By probing Putin, Carlson could set journalism on a new course

By probing Putin, Carlson could set journalism on a new course

I have some advice for Tucker Carlson. He has just landed an interview with Vladimir Putin – among the most powerful and consequential people on earth. Proper journalistic attention focussed on the Russian president has the capacity to show off journalism at its very best, and perhaps, even, to affect world history for the better.

Such an extraordinary subject would provide any journalist with a unique challenge. How to make the most of limited contact time; to side step obfuscation, and focus on the issues that matter? Should you concentrate on geopolitics, where the answers are more likely rehearsed, or quick-fire snack questions that sometimes obtain surprisingly fresh responses? Will the best results come from allowing him to answer at length, or from probing, like a prosecution barrister?

All are testing professional dilemmas, and my counsel to Carlson is that he gives these his deepest and most uninterrupted thought – not least because the pretext for this interview is bang on the money. Most in the west know too little of Putin’s reasons for launching his ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine. Knowledge of the former Soviet republics outside the region is lamentable. Global tectonic plates are shifting, and all of us would do well to pay them closer attention.

With the opportunity of an agenda-setting, axis-tilting, history-changing piece of reporting within touching distance, Carlson should devote his cerebral bandwidth to little else.

What he should resist is any more of his bizarre, unevidenced attacks on other journalists in general, and the rest of the media in particular. In the puff for his Putin encounter, posted on ‘X’, he says, for example: “no one has told (the American public) the truth. Their media outlets are corrupt. They lie to the readers and viewers.”

Nor are his splenetic outbursts confined to fellow reporters: “Western governments, by contrast, will certainly do their best to censor this video on other less principled platforms (than X) because that’s what they do. They are afraid of information they can’t control.”

Every word of this toxic window dressing makes Carlson sound less like a journalist and more like a tap-room reactionary approaching the pint of no return.

I yearn to hear Putin explain whether his ‘special military operation’ is an ethno-nationalist spasm, or an economically-driven defence of Russia’s ‘sphere of influence’? I would like to know how the former KGB man has adjusted his strategy since his planned blitzkrieg became a war of attrition. How does he explain the detention of Evan Gershkovich, or the suppression of free media within Russia? What light can Putin shed on his accumulating personal properties on a scale to rival Peter the Great? 

The problem is that with every blowhard outburst, Carlson diminishes his own journalistic endeavours.

How can he say with a straight face that Ukraine’s President Zelensky has never been subjected to a challenging interview in the west? Why does he claim that none in the western media have asked to interview Putin, only for Russia’s news agency to contradict him within 12 hours? And if he truly believes that that mainstream media platforms are systematically corrupt, why did he say nothing during his six years as a Fox News anchor? 

With every crazed salvo, the impression grows that facts little trouble Carlson’s discourse, and that he trims his opinions to suit his paymaster’s needs. 

Against this backdrop, this interview could be a watershed for Carlson’s career. Take the high road, as I am suggesting, and he could do a service to the world, affecting a pivot in the way that journalism is delivered, and revealing an era-defining politician in new light. The alternate path might deliver a few days of headlines. Fundamentally, however, it would further damage the profession of which Carlson claims to be a part, and bathe Putin in an ill-deserved beam of warm words. 

I will be watching in hope, if not expectation.