Feb 13, 2024

The Tucker Carlson-Vladimir Putin interview.

A screenshot from Tucker Carlson's interview with Vladimir Putin.
A screenshot from Tucker Carlson's interview with Vladimir Putin.

Plus, an under the radar story about government spying.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

Tucker Carlson goes to Moscow and interviews Putin. Plus, an "Under the radar" story about government spying.

We made it to 100... corrections.

Yesterday we had our 100th correction. We referred to a Trump aide named "Walter Nauta." An eagle-eyed reader alerted us that Nauta is commonly referred to as "Walt," which is actually short for Waltine, not Walter. You know what they say about assumptions...

This is our 100th correction in Tangle's 235-week history and our first correction since January 22nd. We track corrections and place them at the top of the newsletter in an effort to maximize transparency with readers.

Editor feedback.

Note: As part of our effort to share a wide range of views on one topic, we regularly share reader feedback that comes in via email. Today we’re trying something new by highlighting when members of our team disagree.

There was some strong dissent from Tangle editor Will Kaback about yesterday's piece on Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report. The opinion was representative of the view of many Tangle readers expressed in emails, so I'm sharing it here:

"In my opinion, you want to avoid 'putting your thumb on the political scales' as much as you possibly can when you're in Hur's position," Will said. "It's just not your place, unless your findings are absolutely necessary to justify your decision. Which, as the Just Security piece lays out, was not the case here. And the rationale was made even weaker by the fact that there were no concerns raised about Biden's age or ability at the time he was handling the classified docs — only about his current state, which seems far less relevant to this investigation...

“Put another way, if a Dem special counsel was investigating Trump for the same case — and Trump had immediately handed over the docs and cooperated fully with the investigation — and then the report cleared him on the same grounds as Biden but said 'I'm also hesitant to bring a case because Mr. Trump was aggressive and manipulative during interviews, and I'm worried that he'll be persuasive to a jury,' I'd similarly dismiss that as nonsense."

Quick hits.

  1. The Senate passed a $95 billion aid bill for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, with 22 Senate Republicans bucking their party and voting for the bill. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) criticized the bill for not including border security, and its fate in the House remains uncertain. (The bill)
  2. The special election for former Rep. George Santos's (R-NY) seat in New York's 3rd Congressional district takes place today. The district is considered a bellwether for the 2024 election, and polls show a tight race. (The election)
  3. A judge ordered Elon Musk to testify in the SEC's investigation into his Twitter takeover. (The order)
  4. President Biden is hosting King Abdullah II of Jordan for negotiations on bringing an end to the Israel-Hamas war. (The visit) Separately, Israeli forces freed two Israeli-Argentine hostages who were being held in Rafah, where roughly one million Palestinians are taking refuge. 74 Palestinians were reportedly killed in the operation. (The reports)
  5. Former President Donald Trump asked the Supreme Court to delay his federal election interference trial while he appeals a lower court ruling on his immunity. (The request)

Today's topic.

Tucker Carlson's interview with Vladimir Putin. On Thursday last week, former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson released his interview with Russia's President Vladimir Putin (a rough transcript can be found here). Carlson confirmed rumors about the interview earlier in the week when he released a video explaining why he was in Moscow to interview Putin. It was the first interview Putin has done with an American journalist since before Russia's invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago.

Carlson and Putin discussed the history of Russia's relationship with Ukraine, why Russia invaded, whether Russia was willing to negotiate a ceasefire, Putin's relationship with past U.S. presidents, and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been imprisoned in Russia for nearly a year. Putin told Carlson that Russia is going to fight for its interests "to the end," but has no interest in expanding the war into other countries like Poland and Latvia. He also told Carlson that the West is realizing it cannot inflict a strategic defeat on Russia and can't determine what to do next.

Many in the media criticized Carlson for giving a softball interview that allowed Putin to spread propaganda to the West, with some dismissing it before it was even released. After its release, many historians criticized Putin's description of Russia's development and its relationship with Ukraine. Carlson received a mix of praise and criticism for the questions he asked.

