Tucker Carlson’s Lesson on the Dangers of Giving Airtime to Vladimir Putin

Tucker Carlson left Moscow more than a week ago, buoyed by an interview with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin that put him back in the spotlight after his abrupt cancellation by Fox News last spring.

But the interview with the wartime autocrat, mocked in various corners of the political-media world for its gentleness, continues to have a long and tortured afterlife – becoming a hot topic again on Friday after the national opponent most virulent of Mr. Putin, Alexeï A. Navalny was found dead in a Russian prison.

“This is what Putin’s Russia is, @TuckerCarlson,” Liz Cheney, a former Republican congresswoman from Wyoming, written the after the announcement of Mr. Navalny’s death on Friday. “And you are Putin’s useful idiot.”

Naomi Biden, President Biden’s granddaughter, also weighed in, highlighting a video Mr. Carlson had recently released in which he contrasted the supposed splendors of Russia under Mr. Putin with “dirt and crime.” the United States. “Has anything ever aged so badly, so quickly?” Mrs. Biden written the.

In a statement to the New York Times on Friday, Mr. Carlson said: “It’s horrible what happened to Navalny. This is all barbaric and horrible. No honest person would defend him.

The comment represents a notable shift in tone from earlier this week, when he appeared to offer a blasé opinion on Russia’s treatment of Mr. Navalny, who was first imprisoned three years ago for corruption and “extremism” which the United States has called baseless. .

Asked at a conference in Dubai on Monday why he had not asked Mr. Putin about Russia’s crackdown on free speech, Mr. Navalny’s imprisonment or alleged political assassinations, Mr. Carlson said. declared that these were “things that every other American media is talking about.” (Mr. Carlson was, in fact, the first Western media figure to interview Mr. Putin in more than two years.)

But, Mr. Carlson said then, “leadership requires killing people — sorry, that’s why I wouldn’t want to be a leader” — comments that drew even more criticism after the death of Mr. Navalny.

Mr Carlson said in a statement on Friday that his remarks about leadership “had nothing” to do with Mr Navalny. “I was not referring to him, which is obvious in the context. I am totally opposed to murder.

Although Mr. Carlson pressed Mr. Putin during Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich’s interview about the Russian detention, he remained silent for extended periods while Mr. Putin gave a historic lecture which offered a one-sided point of view and often wrong story about Ukraine.

Mr. Carlson’s fans and supporters on X described criticism of his interview as sour grapes from mainstream journalists who did not have the opportunity to interview Mr. Putin themselves.

But on Wednesday, a new expert joined the chorus of those who said Mr. Carlson had been too easy on Mr. Putin — Mr. Putin himself.

Speaking to a state television host, Mr. Putin said he was disappointed that Mr. Carlson did not ask “so-called pointed questions” because he wanted the opportunity to “answer strongly” in his own responses.

“He was patient and listened to my long dialogues, especially those related to history, and did not give me a reason to do what I was ready for,” Mr. Putin said. “So, frankly, I did not get complete satisfaction from this interview.”

Justin Wells, one of Mr. Carlson’s top producers, responded Friday that viewers should “judge for themselves.”

Mr. Putin’s mockery of Mr. Carlson came as the former Fox host rejoiced, the day after his interview, in a steady stream of praise for Russia and Mr. Putin, whose leadership he touted as superior to that of Mr. Biden.

On Wednesday, Mr. Carlson released a short video recorded at a Russian grocery store, saying the selection and prices offered an example of Russia’s superiority over the United States, which he described as plagued by “filth , crime and inflation.

“Coming to a Russian grocery store, in the heart of evil, and seeing what things cost and how people live, it will radicalize you against our leaders,” he said in the video. “That’s how I feel, anyway: radicalized.”

(Russia has a rate of inflation like the United States, and its citizens spend higher percentage of their household budget on the grocery store.)

The video sparked a bipartisan rebuke: from Naomi Biden and, before her, from Senator Thomas TillisRepublican from North Carolina.

As a polemicist who has long dabbled in pro-Russian narratives and now relies on subscriptions from those drawn to that type of content, Mr. Carlson operates in a field where the criticism he received this week could be a catalyst for gaining even more support.

“It’s just measured by a totally different yardstick,” said Nicole R. Hemmer, an associate professor of history at Vanderbilt University who studies conservative media. “Tucker being attacked is great for Tucker.”