepted rationale for strict sanctions in response to the invasion: “But will destroying the entire Russian economy make Putin less bad? Will it force Russian troops to withdraw from Ukraine? And if it will, how exactly will that work and how long will it take?” Carlson also goes on to suggest that Americans would be less safe if Russian leadership changed hands.
- In a November 2019 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight, the host declared that he sides with Russia in their conflict against neighboring Ukraine: “Like, why do I care? And why shouldn't I root for Russia? Which I am.”
- Also in 2019, Carlson sarcastically bemoaned American mainstream media’s coverage of Putin as some kind of “boogeyman.” According to Carlson, “For Chuck Todd and the rest of the dummies, Vladimir Putin isn't a real person with actual ideas and priorities and a country and beliefs. No, he stopped being that long ago. He's a metaphor, a living metaphor, he's the boogeyman. Step out of line and you're a traitor in league with Vladimir Putin, let's put his picture on the screen.” Later in the clip, he offers viewers an alternative: “Our main enemy, of course, is China.”
- In 2016, Carlson argued with Russian human rights activist, and former chess grandmaster, Garry Kasparov that Putin's brutal regime was not cause for concern in the United States, pondering: “Why should human rights abuses within Russia dictate our posture toward Russia?”
- In 2011, Carlson wrote a tweet in which he called Putin a “Tiger fighter, bad ass, our greatest hope when Aliens finally attack.”
Right-wing media figures have spent years praising Putin
Fox News’ praise of Putin dates back at least to the Obama administration, and it matured as Trump embraced the Russian dictator during his rise to the White House.
- After Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad was accused of using chemical weapons against his own citizens in 2013, several prominent conservative media figures expressed support for Putin, even as his government attempted to gaslight the world about who was responsible for the atrocities. Conservative headline aggregator Matt Drudge wrote in a tweet that “Putin is the leader of the free world.” The late right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh said, “Vladimir Putin is saying that Obama and Kerry are lying. And I don't know about you, but I find myself to be in a really curious situation. Who do I believe, Vladimir Putin or Barack Obama and John Kerry?” And former Fox military analyst Ralph Peters said that “the world is on Vladimir Putin’s side about Syria,” and praised him for “defending the Christians and the other minorities in Syria.”
- Other Fox figures gave Putin credit, rather than the Obama administration, for then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s brokered solution to prevent Syria’s further use of chemical weapons on its own people. Anchor Martha MacCallum commented that “Vladmir Putin is coming to the diplomatic rescue here.” Late Fox contributor Charles Krauthammer said, “I don’t believe for a second” that it was an American idea.
- Following Putin’s 2014 illegal invasion and annexation of the Crimean region of Ukraine, Fox figures and outlets giddily commented on a photo of Putin riding a horse shirtless, which they compared favorably against a photo of President Obama riding a bicycle while on vacation. Fox Nation made the photo its “Pic of the Day,” and published a “highlight reel of Putin doing macho things,” like “performing karate” and tranquilizing a tiger. Disgraced former Fox host Bill O’Reilly said the photo depicted the “contrasting styles” of Putin and Obama, with Putin seeing “himself as a macho man who’s going to do pretty much what he wants.” Other Fox figures who used the photo to favorably compare Putin to Obama included Sarah Palin, future Trump administration official K.T. McFarland, and frequent guest Rudy Giuliani.
- Also in 2014, former Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle expressed her wish that Putin could become the president the United States to deal with the threat from ISIS.
- In December 2016, Fox News presented Putin as more level-headed than Obama after the U.S. kicked out dozens of Russian intelligence operatives for meddling in the American presidential election. A FoxNews.com headline about this story read, “Putin vows not to stoop to Obama's level after US kicks out Russian intel operatives.” A segment about this topic on The Five featured then co-host Guilfoyle downplaying the effectiveness of the move to expel Russian spies and highlighting Trump’s praise of Putin as a “very smart guy.”
- During the Trump administration, Fox figures repeatedly defended or deflected from Trump’s habitual praise of Putin. Fox contributor Ari Fleischer said Trump’s “actions are very different from” his rhetoric about Putin, pointing to misleading claims of aid to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. Following Trump’s joint press conference with Putin at a summit in Helsinki, Finland, where Trump questioned the findings of his own intelligence community and legitimized Putin’s false claim that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 election, Fox hosts Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Jeanine Pirro defended Trump. And after Trump met privately with Putin at Helsinki without any witnesses present, many of Fox’s most-watched shows ignored the shocking news that Trump met with Putin without a note taker or translator.
Other right-wing media figures have praised Putin amid his invasion of Ukraine
Prominent far-right conspiracy theorists and activists, conservative media personalities, and some QAnon supporters, have come out in support of Putin’s brutal attack against Ukraine. Others have promoted Putin’s misleading statements justifying the unprovoked invasion, shifting blame for Russian aggression onto American and European leaders.
- On February 22, War Room: Pandemic host and former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon said of Putin’s speech justifying his invasion of Ukraine: “That's the speech of Putin. Which was kind of an adults talk to a group of adults. You wouldn't hear an American politician except for Donald Trump do that.” Bannon also said, “This crisis is a hundred percent created by the actions of the Biden administration.” Two days later, Bannon mocked NATO and American service members while playing a Russian military propaganda video.
- On the February 22 edition of his online show, Turning Point USA President Charlie Kirk falsely described Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, stating, “It feels as if Putin is going into places that want him. They have voted overwhelmingly to be part of it.” (As we have seen over days of grueling conflict, the Ukrainians did not welcome the advance of Putin’s troops.)
- Also on February 22, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones praised Putin’s “surreal” speech from the day before, wherein the Russian dictator argued against Ukraine’s right to exist, saying the “truth’s coming out” when Putin speaks and “it was all true.” Jones concluded: “It’s like hard to find fault with this man.”
- After Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on February 24, multiple QAnon conspiracy theorists praised Putin and cheered on the invasion, referring to bizarre conspiracy theories about pedophiles, the so-called “deep state,” and a false conspiracy theory about American-funded biological weapon laboratories supposedly hidden in Ukraine.
- Following Putin’s announcement of the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, disgraced Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani lavished Putin with praise on Newsmax: “Putin played this almost like a symphony conductor. … He kind of stretched it out to make Biden look more and more foolish.” Giuliani added, “They have a president, we don’t. Now, Putin’s an evil man … but Putin is a brilliant man. So Putin is prepared for this. Our incompetent isn’t prepared for it.”
- On February 25, Daily Wire host Michael Knowles claimed he was “just being the devil’s advocate” when he asked: “Does Vladimir Putin have a point? He made his grand speech giving the pretext for war in Ukraine. And he made a ton of historical claims, a ton of political claims.”