From Coughlin to Carlson: Americans can again hear foreign propaganda at home.

By Thomas Denome
04/01/2023 • 06:34 AM EST

Sometimes history really does repeat itself. It was some 90 years ago, in the lead-up to WWII, when working-class Americans could hear the most prominent media personality of the day parroting Nazi talking points on U.S. airwaves. His typical nightly commentary vilified the Jews and defended the fascist aggressors, while pressing the case for the U.S. to stay out of the European conflict. The orator of the day was Father Charles Coughlin, and his audience was 30 million Americans each week, the largest in U.S. history at the time.[1] Flash forward to 2023, and Americans can again hear the most prominent media figure of the day parroting foreign talking points on U.S. airwaves. With upwards of 3 million nightly viewers, he commands the largest cable news audience in U.S. history.[2]

The orator today is Tucker Carlson, and since before Russian troops invaded Ukraine, his commentary on the conflict has become a feedback loop for spreading Kremlin propaganda. Below are some of Carlson's most prominent talking points:

1. Ukraine is at war with Christianity.

As Coughlin did in the 1930s, Carlson frames the conflict as war against Christianity.

Ukraine is at war with Christianity.

Carlson's words on the issue typically paint Zelensky – who is Jewish -- and Ukraine by proxy as anti-Christian, despite a higher percentage of Ukrainians identifying as Christian than Russians.[3] He used this narrative most recently in a March 14th segment, to liken supporting monetary aid for Ukraine to being anti-Christian.[4]

2. The Crimean Peninsula belongs to Russia.

It's also been widely noticed that Carlson typically refers to the Crimean Peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, as Russian territory.

The Crimean Peninsula belongs to Russia.

In a Feb. 23, 2023 segment, Carlson said there was "no limit" to U.S. involvement in Ukraine, using the goal of retaking Crimea to portray the U.S., Ukraine and NATO as the aggressors in this situation.[5] This further mirrors talking points of Putin, who has maintained that the "special operation" was an act of self-defense.

3. Ukraine is not a democracy and Russia is a liberator.

Carlson has often claimed Ukraine was not a democracy but closer to a dictatorship, echoing the justifications Putin and Russian state news agencies used when the invasion began.[6][7]

Ukraine is not a democracy and Russia is a liberator.

In a similar vein, Russia frequently claims it is "liberating" the Ukrainian people – specifically ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine – from an oppressive government. The 2022 Democracy Index from the Economist described Ukraine as a "hybrid regime," only one score lower than the U.S.' "flawed democracy" rating.[8]

4. Sanctions are tanking the European and U.S. economies.

Carlson has further decried that NATO sanctions against Russia are tanking the European and U.S. economies, but having no effect on the Russia economy. 

American foreign aid to Europe has tanked the economy.

Multiple Russian state news agencies pushed similar narratives about the U.S. and E.U. economies tanking due to sanctions introduced during the war.[9] In October, Carlson warned that the U.S. was also going to run out of diesel fuel within a month.[10] 

5. The U.S. is funding war instead of focusing on other priorities.

In an address to the Russian Federal Assembly just before the one-year anniversary of Russia's initial invasion, Putin called out the U.S. for putting "over $150 billion"; into the war in Ukraine while neglecting humanitarian efforts in America and abroad.[11]

The U.S. is funding war instead of focusing on other priorities.

Carlson has repeated versions of this talking point in monologues where he argues against providing Ukraine with more money and weapons. In one instance, Carlson claimed the U.S. was "broke" and unable to take care of its own citizens. He justified a shortfall in funding Medicaid as being the logical result of the money the U.S. has spent in aiding Ukraine.[12]

6. Ukraine's real goal is regime change in Russia.

Another common theme among Russian news outlets is alleging that the real strategic goal of Ukraine and the West in the war is regime change in Russia.[13][14] 

Ukraine's real goal is regime change in Russia.

On multiple occasions, Carlson has repeated this narrative.[12][15] Both the Ukrainian government and NATO nations have explicitly stated that regime change is not one of their strategic goals, even in an ideal scenario.[16][17]

7. The U.S. was developing bioweapons in Ukraine.

Another falsehood that Russian state news has also echoed is that Ukraine was developing bioweapons with American aid.[18] 

The U.S. was developing bioweapons in Ukraine.

