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Tucker Carlson, Ukraine, and me: Joe Lindsley

LVIV—Tucker Carlson left Fox News. Why does this matter to me here in Ukraine? One: With the largest cable news audience in the U.S., he’s been consistently one of the biggest voices against Ukraine. Two: Tucker was one of the first people with whom I spoke with when I left Fox News in a Hudson Valley car chase at age 27.

By Joe Lindsley

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Earlier this year, I was in Kharkiv, reporting as I have done every weekday of this war on Chicago’s WGN Radio. The Russians were striking the city nearly every other day. At the time, American friends often texted me saying they heard that Zelenskyy is a bad guy, that Ukraine is corrupt and undemocratic, that there’s no freedom of religion here—all things that Tucker Carlson said frequently on his show, number one in American cable news.

Reading these messages from Americans in comfort as I stood amid the awful nearby thud of Russian missiles, I was in a Kafka nightmare, a nation smothered not only with bombs but with lies! I’ve been in Ukraine since the pandemic started and I knew it as a free, clean, low-crime, cultured, self-organizing society where people value both innovation and tradition, where people speak freely but without shooting each other, and where hard work paid off. Ukraine was a success story.

And most especially now Ukraine is an inspiration: a society where people—and yes, Tucker, even President Zelenskyy—live every day with the type of courage and swagger portrayed in the Marvel and Top Gun movies red-blooded Americans so love.

Yet as Russia has sought to erase the pleasant reality of Ukrainian life, Tucker Carlson who speaks so strongly about freedom has routinely castigated Ukraine.

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“You can’t say it enough,” he said two days before Russia’s full-scale invasion. “Ukraine is not a democracy. … In American terms, you would call Ukraine a tyranny.” As Russia rained rockets upon Ukraine, Tucker even spent a week broadcasting in neighboring Hungary, where he praised Putin’s friend Viktor Orban as a fighter for freedom and tradition.

But Tucker missed entirely the true “freedom and tradition” story next door in Ukraine—where people are literally fighting for these virtues.

Tucker and I both began our working lives at the same magazine: the Weekly Standard, the editor of which, Bill Kristol was a top voice for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After my close-up experiences, I am skeptical of the war-machine that plays with lives and honor. Like pagans, we sacrificed so many lives in Afghanistan in some sort of voodoo way to keep our airplanes in the sky. At first, I assumed Tucker was skeptical of Ukraine simply because he was skeptical of those terrible long wars.

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But soon enough Tucker would see that this war was different, right? He’d see that if anything, Washington wants to help Ukraine to achieve a swift victory, rather than drag this war out. He’d realize that most of Washington’s spending on Ukraine actually stayed in the U.S., money we would have spent anyway on our own new weapons and programs. He’d notice that much of the controlling elites such as geopolitical lizard Henry Kissinger, with whom I used to go to Yankee games, far from totally supporting Ukraine, refuse to imagine a world without a powerful Moscow.

If Tucker looked closer, he’d lose the lynchpin of his anti-Ukraine tirades. He’d realize that Hunter Biden made money from Moscow interests, not Kyiv: Two months after Russia took Crimea, Hunter, while his father was Vice President, started a gig with Burisma, a Moscow cabal whose oligarch CEO the Ukrainian people sent fleeing to Russia in the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. Burisma, by the way, benefited from Russia taking Crimea, where it has major gas fields.

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If Tucker had stepped over the border from the culture wars in Hungary, he’d realize that Ukraine is a society both tolerant and traditional: where, say, during Easter season in tech-friendly and artsy Lviv, instead of saying, “hello” or “good evening,” people say to strangers and friends alike, “Christ is risen,” with the response, “He is risen indeed.”

He’d see that Ukrainians are much more independent than Americans: They laugh at authority and organize orderly revolutions in the public square when pushed too far. They don’t burn down each other’s business, and unlike the truckers in Ottawa, whom Tucker praised, the Ukrainians did not leave the streets of the capital until they secured freedom in 2014, even when the secret police started shooting them.

He’d find that though Ukrainians are independent of government they are dependent on each other, bound together by still-vibrant rituals, traditions, and songs rather than drugged in a commercial daze. Most Ukrainians cheerfully, and quietly resisted the Covid vaccine requirements: just a fact. Many know how to grow, fix, and build things. Before Russia’s full-scale invasion, there was no widespread poverty or homelessness. In the pandemic and now in war, the Ukrainians never had toilet paper panics.

But he didn’t see these things, because he never looked.

On the face of it, Tucker seems to be on the side of the folk. Seeking to be a populist, he denounces the American oligarchy that takes advantage of citizen and consumer, but he’s been fully a part of it, acting in the mode of my old mentor Roger Ailes, the great sorcerer of American media: extracting huge amounts of American attention in return for little reliable information.

This is why I quit the world of Fox News, which the leadership had promised me I would one day rule. In April 2009, when I fled New York, and Ailes dispatched company security to follow me, I confided this saga to Tucker, then an MSNBC employee. A few weeks after that conversation Tucker moved from MSNBC to Fox News, and we haven’t spoken since.

If Tucker Carlson truly wants a post-Fox transformation, I invite him to Ukraine. I say here he will find human excellence, fierce democracy, and freedom-lovers. But beyond all that he can also find something more basic: the facts.

Joe Lindsley is editor of You can listen to his daily reports from Ukraine on Chicago’s WGN Radio with Bob Sirott here.

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