In the real world, international leaders are responding to Russia's invasion of Ukraine by condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin and imposing economic sanctions against his regime for its wanton and unprovoked act of conquest.
In the right-wing media echo chamber, however, the fault for this invasion lies with a mind-boggling variety of scapegoats, including President Joe Biden, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), American environmentalists, the LGBTQ community, and even the team here at Media Matters for America — anybody, that is, other than Putin.
Right-wing media attack Biden as weak — while praising Putin and Trump
Rather than blame the actual aggressor for attacking his weaker neighbor, right-wing media pinned the blame on Biden for supposedly projecting weakness and vulnerability to Putin. In fact, Biden has coordinated much of the international diplomatic response of severe economic sanctions against Russia. But at every step, right-wing commentators keep declaring that Putin is the one who represents the kind of strong leader they would actually prefer.
Fox News has painted an alternate reality in which Trump would have opposed Putin’s aggression if he were still president — just as Fox and other right-wing media previously worked to cover up Trump’s friendly relationship with Putin when Trump was in office. Trump is now publicly defending Putin’s attack on Ukraine and praising its supposed “genius.” And in the midst of this environment, it has also just been revealed that Trump had privately planned for the U.S. to leave NATO if he had won a second term, a move that would have essentially ended America’s position as a leading world power and potentially invited far worse aggression from Russia than we’ve already seen.
- Fox host Sean Hannity said on his radio show, “Well, here's a question: Why is [sic] Putin keep amassing even more troops as we speak? And there's nothing, you know, I'm laughing at Joe Biden. And one of the Kremlin, one of Putin's, you know, surrogates is out there saying he doesn't give a flying Adam Schiff what Joe Biden does. He doesn't care.”
- On Hannity, retired general and former Trump administration national security official Keith Kellogg said Biden and his national security apparatus had demonstrated a “constant pattern of weakness” and suggested that the decision-making of Putin — whom Kellogg described as “a student of history” — was likely informed by Biden’s reluctance to raid Osama Bin Laden’s compound while he was vice president.
- Right-wing comedian Terrence K. Williams tweeted: “Putin would not be invading Ukraine if President Trump was in office. Joe Biden is weak and must be removed.”
- Former Trump ambassador Richard Grenell tweeted: “Putin didn’t invade Ukraine when Trump was President. He did it when Obama was President and when Biden was President.”
- On Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Lara Trump claimed, “Well, I think we all know if Donald Trump was president, this would not have happened,” adding, “We exuded strength on the world stage when Donald Trump was there. Now you see Joe Biden in office. And gosh, how many times have we all talked about how weak America has looked since the day that Joe Biden was inaugurated?”
- Fox host Tucker Carlson gave a passionate defense of Putin, suggesting Americans have blindly opposed him: “Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? Has he shipped every middle-class job in my town to Russia? Did he manufacture a worldwide pandemic that wrecked my business and kept me indoors for two years?”
- As Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Fox News hosted Trump to blame the aggression on “a rigged election” in the United States in 2020.
- On Newsmax’s Rob Schmitt Tonight, former Trump lawyer Rudy Guiliani said, “Putin played this almost like a symphony conductor,” adding that he was a “brilliant man.”
Right-wing media blame Russian attack on the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan
Fox News has pushed a major line of propaganda alleging that the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan demonstrated weakness on the world stage and invited Putin to take advantage.
There are, however, a number of problems with such a claim. First of all, Putin began troop build-up in early March 2021, a month prior to Biden’s announcement of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was not completed until August. Second, it was Trump, a Putin ally, who first negotiated a withdrawal agreement from Afghanistan; the Biden administration postponed Trump’s original abbreviated withdrawal timeline in an effort to make it less chaotic.
- Discussing Russia’s threat to Ukraine on Fox’s The Story, Fox Business anchor David Asman said, “Putin feels like he has even more of a free hand now after seeing how this administration behaved in Afghanistan than he did back in the spring of 2021.”
- On The Story, Fox contributor Joe Concha cited “that horrific withdrawal” from Afghanistan to explain why Russia is “so emboldened all of a sudden to go ahead and do such a thing” as invade Ukraine.
- On Your World, Fox senior strategic analyst Jack Keane said, “This has taken place largely because [Putin] perceives an opportunity here based on U.S. and European weakness,” citing in part the Afghanistan withdrawal, which Keane said “became an accelerant.” Keane added: “This was U.S. and NATO failure. We turned the country over to our adversary. Putin looked at that and saw … poor judgment and also weakness.”
- Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt said Putin “knows how Biden handled Afghanistan. That was a disaster. He also lost two embassies. He has lost the Afghanistan Embassy and now the Ukrainian Embassy has moved to Poland. When he was vice president, Benghazi happened.” She added that Biden “looks very weak, and Russia is taking advantage of it.”
- Fox News contributor and former Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on America’s Newsroom: “Each time we fail to demonstrate American resolve, whether it is the debacle that was Afghanistan that caused 13 Americans to perish as we exited, those are the kinds of things that convince people like Vladimir Putin that his dream — his dream of recreating the Soviet Union — is something he may well be able to do under this leadership's watch here in the United States.”
- During an appearance on Morning with Maria Bartiromo, retired Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata implied that the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan signaled to Russia that the U.S. was abandoning its NATO allies and that “quite frankly the Afghanistan failure is resonating around the globe.” (Tata also falsely claimed that Russia ordered troops to the Ukrainian border following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in October 2021. In reality, Russian troops had been building up for months prior to the withdrawal.)
Right-wing media blame the Keystone XL Pipeline cancellation for the invasion
Right-wing media figures are also saying that the Biden administration is to blame for Russian aggression because it halted the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada. The attempted reasoning here is that the decision increased the importance of Russia’s oil supplies in the world market, further emboldening Putin.
Again, there are obvious problems with this argument. First off, Keystone XL was a proposed expansion of an already existing pipeline system, so it’s not as if oil isn’t flowing around North America right now. Furthermore, if Putin really believed that a scarcity of energy supplies would have deterred western sanctions on Russia, then he would have been wrong — as Germany has already canceled the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, in response to Putin’s assault against Ukraine. (Fox’s Tucker Carlson, in turn, attacked the Nord Stream 2 cancellation as part of an alleged Biden administration conspiracy to raise energy prices on Americans to benefit Democratic donors.)
- On Faulkner Focus, former national security adviser Keith Kellogg said the shuttering of the Keystone XL project was “insane” and that rolling back U.S. fossil fuel production “puts another arrow in the quiver of Putin.”
- The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro said that pulling out of Afghanistan “for no reason” and ending construction of the Keystone XL pipeline incentivized Russia to invade Ukraine.
Right-wing media blame the Green New Deal and climate activists
The false arguments about the Keystone XL pipeline also extend to a round of personal attacks on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and the Green New Deal proposals to transition away from a fossil fuel economy, with right-wing media figures arguing that the real effect has been to shut down America’s energy production and make the West more dependent on foreign fossil fuel producers, such as Russia.
Of course, the Green New Deal has not been enacted, so none of its purported effects are happening. The situation is reminiscent of previous false coverage blaming the 2021 Texas blackouts on the Green New Deal, only now they’re pushing the spin on a global scale.
- Steve Bannon's podcast War Room: Pandemic blamed climate activist Greta Thunberg, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), and the West for Putin's invasion of Ukraine. His guest, Jack Posobiec, claimed, “They are the reason, and people like Greta Thunberg, are the reason that Germany and France and everyone else are in the place that they're in right now.”
- Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk said: “Could it be that Greta Thunberg and Leonardo DiCaprio actually might be to blame for what Vladimir Putin is doing?”
- During the opening monologue of his Fox prime-time show, Sean Hannity opined that flooding “the market with American energy” would “bring Russia to its knees,” but that Biden “cares more about AOC, her Green New Deal climate change alarmism cult,” than producing fossil fuels to export to allies.
- Carlson also blamed Biden and U.S. energy policy for the Russian invasion: “Let's put aside the question of why you would ever want to shut down any energy pipeline anywhere ever,” he began, before asking, “How does having less energy help the United States? … Despite what you may have heard from noted energy experts like Sandy Cortez, a country of 340 million people cannot run on windmills and solar panels.”
- Fox host Laura Ingraham spoke with former Trump adviser Stephen Miller, claiming that the Ukraine conflict was just “giving the Democrats cover to stick it to Americans and continue this war on private vehicle ownership.”
Right-wing media fall back on making sexist attacks against Vice President Kamala Harris
Right-wing media voices have also taken to attacking Vice President Kamala Harris, picking up with the sexist attacks that commenced with her selection as Biden’s running mate and continued through the general election.
