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Friday began with the Kremlin praising Fox News. It ended with Fox spreading Kremlin propaganda.
Also: Kevin McCarthy tries to have it both ways in response to Madison Cawthorn calling Zelensky a "thug."
— Hat tip to Media Matters for inspiring this headline —
Friday began with Russia’s top diplomat praising Fox News. It ended with Fox News citing a Kremlin spokesperson to demean President Biden.
Those two events demonstrated how, wittingly or not, America’s most-watched cable network has let its obsession with owning the libs lead it into doing Putin’s bidding. And the Kremlin is grateful.
Last week I wrote about Tucker Carlson’s brand of anti-anti-Putinism and how he’s gone so far as to parrot Putin’s talking points, including that Ukraine isn’t a real country. But it’s not just Tucker. Sean Hannity, for instance, apparently agrees with much of Biden’s response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine: Hannity, too, opposes putting US troops on the ground, and supports providing military aid (never mind that Hannity staunchly supported Trump when he was impeached for withholding military aid from Ukraine). But his commentary about the war is almost entirely in the service of denigrating Biden as “weak, and frail, and cognitively struggling.” Moral clarity takes a backseat to kneecapping the Democratic president. It’s almost enough to make you forget about Putin’s ultimate culpability.
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This sort of agenda-driven coverage — especially during the primetime triumvirate of Carlson, Hannity, and Laura Ingraham — stands in contrast to the reality-based approach you can see on CNN and MSNBC. Thus, As Julia Davis of the Daily Beast has detailed, Russian state TV can’t get enough of Fox monologues and has been playing clips from them regularly in recent weeks.
So perhaps it isn’t surprising that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave Fox a shoutout during an English-language interview with RT that aired on Friday morning.
“If you take the United States, only Fox News is trying to present some alternative point of view,” said Lavrov, contrasting Fox with CNN. (Humorously, Lavrov went on to echo Fox by complaining about Trump being banned from Twitter and Facebook, describing it as “censorship.”)
If anybody at Fox was bothered about receiving praise from the Kremlin, they didn’t say so on air. On the contrary, that evening, Hannity used a statement from Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov about Biden’s purported “cognitive decline” — one that sounded as though it could’ve been written by Hannity himself — as evidence his own attacks on the president are correct.
Biden is not above criticism. I’m open to at least hearing arguments that the US could’ve done more to try to deter Putin before he launched his invasion, possibly by slapping harsher sanctions on the Kremlin while Russian troops were massing along Ukraine’s border. But by any reasonable standard, the president has done a good job keeping the free world united in support of Ukraine while avoiding a hot war with the country that has the most nuclear weapons in the world. Fox, however, can’t even bring itself to acknowledge that much. There’s nothing Biden could do that they wouldn’t criticize.
Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and the rest of the motley Fox News crew aren’t interested in good faith critiques. Cheap shots and conspiracy theories make for better TV. And if the Kremlin is citing their work and regurgitating their talking points about how Biden is truly to blame, it isn’t cause for self-reflection — it’s just more evidence they’re right.
Republican leaders downplay the party’s pro-Putin caucus
Speaking of echoing Kremlin propaganda, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) made waves last week when a video surfaced of him bashing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as a “thug” and his government as “incredibly evil” because “it has been pushing woke ideologies.” (The clip is also getting heavy play on Russian state TV.)
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s response to that craziness illustrates the dilemma he faces as he tries to distance himself from his party’s clown caucus without alienating their voters. During a press briefing on Friday, McCarthy called Cawthorn’s comments “wrong” — but in the next breath said he supports his reelection anyway. This attempt to have it both ways is also how McCarthy has dealt with Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert when they’ve said similarly indefensible things.
It’s incumbent on Democrats to message on this stuff. Cawthorn’s comments about Zelensky are out of step with the vast majority of Americans precisely because they’re so immoral. They highlight the danger of empowering a party where elected officials aren’t held accountable for anything they say or do by giving them control of one or both chambers of Congress. But McCarthy wants to be Speaker, and realizes an open rift with the not-insignificant portion of his party’s base that’s pro-Putin or just doesn’t care so long as it’s anti-LGBTQ could undermine him in that effort. So he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was similarly dismissive of the GOP’s pro-Putin wing during a Sunday interview on Face the Nation, saying they’re just “a few lonely voices” and the vast majority of his party is “totally behind Ukraine.”
That may be true now, but it wasn’t true as recently as two years ago, when all Senate Republicans not named Mitt Romney stood by Trump when he was impeached for being caught in the act of trying to disarm Ukraine. And in this instance, Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan was complicit in McConnell’s attempt to rewrite history; she didn’t press the point.
Judge Jackson’s SCOTUS confirmation hearing begins Monday
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing begins late Monday morning. As I usually do with major hearings of this sort, I’ll be live tweeting highlights on Twitter, and I’ll likely write recaps and analysis here in Public Notice.
Judiciary Committee Republicans like Josh Hawley have already signaled they’ll make misleading QAnon-flavored attacks on Jackson for purportedly going too easy on child porn offenders — ones that Chair Dick Durbin on Sunday described as “inaccurate and unfair.”
Though it’s hard to imagine Jackson won’t ultimately be confirmed, there will be fireworks along the way. I’ll be detailing all of them on Twitter and here in the newsletter, so stay tuned.