Journalists sometimes short-shrift historical context in their haste to report breaking news.
So this journalist-historian was happy to see stories comparing Tucker Carlson's toadying TV interview with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to Anglo-American New York Times reporter Walter Duranty. Duranty famously covered up Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin's atrocities, notably his brutal policies that led to a famine in Ukraine that killed millions.
“The most obvious parallel with Carlson’s fawning approach to a Russian despot is arguably ... Duranty," wrote Jamie Dettmer in a pre-interview story published in the European edition of Politico online. “After proving his loyalty and writing glowing accounts of the Communists’ Five-Year Plan, he was granted an exclusive interview by Stalin.”
Dettmer pointed out that Carlson “is far from being the first Western journalist to have aligned himself with the enemy. There’s a long tradition of the likes of Hitler and Stalin finding pliable Brits and Americans to do their propaganda for them. ... Carlson nailed his colors to Putin’s mast long ago. He’s argued Washington should take Russia’s side in its war on Ukraine and dubbed Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy a 'dangerous authoritarian' — not a description, apparently, he thinks applicable to the Russian leader. He has also always been in tune with Putin’s calls for 'traditional values' — which in Russia tends to mean the abuse of LGBTQ+ rights.”
After the interview, Branko Miletic wrote in The Times of Israel that Carlson, “a man for whom morals and ethics have been subsumed by the never-ending drive for clicks, views, and comments,” seems to have “taken over from where ... Duranty left off in terms of apologia for the Kremlin.”
Duranty, the Times Moscow bureau chief from 1922 to 1936, “failed to report on the Holodomor, [the Ukrainian famine] ... in 1932 and 1933, and attacked those who tried to get the word out, including Gareth Jones, a Welsh journalist,” Dettmer wrote. “‘Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda,’ Duranty noted in one false article.”
Dettmer wrote that the American military historian Mark von Hagen described Duranty’s stories as "just rehashed Soviet propaganda at odds with the ‘experience of the peoples of the Russian and Soviet empires.’”
No matter – his stories reportedly led to a dramatic turn in American-Soviet relations. Sally Taylor, who authored a critical biography of Duranty, maintained that his reporting helped convince President Franklin D. Roosevelt to open U.S. diplomatic relations with the U.S.S.R. in 1933. According to Dettmer, “Later, when Stalin’s atrocities became public knowledge, Duranty said: ‘You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.’”
Duranty, according to Dettmer, ended up exposed as a rank propagandist and “was repeatedly wheeled out as such an egregious example of malpractice, not least by Ukrainians. The [New York Times] ... concedes the coverage that won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 is ‘largely discredited.’”
The Times ultimately sacked Duranty. “It was by no accident that he became known as ‘Stalin’s Apologist,’” wrote Miletic.
In The New Voice of Ukraine, Anthony Bartaway wrote that Carlson’s televised tete-a-tete with Russia’s Stalin wannabe “would not be an actual journalistic interview, but rather just an opportunity for Putin to spread whatever propagandistic message he thought would be most useful to him. It likely did not go as smoothly as planned from either side, but not for lack of trying. However, Tucker is just one more in a long chain of Western enablers of Kremlin dictators, with 1933 Holodomor enabler Walter Duranty notable among them.”
Bartaway wrote that “in the days leading up to the meeting, Carlson was a media sensation in the aggressor state, with his every stop at a grocery store covered with breathless fascination.” (Stalin also wined and dined Duranty, who was a celebrity in the Soviet capital.)
Bartaway also wrote that Carlson was obviously unprepared for the interview. “He began with a leading question meant to get Putin to say that Russia attacked Ukraine out of self-defense, and was met with a deluge of ultra-nationalist pseudo-history that laid out the case for why the existence of the Ukrainian state is a historical aberration. The idea of Ukrainian peoplehood is a conspiracy by Poles and Austrians to weaken Russia, Putin said, The Russian leader also made the case for why Hitler was correct in invading the ‘uncooperative’ Poland, just as Russia is doing to Ukraine. It was not so much an interview as a one-sided rant with Putin bulldozing over the American’s questions.”
Not surprisingly, TASS — the Soviet-turned-Russian news (propaganda) agency — put a different spin on the Putin-Carlson TV conflab. Evidently seeing friendly international opinion, a TASS correspondent interviewed Wang Yiwei, a Chinese professor and researcher in Beijing, who reportedly claimed Carson “dealt a blow to the West's anti-Russian narrative and pro-Ukraine policy.”
Also according to the correspondent, Wang, director of the Institute of International Affairs at Renmin University, said “The West has long been fooled by anti-Russian propaganda, so now this interview enrages them. ... Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded to the interview by directly insulting Carlson, calling him an idiot.” The correspondent said Clinton’s reaction “shows that the interview hit a nerve in the West.”
The professor, TASS reported, “believes that the Western leaders’ political course of financial and military support for Ukraine is harming normal citizens who are growing weary of the military conflict.” Thus, he said, “the interview is very timely considering the US election this year.”
“Tucker Carlson joins long line of ‘useful idiot’ journalists helping tyrants” says the headline on Dettmer’s story. Others he cited included American journalist John Reed, who wrote Ten Days that Shook the World, a sympathetic chronicle of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
Dettmer wrote that “Reed, in fact, started to fall out with his Soviet bosses over revolutionary tactics, and succumbed to typhus but was given a hero’s burial, becoming one of only four Americans buried at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis in Red Square.”
He suggested, “There’s probably space there for Carlson too.” (The other Americans were communists or sympathetic to communism. Carlson would be the first Yank whose politics lean fascist, like Putin’s.)
Dettmer explained that “the Nazis as well as the Soviets found useful propagandists for their cause.” He named William Joyce, the antisemitic Brooklyn-born, Irish-reared Brit who joined the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s. Facing arrest on the eve of World War II, he escaped to Germany and “gained infamy as broadcaster Lord Haw-Haw ... taunting U.S. and U.K. audiences with his Nazi radio show Germany Calling.”
Dettmer suggested that Carson might want to think twice about hosting a TV show titled Russia Calling. The Brits hanged Haw-Haw as a traitor after the war.
At present, Carlson is in for nothing worse than liberal scorn stateside. Yet if Donald Trump gets back in the White House and becomes a real-life Buzz Windrip, Tuckums would seem a shoo-in to head America’s first official propaganda ministry.