- On Fox & Friends, British author Douglas Murray criticized Kamala Harris for mentioning to European leaders that Europe may be on the brink of war with Russia: She’s sending “boring verbal missiles to Vladamir Putin.”
- Fox radio host Jimmy Failla said that Kamala Harris' laugh could drive Putin to suicide: “If Putin spends 10 minutes around Kamala and her awkward laugh, the only person he's going to want to kill is himself.”
- On Fox & Friends Sunday, Will Cain said, “Harris won’t go to the border, yet she is somehow going to fly to Europe and solve – stare down Vladimir Putin as her first big victory on behalf of America and the West.” Fox contributor Dan Bongino responded, “I have to be candid with you here, I don't know who's worse on this. … Who has less gravitas, really, Joe Biden, or Kamala Harris? … I am pro-America, I did not vote for him and I don’t plan on it, but I certainly don't want to see World War III to make a political point, like some of the crazies on the other side but you have to seriously ask yourself, like, is Vladimir Putin taking either one of them seriously right now, and I think the answer is no.”
- On OAN, Dan Ball mocked Harris’s laugh and said, “What do you do when you want to calm down a fiery dictator like a Putin and get him to back down? Well if you’re Biden, you send in your most lethal weapon, the cackling buffoon from the west, who will do whatever it takes to get the job done – and I do mean whatever it takes. Send in the B-team, Vice President Kamala Harris. She was in Germany over the weekend but, we’re hearing, may be sent to Ukraine to try and help out. She made comments about the situation over the weekend.” His guest, Cory Mills commented, “We know that cackling Kamala Harris or Biden administration is going to do nothing but try and thrust the American soldiers into this to die for their agenda to try and take away from domestic issues.”
- OAN’s Jack Posobiec tweeted, “Wow, I can’t believe sending Kamala to Europe didn’t work.”
- Fox News contributor and former Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tweeted a clip of her bemoaning Kamala Harris with the caption, “Putting Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of stopping a war in Ukraine is like putting Hillary Clinton in charge of iPhone security.”
Right-wing media suggest American focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (and vaccines, too) made the country weak
Right-wing media are also claiming that America has been weakened by a “woke” culture that supports such ideas as racial equality, LGBT rights, and feminism while promoting Putin and Russia as the opposite.
- Fox News’ Pete Hegseth said Putin decided to invade Ukraine because America is “talking about genders and reparations” During the February 22 edition of Fox News’ The Five, Hegseth stated, “I don't think that Vladimir Putin believes his adversaries are fundamentally serious right now. He doesn't believe the West is a serious civilization. We're running around talking about genders and reparations and all of this. He sees us divided, he sees us as self-loathing, he -- and as a result, he thinks this is his moment to make an aggressive move.”
- Fox News contributor Lisa Boothe tweeted, “I’m just glad we flew pride flags.” She later tweeted: “Do you think Russia’s military is diverse enough?” adding, “We have focused on the dumbest shit as Americans over the past few years and have lost sight of everything that is important. We have completely imploded from within, which is resulting in chaos around the world.”
- After a Media Matters staffer rebuked Boothe’s comments, she trained her fire on our organization, absurdly claiming: “War started because the trash media and groups like yours intentionally lied about Trump.”
- War Room: Pandemic host Steve Bannon praised Putin for being anti-woke and not flying pride flags.
- While tweeting a picture of popular gay influencer and comedian Benny Drama, who did a vaccine promo for the White House, Posobiec wrote, “Imagine what message this sent to Russia and China. The world sees all of this as well. It didn’t have to be this way” Posobeic also tweeted, “Sure the Russian army has a lot of tanks but do they have *diversity training.*”
- Former Daily Caller employee and right-wing activist Logan Hall tweeted, “‘risking the lives of young men and women for joe biden’s failing approval rating and pride flag parades across the world is a net good.’ - our foreign policy establishment.”
- The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh tweeted, “How could Putin do this? Doesn't he know that western countries have the most diverse, equitable, and trans-inclusive militaries in the history of the world? And he's still messing with us? Wow.” He posted again minutes later highlighting a press release on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the military, writing, “This is what Biden's defense department was doing two weeks ago.”
- Shapiro retweeted a photo of U.S. military personnel holding a pride flag with the caption “With our superior commitment to diversity and inclusion, Putin doesn’t stand a chance.”