‘Most Americans have no idea why Putin invaded Ukraine, or what his goals are now. They’ve never heard his voice,’ Tucker Carlson explained the essence and importance of his interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The former Fox News anchor stated that Americans have a right to listen to the Russian president because they are ultimately bearing the vast majority of Ukraine’s war costs. ‘We are not here because we love Vladimir Putin. We are here because we love the United States,’ Carlson emphasized.
However, Brussels appears to have a differing perspective on free speech compared to one of the most prominent opinion leaders of the American right. According to an exclusive article by Newsweek, members of the European Parliament are considering imposing sanctions on Carlson for interviewing Vladimir Putin.
The person spearheading this plan is no other than former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, now a Liberal MEP, who has been a vocal critic of Hungary and Viktor Orbán. He stated: ‘As Putin is a war criminal and the EU sanctions all who assist him in that effort, it seems logical that the External Action Service examine his case as well.’ According to Verhofstadt, Carlson is a ‘mouthpiece’ for Donald Trump and Putin, and the politician would impose a travel ban on Carlson, preventing him from entering the European Union. As the Belgian politician remarked in a post on the social media platform X: ‘Real journalists in Russia are in jail or had to flee’.
Verhofstadt is not alone with his radical views. Former MEP Luis Garicano told Newsweek regarding Carlson: ‘He is no longer a newsman, but a propagandist for the most heinous regime on European soil and the one which is most dangerous to our peace and security’. ‘Carlson wants to give a platform to someone accused of crimes of genocide—this is wrong. If Putin has something to say he needs to say it in front of the ICC. At the same time Carlson is not being a real journalist since he has clearly expressed his sympathy for the Russian regime and Putin and has constantly disparaged Ukraine, the victim of Russian aggression. So, for such propaganda for a criminal regime, you can end up on the list of sanctions. This concerns primarily travel ban to EU countries,’ Estonian MEP Urmat Paet opined. Paet previously also held the position of foreign minister of the Baltic state.
It is important to note that the interview in question has not even been published yet. Hence, the politicians who spoke to Newsweek want to sanction Carlson without even knowing what was said in the interview. This case is a prime example of Brussels’s concept of freedom of expression and freedom of the media:
if you agree with us, you can stay; if not, we will do everything we can to stop you.
While in Carlson’s case, stopping him would be achieved by sanctions, in Hungary’s case, it would be achieved by infringement procedures, a ‘rule of law’ mechanism, the withdrawal of voting rights, and the freezing of EU funds. The cases of Carlson and Hungary are almost identical. Hungary is regularly hounded for disagreeing with the Western mainstream on a number of important issues including the war in Ukraine, regarding which Hungary has been calling for peace from the outset in the face of pro-war rhetoric from Brussels, migration, and gender ideology. These attacks are coupled with the constant stigmatization of Hungary—as in the case of Carlson—through the accusations of Russian partisanship and the demonization of the country.
Tucker Carlson’s ‘crime’ is that he dared to interview Vladimir Putin—the first interview since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022. Normally, such an interview would be welcomed by the world, as they would finally hear the aggressor’s real point of view.
But the West and normality are two concepts that have not gone hand in hand for a long time.
In contrast, of course, no one was outraged by the umpteenth interview with Volodymyr Zelenskyy by the major Western media—the Associated Press, The Economist, Sky News, and so on. In the case of these interviews, it is at the very least questionable whether or not they were made for propaganda purposes—an accusation most often levelled against Carlson.
Despite the campaign against Carlson, it is unlikely that a travel ban will ultimately be imposed on the former presenter. For an individual to be added to the EU’s sanctions list, evidence must be presented to the External Action Service (EAS) for review. If deemed sufficient, the EAS can then present the case to the European Council, the body made up of EU national leaders, which makes the final decision on whether to impose sanctions or not. All this requires evidence that Carlson is linked to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, and as of now, there is no such evidence available.
If the matter were eventually to come before the Council, it would likely be scrapped by the leaders of the Member States. On the one hand, the heads of state and government are responsible for their decisions, unlike the unaccountable MEPs, and probably no member state leader would risk losing popularity over such a minor issue. On the other hand, it is likely that Hungary would stand by the former presenter and would not allow Tucker Carlson to be put on a sanctions list. The former presenter has visited Hungary several times in recent years, has good relations with the Hungarian government, and last August he interviewed Viktor Orbán—one of Carlson’s most-watched videos since he launched his independent project after leaving Fox News. This would mean another conflict between Hungary and Brussels, but such a conflict must be faced up to, as it is about nothing less than defending press freedom and freedom of opinion. Balázs Orbán, the Prime Minister’s Political Director, reacted to the news on X. In a short post, he wrote: ‘Don’t bother trying—we won’t let it happen!’
Following the announcement of the Putin interview, Carlson was also added to the notorious Ukrainian death list. According to the Ukrainians, Carlson is involved in humanitarian aggression against Ukraine and manipulates socially relevant information. Among those listed on this page are Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
The interview is to be published later today.