Fox News host Tucker Carlson has repeatedly downplayed the claims that Russia was involved in interfering in the 2016 presidential election, and in several interviews over the last week he attacked those supporting reports from the government agencies that found Russia played a role in getting Donald Trump elected. But Carlson’s personal effort to spin away the Russian interference in the American political system downplays its severity and runs counter to the warnings issued by American and international intelligence experts.
On the December 7 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson hosted Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, to discuss Russian interference in the presidential election. Throughout the contentious interview, Carlson downplayed the U.S. intelligence community’s allegations that Russian intelligence services interfered in the American election, claiming the reports were made “without any evidence.” He also chastised Schiff for providing his evaluation of the classified evidence, saying, “I just think if you’re going to make a serious allegation about an actual country with an actual government, you ought to know what you’re talking about. And you don’t.”
Since his interview with Schiff, Carlson has hosted two Democratic strategists on his show to relitigate the Schiff interview, prefacing the segments with a clip from the combative discussion earlier in the week. In both segments, Carlson downplayed the significance of a foreign power intervening in our election, suggesting that the reaction to the findings has been “disingenuous” because, as Carlson admitted, “There’s almost no institution in Washington that hasn't been hacked, probably in some cases by the Russians. Also the Chinese. And yet, you haven't seen any kind of response like this.” Carlson also argued that because “bad intelligence” led the United States into Iraq in 2003, he is correct to be skeptical.
During Carlson’s appearance on the December 12 edition of Fox & Friends -- his first since The Washington Post reported that “Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman” -- he argued that the cyberattacks actually provided a public benefit because “voters got more information than they would have had otherwise.” He also again acknowledged Russian interference by saying the Russians have been hacking Americans “for years” and “so have the Chinese.” Later that day on his own show, Carlson hosted Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and asked him indignantly why he should trust the intelligence community “that missed the fall of the Soviet Union,” adding, “It's pretty lame if that's your job and you miss like, everything.”
Given Carlson’s previous praise for Putin and his ongoing failure to acknowledge Russia's confirmed role in the presidential election, his most recent unwillingness to accept the findings of the American intelligence community is not surprising. Carlson has made a point of repeatedly and unequivocally insisting that the U.S. intelligence community was pushing “an utterly unsubstantiated claim from the Clinton campaign that” the cyberattacks on American political institutions are “a Russian propaganda effort.” But considering the intelligence community’s findings since the election, Carlson’s repeated denials of the severity of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election seem to be getting more and more desperate.
While Carlson fails to accept the CIA’s conclusions, the allegations of Russian hacking have been corroborated by intelligence agencies in the United States and internationally. The Department Of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint statement on election security stating that the “U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” And the intelligence services of various American allies also allege that Russian cyberattacks “represent a fundamental threat to … sovereignty” and “should be a concern to all those who share democratic values.” Even Republican senators on Capitol Hill have issued warnings and called for investigations into the matter, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who stated that the Russians “are not our friends.”
While many have rallied around the idea that Russia’s role in the election requires investigation, at least Carlson will have one ally in his opposition. Earlier this year, like Carlson, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the hack was “important” because the “content [of the hacked emails] was given to the public.” Considering Carlson’s role as a prime-time TV news host, his failure to inform his viewers of the seriousness of the intelligence community’s evaluations on Russian interference in the 2016 election -- and his defense of Russia and echoing of the Russian president -- are especially problematic. And they provide the Russian government with a major defender in American media.