Good journalism should make us uncomfortable. I was reminded of that this week while watching FOX’s Tucker Carlson interview Col. Ralph Peters about Russian President Vladimir Putin. Peters is unabashedly anti-Putin and argued that the U.S. should not work with Putin in the Middle East. Carlson asked: if Putin takes actions that benefit U.S. interests shouldn’t the U.S. work with the Russian president? (I am paraphrasing.) Although Carlson should have framed the question not as a personal opinion, which has no place in journalism, the point is valid and deserves an answer.
My discomfort began when Peters compared Carlson’s views on Putin to comments made by aviator Charles Lindbergh in the 1930s that seemed to support Hitler. In fact, in 1941 Lindbergh testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urging the U.S. to negotiate a neutrality pact with Hitler.
Carlson took offense at Peters’ comparison, heatedly defending himself. I admire Carlson for his response, because too many people quickly invoke “Hitler” and “Nazis” as blanket condemnations in the political sphere. The interview should not have degenerated into a personal attack on the journalist, but Carlson himself opened the door in the way he asked his questions.
As anyone who has seen Peters before, it was predictable that he continued to compare Putin to Hitler and insist the U.S. has no business doing any business with Putin. The pair ended the segment with a friendly exchange.
This segment highlighted the reasons I don’t watch Carlson as faithfully as I did Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly often got in shouting matches with guests, but those never made me uncomfortable. Carlson, on the other hand, goes right to the heart of guests’ inconsistencies, often making me feel bad for the guest and showcasing their ignorance of the facts. Whether or not I agree with his guests, I don’t really want to feel bad for people brave enough to go on television and state their views before an audience that is likely unsympathetic to them.
Nevertheless, this discomfort convinces me Carlson is doing a better job of journalism than many others on his network. It’s not an opinion show, which it was under O’Reilly, and Carlson wades into the fray unflinchingly. I also appreciated the fact he pounced on the throwaway line of comparison to Lindbergh. Many might have let that pass, but Carlson is educated enough to know how damning such a comparison is. How many younger viewers, I wonder, even knew that history?