Launderers of Putin’s lies | Ted Lipien | THE HILL

This article appeared first in The Hill, February 19, 2024

Launderers of Putin’s lies | Ted Lipien | The Hill


Tucker Carlson is not an idiot. He comes from a wealthy family, finished college, has traveled abroad and is a highly successful media commentator. Why, then, would he allow himself to be treated like a stooge for Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, by giving him a platform to deceive Americans? 

Carlson recently interviewed Putin in Moscow, offering almost no challenge when Putin lied. Carlson should have taken time to study the harm done to America and the world in the last century by the Anglo-American journalist Walter Duranty and his followers on the left. 

Some viewed Duranty as one of Joseph Stalin’s most useful idiots. But the New York Times’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Moscow correspondent in the 1930s was not a naive idiot like many of his contemporary Western colleagues. He may have liked communism, but he was primarily a cynic who lied for Stalin in exchange for an extravagant lifestyle in Moscow, facilitated by the Soviet secret police, public attention and high status among liberal newspaper readers in the West. 

Tucker Carlson, for reasons known only to him, in a similar way allowed himself to be used by Putin, the former KGB spy who learned his propaganda craft from men who served under Stalin. 

Why would Carlson and other conservatives now make the same mistakes that fellow travelers on the far left made when they sided with the ruthless communist dictator who killed millions of people? Actions have consequences. For example, absent the efforts of Duranty and others, would Stalin have managed to dupe President Franklin Roosevelt at the wartime Tehran and Yalta conferences, causing the enslavement of millions more in Eastern Europe for decades?

Carlson’s interview with Putin occurred strangely close to Trump’s careless but perhaps deliberate comment in South Carolina that he would permit or even encourage Russia to invade European countries if they did not meet NATO’s defense spending goals. He may have been talking about his old warnings, most likely to Germany, which indeed had foolishly made itself dependent on Russian energy supplies. Still, media accounts presented his remark as his current position and a sign of his indifference to Putin’s aggressive war against Ukraine. 

America’s most loyal political and military allies, including Poland and the Baltic states — countries far exceeding NATO’s defense spending goals — were understandably frightened by Trump’s comment. These countries understand that Putin will ceaselessly antagonize them with hybrid tactics if he is not stopped in Ukraine. He will also continue to cause trouble for America through proxies such as Iran and Hamas, and he will try to extract concessions with nuclear bluffs.

Trump would be wise to reassure the frontline European countries of America’s firm commitment to NATO’s collective defense, at least if he wants to increase his support among voters of Eastern European extraction in critical states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. After World War II, many immigrant voters abandoned the Democratic Party after Roosevelt’s betrayal of Eastern Europe became known. Any sign of approval for Putin and Russia’s imperial ambitions may likewise turn ethnic voters not only away from Trump but from Republican congressional candidates as well. 

A territorial win in Ukraine would strengthen Putin enormously. It would free his resources to share with America’s enemies. It would increase threats not only to America but also to Israel, Taiwan, and other democratic nations. 

No conservative, no Republican, no liberal and no Democrat should want to see that happen, and yet some commentators and politicians on the right seem to ignore these geopolitical realities.

Carlson did not challenge Putin’s lies. We don’t know whether he did not know how or whether he did not want to make Putin look bad to Trump supporters. He behaved exactly like the fellow traveler journalists on the left who, during World War II, made sure that Americans would forget about Stalin’s earlier alliance with Hitler; his role in starting World War II with invasions of Finland, Poland and the Baltic countries; and his deadly deportations of millions of civilians to slave labor camps in Siberia. 

They covered up Stalin’s other genocidal crimes, including the Katyn massacre of nearly 22,000 Polish military officers and intellectual leaders captured by the Soviets in 1939. 

Carlson did not challenge Putin when he advanced one of Stalin’s biggest lies. At one point during the interview, the Russian autocrat implied that Poland was somehow responsible for the start of World War II. Carlson should have interrupted Putin and noted that Hitler and Stalin launched the Second World War in 1939 by forming an alliance and jointly attacking and dividing Poland, the first country to resist aggression by Nazi Germany militarily. 

Polish armed forces fought the Germans alongside American, British, and other allies on many war fronts. This did not prevent Stalin and his agents of influence among Western journalists from accusing these Polish soldiers of being “fascists,” just like Putin and his propagandists ludicrously accuse Ukraine’s Jewish President Volodymyr Zelensky of being pro-Nazi.

It is in the interest of both conservatives and liberals to stand up jointly to Putin and help Ukraine, regardless of any other differences over issues such as illegal immigration. America’s security and strategic interests should be off-limits to partisan quarrels. 

American conservatives need to keep in mind that Putin is not one of them. He served the communist regime that murdered priests and tried to destroy religion. Russia, where church attendance is among the lowest in the world, is not exactly the model of conservative values. If Republicans want to win elections, siding with Putin and denying aid to Ukraine would be precisely the wrong move in 2024.

Ted Lipien is a journalist and media freedom advocate who was chief of the Voice of America’s Polish Service during Poland’s successful struggle for democracy and later served as VOA’s acting associate director and President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.