Q: Was Tucker Carlson’s interview with Vladimir Putin journalism?


If you ask Tucker Carlson, we know what he would say. In fact, he already said it. Before the conservative commentator released his interview with Vladimir Putin on his streaming site on Feb.8, Carlson explained on X why he had decided to speak with the Russian president: “Here’s why we’re doing it. First because it’s our job. We’re in journalism. Our duty is to inform people.”

Media analysts here in the U.S. would beg to differ. Carlson’s more than two-hour interview was a rare opportunity to press Putin about his invasion of Ukraine, the imprisonment of his political opponent Alexey Navalny, and the death or detention of dozens of journalists since he came to power. Instead, Putin took control and delivered a long-winded and questionable history lecture — nearly uninterrupted. Even when Putin asserted the CIA controls the U.S. government, Carlson failed to call it out as a conspiracy theory. The rambling interview prompted a flood of criticism from U.S. news outlets, who declared it a propaganda victory for Russia.

• Media columnist Margaret Sullivan called Carlson a stooge and said he had handed the Russian president “a priceless propaganda gift, helping Putin in every possible way with his messaging – internally in Russia, and externally to the world – about Ukraine.”

• Hillary Clinton weighed in during an interview on MSNBC, in which she called Carlson Putin’s puppy dog and “a useful idiot.”

• And the conservative Wall Street Journal called it a missed opportunity, in which Carlson “failed to challenge Putin about Russian atrocities in Ukraine or his sweeping crackdown on dissent at home.”

So, why was the interview propaganda and not journalism? Only information that includes verification, independence, and accountability qualifies as journalism. Carlson skipped the verification step altogether, failing almost entirely to challenge or fact-check Putin’s remarks. That knocked the interview into the propaganda neighborhood, where facts are mixed with misinformation to widely influence attitudes and opinions.

Spotting the flaws in Carlson’s interview is more than an intellectual exercise. By abandoning journalism’s best practices, Carlson helped publicize Putin’s version of reality, including justifications for the bloody invasion of Ukraine. Fact-checkers from other news outlets did what Carlson did not, picking through Putin’s comments and finding, as the BBC reported, “claims made by Mr. Putin are nonsense – representing nothing more than a selective abuse of history.” Even so, the interview has racked up more than 200 million views on X, and millions more on YouTube.

Russia’s state-owned news agency has made sure to keep the story alive.

Jon Stewart had a field day with the interview on The Daily Show, where he mocked Carlson’s “journalism” claim as an attempt to “disguise your deception and capitulation to power as noble and moral and based in freedom.” Take a look here:

So, how is Carlson taking this flood of criticism? It’s possible he sees any press as good press. Up until last spring he was a right-wing star on Fox News, with an enormous audience. Once Fox cancelled his show, he may have been getting itchy on the sidelines. Interviewing Putin not only returned him to the spotlight, it also drew viewers to his streaming site, which charges subscribers $9 a month.