Tucker Carlson interviews Vladimir Putin: What’s the controversy about?

The US television presenter is set to release an interview with the Russian president. Here is what we know about it.

Vladimir Putin and Tucker Carlson
Vladimir Putin and Tucker Carlson [Getty Images]

American news anchor Tucker Carlson is set to release a much-anticipated interview with Vladimir Putin on Thursday, with the White House expressing concerns about giving the Russian president a platform.

Carlson, a former Fox News presenter known for his conservative talking points, said the interview would be broadcast at 23:00 GMT on his website as well as social media platform X, where he runs a show called Tucker on X.

Here is what to know about the interview and the controversy around it.

What do we know about Carlson’s interview with Putin?

Carlson confirmed on Tuesday he was in Moscow, the Russian capital, to interview Putin. “We’re in Moscow tonight. We’re here to interview the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin,” Carlson said in a video posted on X on Tuesday that seems to be shot from a tower in Moscow.

The presenter, who has criticised the US media’s coverage of the Ukraine-Russia war, said his objective was to counter what he described as pro-Ukraine “fawning pep sessions” by Western media covering the war.

The interview will be available on Carlson’s website and it will also be shared “uncensored” on X. This would be Putin’s first formal interview with a Western journalist since the start of the invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago.

According to TASS news agency, Carlson spent several days in Moscow. The host reportedly also said he had “put a request for an interview” with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The interview also comes as Democrats are due to make a new attempt on Thursday to restore US military funding to Ukraine after a first vote on a multibillion-dollar aid package failed due to opposition from the Republican Party.

Putin was last formally interviewed by a US media outlet in October 2021.

Why is Carlson interviewing Putin?

Carlson said the goal of the interview is to enable Americans to understand Russia’s view of the war.

“Two years into a war that’s reshaping the entire world, most Americans are not informed. They have no real idea what’s happening in this region,” Carlson said in the four-minute video.

“But they should know they are paying for most of it in a way they might not fully yet perceive,” he added.

“Most Americans have no idea why Putin invaded Ukraine or what his goals are now,” he said. “We are not here because we love Vladimir Putin … We are not encouraging you to agree with what Putin may say in this interview, but we are urging you to watch it. You should know as much as you can.”

He claimed that the Biden administration prevented him from interviewing Putin when he was still with Fox News – a charge the White House press secretary on Tuesday dubbed “ridiculous”.

According to Russian authorities, Putin agreed to the interview because Carlson provided an alternative view from the “one-sided” reporting of the Ukraine conflict by other news outlets.

“When it comes to the countries of the collective West, the large network media, TV channels, [and] large newspapers can in no way boast of even trying to at least look impartial in terms of coverage,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in a news briefing on Wednesday.

“These are all media outlets that take an exceptionally one-sided position. Of course, there is no desire to communicate with such media, and it hardly makes sense, and it is unlikely that it will be useful.”

When asked why Carlson obtained the interview, Peskov said the American journalist’s approach was “in no way pro-Russian, it is not pro-Ukrainian – it is pro-American”.

What is the controversy around the interview?

Carlson’s interview has driven a wave of criticism. On Wednesday, the White House said Putin should not be given an uncritical outlet to justify his war in Ukraine.

“I don’t think we need another interview with Vladimir Putin to understand his brutality,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said.

Carlson also asserted that he was the only one among Western media trying to interview Putin.

“Does Tucker really think we journalists haven’t been trying to interview President Putin every day since his full-scale invasion of Ukraine?” Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s presenter, said on X. “It’s absurd – we’ll continue to ask for an interview, just as we have for years now.”

Critical voices also pointed out Putin’s continued targeting of Russian and foreign journalists. According to the Moscow Times, at least 1,000 independent Russian journalists had fled the country by February 2023 as Russia tightened its control on “independent wartime reporting”.

“Unbelievable! I am like hundreds of Russian journalists who have had to go into exile to keep reporting about the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine,” Russian journalist Yevgenia Albats said on X.

Carlson’s interview has also drawn sharp political reactions. Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian prime minister and current member of the European Parliament, called for the European Union to explore imposing a “travel ban” on Carlson.

Adam Kinzinger, the former Republican Illinois representative, called Carlson a “traitor” for conducting the interview.

The interview comes as two American reporters – Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal and Alsu Kurmasheva of Radio Free Liberty – are currently imprisoned by Russia on charges widely viewed as politically motivated.

Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal and Alsu Kurmasheva of Radio Free Liberty
Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal and Alsu Kurmasheva of Radio Free Liberty remain in Russian custody [File: Reuters]

And what about freedom of speech?

Carlson has defended the interview. “Freedom of speech is our birthright,” Carlson said in his video. “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,” he added.

His supporters have come out in his defence, saying the interview was an example of freedom of speech.

Far-right Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene said the US is characterised by having a free press.

“We have a free press in this country and its [sic] people like Tucker Carlson who we depend on to speak the truth,” wrote on X.

X owner Musk asked people to “hear” Putin out.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald spoke out against the chorus of criticism, saying interviews with adversaries has long been a part of journalism. He pointed out that CNN interviewed al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in 1997 and then-President of Iraq Saddam Hussein in 1991.

Source: Al Jazeera