Oh, what has Tucker Carlson wrought? Well, slack editorial standards and knee-jerk indignation. But not just on his part.
On Tuesday, word spread rapidly on social media, especially among some journalists, that Fox News, in acknowledging the death in Ukraine of its crew member, cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski, had failed to acknowledge the death, in the same incident, of its Ukrainian producer Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova.
This wasn’t quite true, nor was it fair. There is more to the story than those assertions, but they remained online 24 hours later, recycled by journalists from multiple outlets.
The entire incident is a cautionary tale, an example of truth getting lost in the fog of war. It is also an example of the sometimes irrational loathing that Fox News incites. These days that’s largely because of the bizarre, incoherent ramblings of Carlson. Fact is, Carlson represents one narrative, but one narrative only.
It is true that in the first statement issued by Fox News, Sasha Kuvshynova was not mentioned. According to Trey Yingst, a Fox reporter on the ground in Ukraine, that can be explained easily. He said on Twitter, “There was a reason Fox News didn’t initially mention Sasha. My bosses were on the phone with her parents multiple times before we could even confirm she had been killed. This wasn’t a grand conspiracy to leave out Sasha, it was an effort to respect the wishes of her loved ones.” Oh yes, that old but valuable principle of notifying family and loved ones first.
Later, in corporate statements and on air, Fox News paid glowing tribute to both Pierre Zakrzewski and Oleksandra Kuvshynova. Both were admired and respected by many colleagues, it was very clear.
The cameraman who died has been named but is continually referred to in reports, especially headlines, as a “Fox News cameraman.” That is unjust and looks like a kind of anti-Fox partisan blather. Pierre Zakrzewski was an Irish citizen and that was not a citizenship of convenience. The Zakrzewski family moved to Dublin in the early 1970s and settled there. Their father was Polish and their mother was French. Pierre was born in Paris, arriving prematurely when his mother was visiting relatives. He was the second of five children, three boys and two girls, and he attended St. Conleth’s College in Dublin before studying arts at University College, Dublin.
According to his family, speaking to the Irish media, he began as a gifted photographer working freelance for outlets in Ireland and Britain, before becoming a freelance videographer and working in numerous war zones for many media organizations. He was based in London with his wife, a former BBC producer. His experience in Afghanistan taught him that working freelance, without the protection of a news organization, was too dangerous. So, he began working with Fox News.
Pierre Zakrzewski was not Tucker Carlson. And that’s the issue with repeatedly referring to him as “a Fox News cameraman.” It borders on spite. Even in the fog of war, we should honour dead journalists by telling the truth about them as people, rather than seeing them as representatives of some outlet or channel we dislike. There is a strength of feeling about Fox News and it has meant that Pierre Zakrzewski and Oleksandra Kuvshynova have been dishonoured.
Reporting on the ground from Ukraine has been extensive, often heroic and, now, tragic. That includes excellent coverage from Fox News staff who are there. They’ve been brave, brought clarity and on many occasions have corrected the more muddled and ignorant commentary from anchors or hosts in a studio back in the U.S.
What they cannot do is correct the damage done by Tucker Carlson. To watch Carlson these days is to witness the ramblings of a crank disjointedly connecting so-called “biolabs” in Ukraine with sloppily asserted insistence that Russia has the right to defend itself. He has outright manipulated news footage to support his unintelligible claims.
The magazine Mother Jones has said it has obtained memos produced by the “Russian department of information and telecommunications support” which, it says, advises Russian state media to quote Carlson because the Fox News host “sharply criticizes the actions of the United States and NATO, and their negative role in unleashing the conflict in Ukraine.”
On ABC’s The View this week, host Ana Navarro had the panel agree with her when she said of Carlson that the U.S. Department of Justice, in the same way that it is setting up a task force to investigate oligarchs, “should look into people who are Russian propagandists and shilling for Putin. If you are a foreign asset to a dictator, it should be investigated.”
That won’t happen, but what Carlson has wrought is the triumph of blather over facts – a worst possible outcome in wartime – and damaged discourse about so much, even innocent and courageous journalists who work for his own network.
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.