The New York Times
How Russia Media Uses Fox News to Make Its Case
Stuart A. Thompson – April 16, 2022
As Western leaders introduced sanctions against Russia for the invasion of Ukraine, Fox News host Tucker Carlson said seizing personal property from Russian oligarchs went too far.
“No American government had ever done anything like that before,” he said.
While the segment was aimed at Fox News’ conservative audience, it found another audience in Russia. The argument was parroted beat by beat by RIA Novosti, a Russian state news agency, which wrote that “the average U.S. citizen is simply horrified by what is happening.”
The narratives advanced by the Kremlin and by parts of conservative U.S. media have converged in recent months, reinforcing and feeding each other. Along the way, Russian media has increasingly seized on Fox News’ prime-time segments, its opinion pieces and even the network’s active online comments section — all of which often find fault with the Biden administration — to paint a critical portrait of the United States and depict its foreign policy as a threat to Russia’s interests. Carlson was a frequent reference for Russian media, but other Fox News personalities — and the occasional news update from the network — were also included.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who has made several false claims about the war — including that Russia never attacked Ukraine — singled out Fox News for praise last month.
“We understood long ago that there is no such thing as an independent Western media,” Lavrov told the state television station RT, adding that “only Fox News is trying to present some alternative point of view.”
Mentions of Fox News in Russian-language media grew 217% during the first quarter of this year compared with the final quarter of last year as news coverage of Ukraine increased, according to an analysis by Zignal Labs, a media tracking company that reviewed social media posts, broadcast media and online websites. CNN, which has about three times the global viewership of Fox News, according to tracking company Similarweb, was mentioned more often but grew less, by 71%.
When reached for comment, a Fox News spokesperson pointed to segments in which Carlson was critical of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
To better understand Fox News’ presence in Russian state media, The New York Times reviewed nearly 500 Russian-language articles mentioning Fox News between July and late March, sourced from the two largest state news agencies in the country — RIA Novosti and Tass — along with dozens of articles from other Russian-language media.
Here are four ways Russian media has used Fox News to bolster the government’s narrative about the war.
1. Blaming NATO Expansion
The echoing narratives were clear from the eve of the invasion. Putin warned that he would use “military technical measures” if threatened by NATO.
When Douglas Macgregor, a retired Army colonel, repeated Russia’s argument on Carlson’s show, it did not take long for Russian news media to cite him.
“He pointed out that Russia does not want to see American and NATO troops near its borders, just like the U.S. wouldn’t want to see Russian troops in Cuba,” said one article from Tsargrad, a pro-Putin Russian television channel. “This is a perfectly logical position.”
Tsargrad was started in 2015 with help from John Hanick, a former Fox News producer. Hanick was charged last month with violating U.S. sanctions. Federal prosecutors accused him of helping a Russian oligarch spread “destabilizing messages.”
2. Buttressing Conspiracy Theories
The unsupported idea that the United States was developing bioweapons in Ukraine has been nurtured for years in Russia. It found new resonance during the invasion of Ukraine.
After a Senate hearing on the matter, in which Victoria Nuland, an undersecretary of state, confirmed the existence of biolabs in Ukraine, Carlson used his show to suggest that the U.S. government was being untruthful about conducting bioweapons work in the country. Russian media seized on the segment.
“The U.S. baselessly accused Russia of spreading disinformation about biolabs in Ukraine because they later actually confirmed their existence, TV presenter Tucker Carlson told Fox News,” Radio Sputnik wrote in an article summarizing Carlson’s lengthy segment for a Russian audience.
3. Questioning the West’s Goals
Interviews with pundits and politicians were also used to undermine the West’s support of Ukraine. Joe Kent, a Republican candidate for the House from Washington state, said on Fox News that the West’s support of Ukraine was killing people, because the support was giving Ukraine an incentive not to agree to a peace deal with Russia.
Tass quickly repeated his criticisms.
“According to the Republican, whose candidacy was supported by former U.S. leader Donald Trump, the escalation in Ukraine is ‘a great way to divert attention from the political crisis’ within the United States,” the article said.
4. Criticizing President Joe Biden
Russian media frequently highlighted stories from Fox News that were critical of Biden.
Nearly 400 Russian-language stories mentioned Fox News the week that Biden directed an under-the-breath expletive at Peter Doocy, a Fox News reporter, according to Zignal Labs. The exchange was repeated for weeks in stories criticizing the president’s fitness for the job.
As the invasion began, attention shifted to questioning Biden’s motives. One article by Prime, a Russian news agency, detailed Carlson’s argument that Biden had encouraged the conflict to make “fossil fuels unaffordable for the average person and that way, people would have no choice but to switch” to renewable energy.
“The broadcaster said such reforms would jeopardize American industry, impoverish entire cities and make the United States dependent on Chinese solar panels,” the article said.