In a brief preamble to the video, Carlson warned viewers that Putin began the interview by giving a lengthy historical recounting of Russia and Ukraine's history. Putin’s 30-minute history lesson came after Carlson opened the interview by asking "the obvious question," which was why Putin invaded Ukraine, and if he felt an imminent threat from Ukraine.

Carlson said that the lengthy answer Putin gave to justify a historical Russian claim to Ukraine "shocked us," and that at first he thought it was a filibuster technique. 

"We concluded in the end, for what it's worth, that it was not a filibustering technique," Carlson said. "Instead, what you are about to see seemed to us sincere, whether you agree with it or not: Vladimir Putin believes that Russia has a historic claim to parts of Western Ukraine."

Putin also justified Russia’s invasion by accusing Ukrainian nationalism as based on Naziism, invoking Russia’s fight against Germany in World War II. Throughout the interview, Putin gave answers that depicted Russia as a victim of Western aggression and broken promises. Towards the end, Carlson asked if Evan Gershkovich, the jailed journalist, could be released as an act of goodwill, but Putin rebuffed him. Instead, Putin alleged that Gershkovich received classified documents, which constituted "espionage," and suggested that talks were ongoing with the United States to reciprocate in some way to earn his release. 

Today, we're going to explore some reactions to the interview from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left is critical of the interview, arguing Putin used Carlson’s platform to spread misinformation about the war in Ukraine.
  • Some say Carlson did a poor job but doubt it will matter to his audience.
  • Others say Putin struggled to get his message across despite an agreeable interviewer. 

In MSNBC, Frank Figliuzzi said “Tucker Carlson just gave Vladimir Putin exactly what he wanted.”

“Why did Putin choose Carlson after denying other interview requests from Americans? The answer, in part, lies in Putin’s keen awareness that Carlson isn’t a journalist. Real journalists ask hard questions of powerful people. They push back when misleading or false information is proffered. Putin wanted none of that,” Figliuzzi wrote. “Putin knew Carlson would provide just the right permissive platform because Putin did his homework. The Russian strongman knows Carlson has repeatedly and publicly praised him and has expressed nothing but disdain for Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy.” 

“Not once did Carlson note that Putin has killed over 30,000 Ukrainian civilians or that he’s ordered hundreds of missiles to strike civilian targets in the so-called artificial state. Carlson never asked Putin about why his political opponents get poisoned, imprisoned or have fatal falls out of windows,” Figliuzzi said. “Instead of lifting the noble causes of journalism, democracy or America, Carlson allowed himself to be used by a stone-cold killer. When he gets home, if he’s not already home, Carlson will have to scrub away the stink of a despot who played him for a fool.”

In The Washington Post, Philip Bump wrote “luckily for Tucker Carlson, his Putin interview didn’t need to be good.”

The interview “was a two-hour-long slog that had the engagement and energy level of a Russian History 102 course at Bowling Green State University,” Bump said. “Luckily for Carlson, though, it didn’t matter. One of the patterns of the past decade of American politics — really, during the Donald Trump era — is that claims of importance often generate the same utility as actual importance… Here all Carlson had to do was say ‘I am interviewing Vladimir Putin’ and everything else would unfold in a predictable way.”

“What was remarkable about the interview, really, was how clearly blinkered Carlson is. He’s not a dumb guy, but his blind spot on Putin and Russia was made very obvious over the course of the discussion. He insisted in that post-interview video snippet, for example, that he had been struck at how ‘wounded’ Putin seemed to have been by Russia’s treatment by the West,” Bump wrote. “‘He’s angry because he feels like, “Whoa, why — I thought we were going to be friends,”’ Carlson said. The idea that this was a well-practiced affect from a former KGB agent, one meant to cast the West as the bad actors, does not seem to have occurred to Carlson.”

In Carnegie Politika, Tatiana Stanovaya assessed “why Putin’s interview with Tucker Carlson didn’t go to plan.”

