“Withholding information is the essence of tyranny. Control of the flow of information is the tool of the dictatorship.” This quote by author Bruce Coville represents the importance of journalism and freedom of speech. That is a pressing topic as media outlets tried to tell readers what to believe about Tucker Carlson’s interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the interview was released. Sanctions were said to have been threatened by the European Union but have since been denied by EU Commission spokesperson Peter Stano. Despite that, Stano stated that they do have the ability to “blacklist ‘propagandists’ who have a continued track record’ of information manipulation aimed at undermining the ‘sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine.” There were statements in the interview that could be interpreted as violating this principle. It is unclear whether presenting the unedited interview of Putin making such statements would classify as “propaganda” under this standard.
A Newsweek piece discussed the possibility of the U.S. Department of Justice weaponizing the Espionage Act to charge Tucker Carlson for his journalism. The Newsweek article includes comments from attorney Ian Corzine, who states the language in the Espionage Act is broad and “could be construed to prohibit any sharing of information with another country with intent to harm the U.S.” The article says Carlson sharing interview questions with Putin’s team before the meeting could be weaponized to charge Carlson for espionage.
The First Amendment establishes freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. When these values and rights are under attack, so are the sovereignty and freedom of the country. Ironically, author Bruce Coville’s quote about withholding information contradicts his announcement about leaving the X platform. Coville said he would leave X in December because Elon Musk announced that Alex Jones would return to the platform. This was another step for Musk in proving his dedication to making X a place for free speech. The same contradiction of values and actions exists within the mainstream media that has been intent on framing access to unedited information as Russian propaganda.
Media outlets continue to decry Carlson as a Russian propagandist in an apparent effort to filter the contents of the raw interview through their own worldview. Earlier in the week, speculation floated as news broke that Tucker Carlson traveled to Moscow. On Feb 6, Carlson released a video announcing that he was there to interview Putin. Days before the interview, Hillary Clinton referred to Carlson as a “useful idiot.” Clinton also said, “There is a yearning for leaders who can kill and imprison their opponents, destroy the press, lead a life that is one of impunity and bound by any laws. There’s a yearning among certain people in our country for that kind of leadership. And I find that absolutely gob-smacking terrifying.” To characterize a journalist and certain citizens as “yearning” for murderous leaders is highly disingenuous. Interviewing a person does not require you to agree with their views. A journalist who interviewed Jeffery Dahmer in prison was not yearning for more cannibalistic serial killers within our society.
“Freedom of speech is our birthright,” Carlson said in a pre-interview video from Moscow. “We were born with the right to say what we believe. That right cannot be taken away no matter who is in the White House, but they’re trying anyway. Almost three years ago, the Biden administration illegally spied on our text messages and then leaked the contents to their servants in the news media. They did this in order to stop a Putin interview that we had been planning. Last month, we’re pretty certain they did exactly the same once again, but this time we came to Moscow anyway. We are not here because we love Vladimir Putin. We are here because we love the United States and we want it to remain prosperous and free. They’re afraid of information they can’t control, but you have no reason to be afraid of it. You should know as much as you can and then think like a free citizen and not a slave. You can decide for yourself.”
Carlson stated his intent to do an interview with the Russian leader. He wanted to provide Putin’s perspective on a war in which the United States is implicated. The Joe Biden administration and United States Congress have authorized and sent more than $75 billion in aid to Ukraine since the war with Russia began in 2022. A congressional bill that is touted to resolve the border crisis by limiting entry to only 5,000 illegal immigrants per day also has stipulations for another $60 billion to Ukraine. This amount is three times the amount allocated for the southern border in the bill.
If the purpose of journalism is to dig for information and to present all sides rather than to tell the public how to think, many large media outlets are failing. A Politico pre-interview article set the stage for a “ping pong propaganda fest full of falsehoods.” The article said they would tune in to discover the “truth.” Tucker Carlson stated he would release the unedited interview without telling the viewers what to think. Politico’s version of “journalism” is presumptive and biased. Many major U.S. media outlets also reflect this style of reporting. The framing of Politico’s article sets the stage for the American public to ignore the interview because nothing can be taken at face value.
Carlson never stated that Putin’s comments would be truthful and still makes no such claims. Still, western media outlets are intent on labeling Carlson as a conspiracy theorist and propagandist. U.S. citizens should have access to information to decide whether they support the tens of billions in aid going to Ukraine amid a border crisis and record-level inflation under the Biden administration. Nobody has stated that Putin’s statements will be factual, and Carlson has also requested an interview with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. While many interviews have been given to Zelenskyy, this was Putin’s first interview since the war began.
There was no outcry when NBC news anchor Keir Simmons sat down with Putin in 2021, nor was there concern about misinformation when other journalists interviewed Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, or Muammar Gaddafi. The key difference is that Carlson has been an independent figure since starting the Tucker Carlson Network after getting removed from his primetime slot at Fox News. Read through some excerpts of NBC’s column on the interview to see how their language is biased and guides the reader on what to think.
The NBC article states “Carlson at one point flattered Putin and said it was not boring but added, ‘I just don’t know how it’s relevant.'” NBC chose to use the word “flattered” to describe the comment that Putin’s history lesson was “not boring.” It is important to see how all media can use words to encourage certain readers’ emotions. Why would a United States journalist “flatter” the President of an enemy state? In what other context could the words “not boring” be considered flattery?
One of the most discussed moments of the interview involved Tucker Carlson advocating for the release of Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter who Russia detained in March on charges of espionage. After Putin described Gershkovich as a CIA asset, Carlson pushed back and continued to advocate for Gershkovich’s release. Carlson stated, “He’s a kid, and maybe he was breaking your law in some way, but he’s not a super spy, and everybody knows that.” Despite this, WSJ reporter Ted Mann posted on X, “Disgraceful of Carlson to suggest Evan was ‘breaking [their] law.’ He wasn’t. Carlson knows that.”
The alarming aspect of this interview is not that Carlson chose to meet with the Russian President, but the ad-hominem labels thrown at Carlson for doing an act of journalism. These labels were thrown out by media outlets that purport to provide high-quality journalism but jumped to conclusions before even hearing the interview. The concept that the EU would impose sanctions on Carlson and that the U.S. DOJ would weaponize the Espionage Act to charge him with crimes are the most concerning aspects of this story. When freedom of information and the rights of a free press in society are threatened, there is a responsibility to push back by always searching for truth. Searching for truth requires having access to as much information as possible, and that is the real purpose of journalism.