Carlson repeated the talking point several times, that the U.S. was using internationally legal Ukrainian biological research facilities to develop weapons.[19][20] An analysis by West Point's Lieber Institute debunked this theory, and the U.N. has said there is no sign of biological weapons in Ukraine.[21][22] 

8. The U.S. blew up the NordStream 2 pipeline.

A common Russian propaganda line repeated in state news organizations is that the Nordstream 2 pipeline was attacked by the U.S., under the direct orders of Biden, as a way to bait the E.U. into escalating their involvement in the war.[23] 

The U.S. blew up the NordStream 2 pipeline.

Carlson parroted this talking point, with no evidence to support the claim.[24] Carlson's echoing of this theory has gotten a lot of replay on Russian state media.[25] Recent intelligence suggests a pro-Ukrainian group with no connection to the U.S. or NATO was responsible.[26]

9. The U.S. is fighting a proxy war as revenge for the 2016 election.

One of Carlson's most persistent narratives is that Democrats have dragged the U.S. into a proxy war with Russia as payback for Russians hacking DNC email servers in the 2016 election. The Ukraine war, he argues, is an attempt by Democrats to punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 presidential election.[27] 

The U.S. is fighting a proxy war in Ukraine as revenge for the 2016 election.

This narrative echoes Kremlin propaganda alleging the West is the aggressor in the Ukraine conflict and Russia is just defending itself from American hegemony.[28][29] Putin has made speeches arguing the U.S. and Ukraine are cooperating with the intent to weaken Russia and that his nation's response has been one of self-defense. He, as well as Russian state news sources, have also decried U.S. funding of Ukraine as interference with Russian affairs, something Carlson has also echoed when he described the conflict as "having nothing to do … with America."

Carlson's monologues and segments have not gone unnoticed by the very outlets he is parroting.[30] His clips have made their way back to Russian state TV, where they have been translated and played for the domestic audience.

Tucker Carlson segments on Russian state TV.

Despite this, Carlson continues to push false narratives regarding Ukraine on a regular basis, echoing the Kremlin and its news agencies. Major U.S. media outlets and lawmakers have also taken notice of Carlson's unusual pattern of toeing the Kremlin line.[31][32] On one of his segments, Carlson claims a member of congress wanted to investigate his show for ties to Russia. Carlson shrugged it off saying, "We're not tied to Russia, of course, this is a cable television program. We're not a diplomatic mission."[33]

5. "Tucker Carlson: There is no limit to the war in Ukraine". Fox News. Published: February 23, 2023.

6. "Presidential Address to Federal Assembly". President of Russia. Published: February 21, 2023.

11. "Presidential Address to Federal Assembly". President of Russia. Published: February 21, 2023.

14. "DISINFO: THE WEST IS NOT INTERESTED IN PEACE". EUvsDisinfo. Published: March 21, 2023.

15. "Tucker Carlson: Zelenskyy's visit represented 'bipartisan masochism'". Fox News. Published: December 21, 2022.

16. "Ukraine Leaders Eye Maximalist War Goals as Russian Lines Collapse". Newsweek. Published: September 12, 2022.

17. "Germany Says NATO Not Seeking Regime Change In Russia". NDTV. Published: March 28, 2022.

18. "Moscow urges UN probe into Ukrainian biolabs". Published: October 25, 2022.

22. "UN still sees no sign of biological weapons in Ukraine". UN News. Published: October 27, 2022.


24. "Tucker Carlson: Biden is responsible for this destruction in Europe". Fox News. Published: October 06, 2022.

28. "DISINFO: THE US IS BEHIND THE WAR IN UKRAINE". EUvsDisinfo. Published: March 07, 2023.

29. "DISINFO: THE US IS USING UKRAINE AS A BATTLEGROUND". EUvsDisinfo. Published: March 14, 2023.

30. "How Russian Media Uses Fox News to Make Its Case". The New York Times. Published: April 15, 2022.