“Putin’s aim was not dialogue with the U.S. political mainstream. Instead, he was speaking to U.S. conservatives personified by the likes of Carlson, former (and possible future) president Donald Trump, and billionaire Elon Musk,” Stanovaya said. “As Putin sees it, these people are potential ideological allies, and might be open to a deal in which the world is carved up into spheres of interest. Putin’s complaints about mainstream U.S. political culture were not designed to hurt Biden in the current U.S. presidential campaign: Putin is thinking more long-term than that.”

“The problem was that even when speaking to a ‘friendly’ journalist like Carlson, Putin found it hard to achieve what he apparently set out to do. He was inflexible and obtuse, and focused on issues that he personally felt strongly about. Carlson failed to get answers to a lot of his questions,” Stanovaya wrote. “The war in Ukraine and its terrible consequences have pushed Russia into an ideological deadlock with the West, and convinced the Kremlin that it is engaged in an existential struggle. Given the broader context, even a dialogue between Putin’s Russia and conservative America is an extremely difficult goal to achieve.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right is mixed in their response to the interview, with many questioning Putin’s rationale for invading Ukraine. 
  • Some say the interview contained a few surprises and think Carlson was a tougher interviewer than expected. 
  • Others praise the interview as a model of free speech. 

In The New York Post, Daniel McCarthy suggested the interview “shows [Putin] can’t win the Ukraine war — but will keep fighting it anyway.”

“Carlson gave him the only chance he’ll soon get to reach a mass audience in America, but Putin’s message was pitched to Russia first, its region second and lastly the non-Western world. He wasn’t trying to move American opinion, not even to appeal to Trump Republicans or Tucker Carlson himself,” McCarthy wrote. “Putin chose not to frame his self-justifying narrative in terms that would appeal to America’s culture-war right. He pitched his mythology to the anti-colonialist left instead, not only in the West but worldwide.”

“The point of his history tirade was to make Ukraine seem a creation of imperialism — not only an illegitimate state but the spearhead of a 1,000-year colonial project to subjugate ever-suffering Russia. This spiel finds few believers in the West, even on the ‘antifa’ left. But the resentment Putin voices is meant for eager ears in China and the developing world, as well as Russia itself,” McCarthy said. “Who, however, really wants to join Russia on the losing side of a 1,200-year war?”

In The American Spectator, Melissa Mackenzie called the interview “two hours of two very smart people circling the issues.” 

“Many expected a sycophantic interview by Tucker. Instead, he had an edge of hostility, and Putin obstinately filibustered, explained, and talked around the questions and, in some cases, comically rewrote history — something that was not unexpected,” Mackenzie wrote. “Vladamir Putin is the personification of a lawful evil character. He has a structured and disciplined mind. He’s restrained. And strangely, he’s transparent in a way most Russian leaders are not. He tells the West over and over what he literally thinks, and they seek to find nuance where there is none.”

“The foreign policy elites in America should check themselves. They’ve achieved their aims in Ukraine — to hide their money laundering and graft in the fog of war and to test Russia’s military might and degrade the same. It’s time to end the destruction and give peace back to this region. Let go of the inane mission of killing Putin and be grateful that he doesn’t possess one-tenth of the ego consuming and blinding America’s foreign policy establishment.”

In Townhall, Shaun McCutcheon wrote about “talking with the enemy.”

“Among many benefits, Tucker’s interview with Putin served as a poignant reminder of the dangers of censorship and the importance of guarding against attempts to stifle dissenting voices. Our need for transparency, accountability, and the opportunity to make up our own minds has never been greater,” McCutcheon said. “This cornerstone of our freedom and prosperity hinges on the ability to engage in open dialogue, even with those whose views may be detestable. By affording Putin this opportunity, Tucker Carlson championed the principle.”

