October 10, 2023 | The Moscow Times

The role of Tucker Carlson in Russian state media’s propaganda strategy

ISD Senior OSINT Analyst Elise Thomas writes an op-ed for the Moscow Times on Russian state media’s reliance on American far-right news personality Tucker Carlson. Elise, along with other ISD analysts, has long studied Russian influence campaigns and argues that Tucker’s content gives them ammo to back up their narratives in a much better way than they ever could. “Their tactics may change, but their strategy remains broadly the same: stoking existing divisions and turning up the dial on polarisation, rather than seeking to invent new issues with no basis in reality.”

Following this strategy, Russian state media has often relied on the ex-Fox News Channel anchor and his “knack for polarisation.”

“This benefits Russian propagandists because it allows them to piggyback off Carlson’s knack for polarisation. Russian news hosts take clips of Carlson’s shows and build their own segments around them, following his lead on topics and expanding on his narratives. In some ways perhaps it’s only the logical conclusion that one of them would eventually just cut out the middleman and make an entire show based around Carlson’s clips.”

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Carlson “used a March 2022 episode of his primetime show to give oxygen to a bizarre conspiracy theory about the supposed development of US bioweapons in Ukraine.” The conspiracy had been making the rounds in fringe online circles after a QAnon follower came across an old Russian disinformation campaign, combined it with the origins of COVID-19 and then added on the events in Ukraine.

Leaked memos from the Kremlin to Russian state media in the week following the full-scale invasion contained instructions stating that it was ‘essential to use as much as possible fragments of broadcasts of the popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson.’ His assertions that NATO and the West provoked the violence in Ukraine has clearly won him fans in Moscow.”

Elise argues that Carlson (despite not working for or with Russian state media outlets) is fundamentally pushing the same barrow of division and polarisation, but does so in a more effective way.

“The bioweapons narrative was neither the first nor the last time that Carlson’s work has been of extraordinary value to Russian state media, but also to Moscow’s propaganda strategy more broadly,” she writes. “Carlson has emerged as one of the loudest voices opposing Western support for Ukraine, while continuing to speak positively of Russia and even Putin himself.”

“Russian state media understands full well that the US’s own outrage industrial complex is far more effective at stoking division in the US than they will ever be. When it comes to Carlson specifically, they seem to recognise that their main role is to help spread his message to as large an audience as they can and leave the rest up to him.

Because he will do it much better than they can.”

The full op-ed is available on the Moscow Times.