Stranger in Moscow

Even before its broadcast, Tucker Carlson’s Putin interview provoked a war of words

Stranger in Moscow

Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

The arrival of disgraced former Fox News host Tucker Carlson in Moscow this week for what it subsequently transpired was an exclusive interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin has been a subject of huge interest for Russian state media, which have covered his comings and goings in microscopic detail, at one point even publishing a list of items he bought at a supermarket.

In the space of a few days, Russian state media outlets, which have long been under Kremlin instruction to cite Carlson’s opinions on global events, have elevated him as a lone voice of truth in US journalism and have accorded his visit the same level of importance they would that of a senior administration official.

Carlson admiring oranges at a Moscow supermarket. Photo: Moscow 24 TV channel

Carlson admiring oranges at a Moscow supermarket. Photo: Moscow 24 TV channel

Carlson has conducted himself in a similar manner too, attending the ballet Spartacus at the Bolshoi, and receiving official invites to visit annexed Crimea, to make public appearances and to be interviewed on Russian television. Some of the reporting on his movements has even strayed into the realm of the absurd: “Carlson today visited the 75th pavilion of the All-Russia Exhibition Centre and inspected stands dedicated to Russia’s regions. Among other things, he inspected the stand of the Kamchatka region and then walked the leopard trail at the stand of Primorye,” state-run news agency TASS wrote.

Obliging his hosts by sharing flattering insights with them, Carlson remarked that Moscow was “a very beautiful city” and even mentioned his desire “to go to Siberia, to see Lake Baikal, to walk around St. Petersburg”. Other notable gems included an admission that: “I don’t know much about Russian culture, but I can say with certainty that it’s very beautiful here. I’m amazed by the amount of old architecture and beautiful 19th century buildings.”

Interview with a vampire

While the Kremlin initially refused to comment on Carlson’s rumoured interview with Putin — the first by a Western media outlet since the Russian invasion of Ukraine — Carlson himself announced it on Tuesday in a bizarrely earnest-sounding video in which he explained why he believed the interview was necessary.

In the video, Carlson accused Western journalists of not having “bothered” to interview Putin, a claim immediately rejected not only by foreign correspondents in Moscow, but even by Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

“Mr Carlson is incorrect. As a matter of fact, he cannot know that. We receive many requests for interviews with the president, but mostly, when it comes to the countries of the collective West, we are talking about large network media … which can in no way boast of being impartial,” Peskov said.

Peskov added that Putin’s refusal to talk to other media outlets was due to “all these media outlets taking a one-sided position,” so the president had “no desire to communicate” with them, but he had granted an interview request in Carlson’s case given that he was neither known to be pro-Russian nor pro-Ukrainian, in contrast with most other “traditional Anglo-Saxon media".

Carlson said that most Americans were “not informed” and had “no real idea what is happening in this region", adding that they had a right to know as they were paying for the war with their tax dollars.

“Most Americans have no idea why Putin invaded Ukraine, or what his goals are now. They’ve never heard his voice. That’s wrong,” Carlson said, prompting howls of outrage from independent Russian journalists and other foreign correspondents.

Of the Western media’s coverage of the war Carlson said “That is not journalism. It is government propaganda, propaganda of the ugliest kind, the kind that kills people.”

Carlson claimed the Biden administration prevented him from interviewing Putin three years ago, saying it had "illegally spied on our text messages and leaked the contents to their servers in the news media”. He also accused the White House of attempting to prevent his current trip, though there has been no independent confirmation of either claim.


Carlson’s Moscow adventure has the backing of X CEO Elon Musk, who, Carlson said, had promised not to block the interview on the social media platform. Independent presidential candidate Robert Kennedy Jr. defended Carlson’s right to talk to Putin, saying “Zelensky has been given numerous primetime interviews. Osama Bin Laden has been interviewed before. We have a right to hear from everyone — no matter how you feel personally about them.”

But Republican former Illinois congressman and CNN political commentator Adam Kinzinger called Carlson a “traitor” for making his trip to Russia, while The New York Times wrote that by giving Putin such a platform, the Russian president might “seize a unique opportunity: a chance to reach a potentially sympathetic audience in the United States”.

Carlson, The New York Times said, was “sceptical of further American support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion, and has embraced Mr. Putin’s efforts to position himself as a global standard-bearer for ‘traditional values,’ like opposing LGBT rights.”

The newspaper also said that the interview could sharpen political divisions over Ukraine in Washington, especially if Putin makes it clear he is open to a negotiated end to the war.

CNN cautioned that by carrying out the interview Carlson would “effectively humanise Russia’s ruthless authoritarian ruler” who, it stressed, was “personally responsible for countless deaths”, describing Carlson’s role as an “empty vessel” in which Putin could deliver propaganda to the American public.

The BBC pointed out that Carlson had openly defended the Russian president since the beginning of the war and even before the invasion of Ukraine, when he said that “hatred of Putin has become the main goal of America’s foreign policy”.



‘Real journalism is a crime in Putin’s Russia’

In recent years Carlson has carried out soft-ball interviews with Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orbán and Argentina’s new far-right president, Javier Milei, in neither case asking tough questions nor challenging their answers.

Western journalists also rejected Carlson’s claims they hadn’t “bothered” to talk to the Russian president. BBC Russian editor Steve Rosenberg noted that he and his colleagues "lodged several requests with the Kremlin in the last 18 months. Always a ‘no’ for us.”

“Does Tucker really think we journalists haven’t been trying to interview President Putin every day since his full scale invasion of Ukraine? It’s absurd — we’ll continue to ask for an interview, just as we have for years now,”

CNN international correspondent Christiane Amanpour said.

CNN pointed out that while Carlson was arguing that the US media had no interest in telling the Russian side of the story, The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich was arrested last year for doing just that and is now awaiting trial for espionage.

“It is most striking to see Carlson justify his interview with Putin and trip to Russia as the work of a journalist — at a time when Western journalists are literally sitting in jail for having done nothing wrong other than seeking to report independently in Putin’s Russia,” Susan Glasser, former Moscow bureau chief for The Washington Post told CNN, adding that “Real journalism, unfortunately, is a crime in Putin’s Russia."

Sophia Fullerton, a journalist for The Washington Post, pointed out that as Carlson was arriving in Moscow as a global celebrity, Russia extended Gershkovich’s detention.

“Those defending Carlson should reflect on why Carlson is getting unfettered access while others get detained,” she wrote on X.

Editor in chief — Kirill Martynov. Terms of use. Privacy policy.