“Unlike the softball inquiries often lobbed at political figures, Carlson's questions delved into deep topics such as NATO, the war in Ukraine, US-Russia relations, the US dollar, China, Germany, Poland, Nuclear issues, and the Nord Stream Pipeline,” McCutcheon wrote. “If you believed the mainstream media and many in our government, you would think that Putin has one foot in the grave and is panicked – instead, we have a very different picture now… Regardless of one's personal views on Putin, the interview highlighted the complexities and nuances inherent in the exercise of free speech.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • I’m glad Tucker Carlson did this interview, and I thought he did a lot better than critics suggested he would. 
  • The way he introduced the interview and framed it was still very frustrating, and he seems to be realizing a lot of things that have been obvious for a long time.
  • There were many, many questions he could have spent time on that he didn’t ask.

Let's start with the good: First of all, it is perfectly okay for Carlson to interview Putin. Indeed, it is in some ways impressive that he got the interview in the first place. If I were Tucker Carlson, I'd absolutely take the opportunity to interview Putin, and I thought the hysteria about them sitting down together was totally overblown. As I first said when news of the interview broke:

Carlson asked some good questions, and he got some illuminating answers. He asked Putin directly why he invaded Ukraine, about the American journalist Evan Gershkovich currently being unjustly imprisoned in Russia, what it would take to end the war, "denazification" in Ukraine, and the Nord Stream pipeline. These were all good questions. Generally speaking, Putin gave predictable answers. He lied in places, told half-truths in others, and re-framed issues from a Russocentric lens, which is valuable for Americans to hear. Putin made enough flubs in the interview that, when Russia state media released it, they had to redact or alter certain portions. This is all a sign Carlson did a decent job.

But there were some elements that were infuriating from the very beginning.

For starters, before the interview was released, Carlson gave an explanation of why he was in Russia that was riddled with lies. He said Western media outlets do not try to interview Putin and hear his side, when actually media outlets reach out to Putin for interviews all the time (as Putin’s own spokesperson boasted), but the Kremlin declines. Carlson said news outlets don't report on Putin’s justification for invading Ukraine, when many outlets do and have. Carlson has apparently ignored that reporting, because he was "shocked" when he heard Putin explain that he views Ukraine as part of Russia. Carlson also claimed no Americans are informed about what is "really" happening in Russia or Ukraine, when actual journalists have been dying in Ukraine or getting imprisoned in Russia while trying to report on what is really happening there.

Rather than doing some self-reflection on why he's the only Western journalist Putin will speak to since the war started, Carlson instead dismisses the work of all the other journalists who have been ignored, threatened, imprisoned, or attacked by Putin since this war began.

Much of the interview was similarly frustrating. Carlson's opening was accurate, and I hope it resonates with his many millions of fans, but the “shocking” part should have already been obvious: Putin's answer to Carlson asking why he invaded Ukraine was a long historical (or ahistorical, if you ask some historians) diatribe on why Ukraine belongs to Russia. "Vladimir Putin believes that Russia has a historic claim to parts of Western Ukraine," Carlson said in a surprised tone.

But this shouldn’t be surprising. It is exactly what Putin has been saying since the very beginning. Indeed, he wrote and distributed an entire 5,000-word essay making this very case long before the war ("Putin’s new Ukraine essay reveals imperial ambitions," The Atlantic Council said in 2021). 

Pundits like Carlson are the ones who have been obscuring this fact, instead blaming NATO expansion or United States policy or Joe Biden's weakness, when this entire time the central answer has been right there. I'm glad Carlson is finally seeing the light, but his revelation is really frustrating when thousands of people have been noting this obvious point (as I and many others have) for two years, and for two years this obvious point has been drowned out by highly influential figures like Carlson at every turn. In March of 2022, eight days after this war began, I published a piece titled "Don't lose the plot." It was one of our most-read pieces ever. Here is what I said:

An authoritarian leader has invaded a country that posed no threat to him because he believes that country, and its 40 million innocent citizens, belong to him. He told his soldiers they'd be greeted as liberators, and instead they are rightly being greeted with guns and Javelin anti-tank missiles. NATO did not make Putin launch this war. Biden did not. Trump did not. Ukraine did not. Putin did.

Literally a few days after I wrote that, Carlson said on Fox News to millions of viewers that it  was “obvious” that “getting Ukraine to join NATO was the key to inciting war with Russia.” 

