Last week on Russian state television, the host Olga Skabeeva stood in front of a larger-than-life video image of the top-rated U.S. Fox News broadcaster Tucker Carlson, remarking that her “acquaintance” has “interests” more and more often “in tune with” Russia’s. Back in the United States, Carlson had been entertaining pro-Russia narratives on Fox News long before President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. As the war began earlier this month, the Kremlin directed media outlets to feature as many clips from his show as possible, according to a memo leaked to the U.S. magazine Mother Jones. While the broader American news media has largely sympathized with Ukraine in the current conflict—even occasionally to the point of seeming to advocate for direct U.S. military intervention—Carlson belongs to a set of right-wing media personalities who’ve denigrated Ukrainian President Zelensky; aligned themselves with Russian talking points, even as they might condemn the invasion; and even spread falsehoods and conspiracy theories, including about U.S.-funded biological weapons research in Ukraine. Why are they doing this?

Cathy Young is a Russian-born American journalist, a staff writer at The Bulwark, and a cultural studies fellow at the Cato Institute. Young stresses that support for Putin’s invasion isn’t a mainstream phenomenon among right-leaning Americans; if anything, Republicans are now pushing President Joe Biden to do more to counter Russian aggression. (Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said last weekend that “the vast majority of the Republican Party writ large, both in Congress and across the country” was “totally behind the Ukrainians,” urging Biden to be “bolder.”) Still, Young sees pro-Kremlin commentary in America’s right-wing media as consistent with a trend of sympathy for Putin that was visible among Republicans during the presidency of Barack Obama and that became much more pronounced as Trump rose to power. Now, however, Young reckons that at least some Republicans may be rediscovering their older, Cold War intuitions about Russia—as the “liberal nationalism” Ukrainians are modeling incites new thinking about patriotism, national interest, and international cooperation across the United States and around the world.

Graham Vyse: How would you describe the coverage of the war in U.S. conservative media?

Cathy Young: Well, it’s not uniform. A large share of America’s conservative media is pro-Ukraine and anti-Putin. Conservative publications like Commentary and National Review, for instance, have been overwhelmingly aligned with mainstream sentiment on this issue. But there is a prominent segment of the populist or pro-Trump media that’s either actively pro-Putin or, at the very least, anti-anti-Putin. Their view is that Putin might be bad, but so are all the terrible neoconservatives who oppose him—and also that Ukraine is bad, and the U.S. really shouldn’t be supporting it. Tucker Carlson, who brands himself as a nationalist-populist and is the highest-rated host on Fox News, may be the most prominent media figure advancing this narrative.

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