The Putin-Fox feedback loop
Fox News is singing the same tune as the Kremlin
Throughout former President Donald Trump’s term in office, Media Matters carefully documented a phenomenon we defined as the “Trump-Fox feedback loop,” in which the right-wing propaganda network’s programming inspired over 1,000 tweets from its most important viewer, steering his obsessions and political talking points. That phenomenon came to an end when Trump lost his Twitter account after waging a literal assault on American democracy — which Fox also prodded him to do — but it has now been replaced by a new version, in which Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s talking points excusing his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine have come to resemble Fox’s own coverage of the assault.
In a real-life illustration of the Putin-Fox feedback loop, a recently reported memo from the Russian government directed the country’s media outlets to promote as many clips of Fox News star Tucker Carlson as possible, as the regime’s propaganda and Carlson’s own rhetoric have dovetailed almost perfectly.
Media Matters documented Wednesday that Putin’s denunciation of what he called “national traitors,” Russians who live supposedly elitist lifestyles that put them out of touch with the Russian nation, was remarkably similar to Tucker Carlson’s fake populism. (Putin's use of “national traitors” is co-opted Stalinist language, which he has used in the past.) Carlson was born into wealth and privilege, while Putin is reportedly one of the richest men on Earth and lives like a king.
Putin’s speech Wednesday seemingly contained another example of the confluence of Kremlin and Fox News talking points, when he attempted to directly address any potential Western audience, telling them that they should not blame Russia for the global economic consequences of sanctions stemming from Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Instead, according to Putin, they should blame their own governments for the negative side effects of international sanctions. He also urged his audience to view the sanctions themselves as part of an effort to distract from the harms already being done in their home countries by their own governments and ruling “elites.”
All of these accusations have had antecedents on Fox News programming, from prime-time front man Tucker Carlson as well as other network hosts.
A person can easily go through Putin’s talking points in the order he delivered them above and notice how well they match up with Fox News programming over the last few weeks:
“Western patrons are simply pushing the Kyiv authorities to continue the bloodshed”
- On the March 15 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, the host suggested that providing weapons to Ukrainians in their resistance to Russia’s invasion might simply “prolong the fighting in Ukraine at the expense of the vulnerable civilian population in Ukraine,” declaring that such an act “would be cruel.”
“Sanctions … are hitting Americans and Europeans themselves”
- On the March 11 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, the host specifically attacked the Biden administration’s ban on Russian oil, as well as its overall response to the invasion, as “the single most damaging thing any American president has ever done to this country and to the world. Not to Putin, to us.”
“Rising prices for gasoline, energy”
- Multiple Fox News personalities attacked President Joe Biden for banning Russian oil, accusing him of deliberately wanting to raise gasoline prices on American consumers — after those same Fox commentators had previously attacked Biden for not placing sanctions on Russian oil, branding it an act of moral cowardice.
- Fox News hosts then pivoted to accusing Biden of using the sanctions to divert the blame for high gas prices away from himself, and to make Putin into his “fall guy.”
“Problems faced by millions of people in the West”
- On the February 28 edition of The Faulkner Focus, Fox host Pete Hegseth minimized the importance of the ongoing war in Ukraine in comparison to problems at home in America: “I was at CPAC this weekend talking to conservatives and young people, and they said yes, what is happening in Ukraine is important. But it pales in comparison to the crime I see in my streets, to the wokeness I see in my culture, to the inflation I see at my pocket book, to the real border I care about, which is the southern border, which is wide open. On every single issue, the quality of life of average Americans has gone down.”
- On the February 18 edition of Jesse Watters Primetime, shortly before the war began, the host complained that “you know how the news cycle moves, you'll hear ‘Ukraine’ and then, once the bombs start dropping, you'll never hear about inflation, CRT, the open border, crime, anything.”
“These elites ... are obsessed with their selfish interests and excess profits”
- On the March 15 edition of Jesse Watters Primetime, the host wondered whether Russia’s war was instead “engineered as a distraction” by the Biden administration, to distract from any scandals surrounding the president’s son Hunter Biden.
- On the March 11 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, the host also put forward the idea that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was really the product of a conspiracy by American elites to keep their own power: “At exactly the moment when the emergency powers they awarded to themselves to fight COVID started to wane, our leaders began pushing for conflict with Russia.”
- On the February 22 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, just before the war began, Carlson alleged that the coming sanctions on Russian energy were really a plot to benefit Democratic donors: “Maybe they're not against rising oil and gas prices. Maybe they are for them. Maybe expensive energy would be good for the many renewable deals their friends and donors are invested in.”
- And on February 16, when Russia had been putting its troops in position to attack Ukraine, Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo repeatedly claimed that the entire Russian threat against Ukraine was really an elaborate hoax by the U.S. State Department, in order to distract from supposed scandals related to 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Clarification (3/18/22): This piece has been updated for clarity.