I was also frustrated by what Carlson didn’t do. Carlson didn't ask about any of the massacres of Ukrainian civilians in towns like Bucha. He did not press Putin about reports of kidnappings of children. He did not ask about a single purported war crime. He did not ask about any of the imprisoned dissenters in Russia, nor any of the information crackdowns that Putin’s government has instituted since the war began.

Carlson was mostly unprepared to push back on Putin's elaborate and absurd historical claims, like that Poland forced Hitler into aggression, though there is certainly value in hearing them uninterrupted. None of this was surprising, as Putin's long, rambling remarks, his subtle insults, his dodging, and his long historical rants are the standard ways he conducts himself in interviews (if you're interested in seeing a well prepared and appropriately adversarial interview with Putin, Austria's Armin Wolf put on a show in 2018).

All in all, though, I'm glad this interview happened. There was plenty to criticize about how Carlson promoted and conducted it, but he did much better than the hysterical media critics and establishment journalists suggested he would. I'm happy Carlson — a very important voice in America — might better understand Putin's motivations now, and I hope that realization doesn’t evaporate for him (or his viewers). 

I'm also hopeful that keen watchers, Russian historians, and other experts on this issue can use this interview to communicate the genuine threat Putin and his propaganda pose while explaining clearly the obvious realities about this war and Putin’s motivations. Any sensible foreign policy needs to be informed by these realities, and Putin isn’t being coy about what he thinks. 

Disagree? That's okay. My opinion is just one of many. Write in and let us know why, and we'll consider publishing your feedback.

Your questions, answered.

We're skipping the reader question today to give our main story some extra space. Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

House Republicans unveiled a new package to reauthorize and reform the United States's warrantless surveillance powers. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows the government to spy on noncitizens located abroad and is set to expire in April. The new proposal aims to address FBI misuse of the spying tool, but does not require a warrant — something the intelligence community has called a red line. Oftentimes, American citizens end up being swept up in surveillance of foreigners under Section 702. The Hill has the story.


  • 199.6 million. The number of views on Carlson’s interview with Putin on X/Twitter as of 11:30 am ET today. 
  • 321. The number of days Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has been detained in Russia. 
  • 31%. The percentage of Americans who say the United States is providing too much assistance to Ukraine in its fight against Russia, according to a December 2023 poll by Pew.
  • 9% and 5%. The percentage of Republicans and Democrats, respectively, who said the U.S. was providing too much aid to Ukraine in March 2022. 
  • 48% and 16%. The percentage of Republicans and Democrats, respectively, who said the U.S. was providing too much aid to Ukraine in December 2023.

Some numbers, visualized: Tangle is partnering with Tako to provide data visualizations on our featured story of the day. What do you think? Write in and let us know.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we wrote about Republicans and Social Security.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday’s newsletter was the list of the top 10 Super Bowl commercials.
  • Mind made up: 1,154 readers responded to our survey asking how Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report impacts their likelihood to vote for President Joe Biden in November with 83% saying it will have no effect. 2% said they are more likely to vote for Biden, 11% said they are less likely, 45% said it does not impact their intention to vote for him, and 38% said it does not impact their intention not to vote for him. 4% were unsure or had no opinion.
  • Nothing to do with politics: The world’s longest balloon dragon was assembled in Hong Kong.
  • Take the poll. What do you think of Tucker Carlson’s interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

Rodney Holbrook is a 75-year-old retired postman in Builth Wells, Wales. He’s also an avid wildlife photographer, which came in handy in the most unexpected way. Randy set up a night-vision camera on his workbench to help him solve the mystery of why small items like corks, nuts, and belts were getting tidied up on his work surface overnight. The secret assistant turned out to be a fastidious mouse. "At first I noticed that some food that I was putting out for the birds was ending up in some old shoes I was storing in the shed," Holbrook said. "Ninety nine times out of 100 the mouse will tidy up throughout the night… I think it's possible that they enjoy it." The BBC has the story.

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