Did Zelenskyy get Tucker Carlson fired?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool

Semaphor–Ben Smith’s new publication the founding of which led Smith to leave a cush post at The New York Times–is reporting that Rupert Murdoch and Volodymir Zelenskyy had a private conversation in March in which Zelenskyy expressed displeasure about Tucker Carlson’s commentary regarding the Ukraine war.

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There is nothing inherently nefarious about this sort of thing. It would be odd if he didn’t try to influence coverage of the war.

Just as coaches in sports, one of the jobs of world leaders is to “work the refs” in order to get better outcomes for their team.

Of course, one of the jobs of the refs is to ignore the coaches as much as possible because their job is inherently in conflict with the desires of the coaches. So what is at issue is not Zelenskyy’s attempt to shape the coverage at Fox, but rather whether Murdoch was unduly influenced by the pitch.

Fox News Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch held a previously unreported call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy this spring in which the two discussed the war and the anniversary of the deaths of Fox News journalists last March. The Ukrainian president had a similar conversation with Lachlan Murdoch on March 15, which Zelenskyy noted in a little-noticed aside during a national broadcast last month.

The conversations came weeks before the Murdochs fired their biggest star and most outspoken critic of American support for Ukraine, Tucker Carlson. Senior Ukrainian officials had made their objections to Carlson’s coverage known to Fox executives, but Zelenskyy did not raise it on the calls with the Murdochs, according to one person familiar with the details of the calls.

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It is well-known that Murdoch has been a supporter of the Ukraine war and that most of his talent and his news outlets have reflected that opinion. Whether that is due to guidance from above or merely the unsurprising fact that Murdoch helps choose top talent that generally reflects his views is unclear. It could be either or it could be both, although I tend to think that at least on the Wall Street Journal Opinion page it is more the latter than the former. They are a smart and independent bunch.

But Carlson’s firing will immediately relieve pressure on key Capitol Hill Ukraine supporters whom Carlson had criticized on air — and sometimes pressed behind the scenes to change their positions on the war.
Texas Rep. Michael McCaul has been one of the most outspoken Republican supporters of the US support for Ukraine, stepping out of line to occasionally reprimand figures in his own party who do not share his views on the subject.

Regardless of the reason for Carlson’s departure, more moderate pro-Ukraine members of the Republican caucus on the Hill are not hiding their relief.

“There have been some that have argued that he was setting foreign policy for the Republican Party, which I find to be bizarre. Certainly not for me,” Sen. Mitt Romney told the Hill. “To the primary [Republican] voter, the active participant, the grassroot voter, he’s a person they listen to and has a big influence.”

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The near unanimity of the Establishment behind the unlimited support for Ukraine has been striking. Certainly, nothing like it has happened since the first Iraq war or the beginning of the Afghanistan conflict, and that unanimity didn’t last long.

Some of that obviously has to do with how the war began–an unprovoked outright invasion of Ukraine with the clear intent to simply wipe out the country–not a border dispute as in 2014 but a strike directly at Kyev.

Yet the universal support for what amounts to a full proxy war against Russia at a time when tensions with China are rising is rather surprising, given the fact that the US is nowhere near capable of conducting a two-front war. We are burning through goodwill in Europe–there is more than a little grumbling among our allies about how deeply NATO is getting pulled into the conflict–and even more importantly burning through ammo.

Carlson was almost a lone voice challenging this policy, and he took a lot of heat for it.

Carlson’s firing will immediately relieve pressure on key Capitol Hill Ukraine supporters whom Carlson had criticized on air — and sometimes pressed behind the scenes to change their positions on the war.

Texas Rep. Michael McCaul has been one of the most outspoken Republican supporters of the US support for Ukraine, stepping out of line to occasionally reprimand figures in his own party who do not share his views on the subject.

In a segment last year, the Fox News host told viewers that the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee had privately called his show “Russian disinformation.”

“In other words, not only are we wrong — which is fine — we are disloyal Americans. We’re doing the bidding of a foreign power,” Carlson said. “That is not fine, that is slander.”

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If indeed Zelenskyy had something to do with getting Carlson silenced it will do him no good, unless Fox keeps him tied in in negotiations for his exit indefinitely. Carlson is not actually fired yet–he is still getting paid by the network, and at the moment is de-platformed by his noncompete.

That is what we should look out for–does Fox work hard to keep Tucker silenced by refusing to negotiate his leaving the employ of the network.

If so, it’s clear that the intent is to silence Carlson, not simply remove somebody they find an irritant.

If that’s the case it may indeed be that Murdoch and Fox are buckling to political pressure from Republicans in Washington, and more interestingly, the Ukrainian president.

On the one hand, this shows how influential Tucker’s voice is in the public sphere, and on the other how in the tank Murdoch is to the Establishment.

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David Strom 8:00 AM | July 25, 2024
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