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Tucker Carlson’s Moscow trip was a classic propaganda set

Feb 26

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During his recent trip to interview Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. journalist Tucker Carlson toured the city of Moscow and shopped at local Moscow stores. Carlson commented that Moscow was “so much nicer than any city in my country,” and spoke about how beautiful, affordable and immaculate Russian grocery stores are in comparison to their U.S. counterparts.

Carlson, whose audience occupies the far-right end of U.S. politics, was condemned by some Senate Republicans, with Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., commenting: “The Soviets had a term for people like Tucker: useful idiots.”

Straight Arrow News contributor David Pakman agrees with the conservative senator and explains how Carlson fell for some of the oldest propaganda tricks in the authoritarian playbook: staging grocery stores like movie sets and offering strict “guided tours” to visiting American journalists in order to significantly distort their perception of everyday life in the host country.

And so we have to understand the cynical goal of this from the get-go, and we can evaluate that for what it is. But we don’t even need to do that, because the entire exercise is flawed. I’ll give you the examples from other countries, and then we’ll go to the Russian one.

We have seen these trips, chaperoned trips, in North Korea, where you go, you’re allowed to go and be a tourist, and you have chaperones, and they take you, especially if you’re a member of the media — there’s Vice documentaries like this and many others, — they take you to the local grocery store. And even though you’ve heard there is famine in North Korea, and there’s no electricity in North Korea, you’re taken to the grocery store in Pyongyang, which has electricity. And there are workers, and there’s beautiful olive oil from different countries, and all these products that kind of look like the products we have in the West.

But when you look more closely, it’s all essentially a set. It’s like a stage, it’s a theater. There are 40 employees, but barely any customers for whatever reason. The customers just circle around and don’t actually seem to buy anything.

Tucker Carlson recently had some viral videos filmed after he went to Moscow to interview Russian President Vladimir Putin. And in these videos, Tucker goes to Russian supermarkets, and he is just gushing with praise. He says it’s just incredible, this is a grocery shop that in the United States would have cost $400, we spent only 100-and-something dollars, it being in Russia. And it’s great, and the selection is great, and it’s just all so fantastic. And in doing this, Tucker Carlson actually fell into one of the same propaganda tools or techniques that we have seen employed by defenders of the North Korean regime, we’ve seen this employed by defenders of the Venezuelan regime, and it always lacks the critically important context of who in those countries can afford to shop at those grocery stores.

 

So let me back up a little bit. A lot of the context of these propaganda pieces, where the American or whoever goes to the local grocery store to show how fully stocked it is and how inexpensive it is, first and foremost, they are almost always designed from the ground up to paint an authoritarian strong man in a positive light. Well, Putin is accused of killing journalists and dissidents, and no press freedom, and changing the law so he could stay in power, but look at this great grocery store! Have you ever seen bananas this beautiful and this inexpensive in the United States?

 

And so we have to understand the cynical goal of this from the from the get go, and we can evaluate that for what it is. But we don’t even need to do that, because the entire exercise is flawed. When—I’ll give you the examples from other countries, and then we’ll go to the Russian one—we have seen these trips, chaperoned trips, in North Korea, where you go, you’re allowed to go and be a tourist, and you have chaperones, and they take you, especially if you’re a member of the media, there’s Vice documentaries like this and many others, they take you to the local grocery store. And even though you’ve heard there is famine in North Korea, and there’s no electricity in North Korea, you’re taken to the grocery store in Pyongyang which has electricity. And there are workers, and there’s beautiful olive oil from different countries, and all these products that kind of look like the products we have in the West.

 

But when you look more closely, it’s all essentially a set. It’s like a stage, it’s a theater. There are 40 employees, but barely any customers. For whatever reason, the customers just circle around and don’t actually seem to buy anything. And you realize nobody here can afford this to the extent that these products are even available here. They are essentially for the 1%, the party leadership, friends of Kim Jong Un, et cetera. You then see something similar in Venezuela, you’ve, we’ve seen these videos, foreigner goes to a — supposedly [in] Venezuela there’s no money, there’s no food — you go to a similarly set-up grocery store, and it’s well-lit, and it looks just like an American grocery store. But obviously, there’s almost nobody there. And then when you talk to people in Venezuela, they say “I can’t afford to shop there. Here’s where I shop.” And it looks very, very different. Because they can’t afford to go to that grocery store. Those grocery stores are for the 1%, maybe the 2%.

And similarly with Tucker Carlson’s escapade in Russia, he talks about how great it is that what he thinks would have been a $400 grocery shop in the U.S. (probably wouldn’t, but imagine that it were) it’s only 105 or 115 in Russia. The median weekly salary in Russia is under 200 US dollars. So understand that spending 100 or 120 bucks, or however much it was, is impossible for all but the 1% or 2% in Russia, and it’s the exact same thing.

So what these publicity stunts essentially do, is they aren’t about what locals can afford, who make the average Russian salary. It’s about the exchange rate and the relative buying power for Americans who earn in U.S. dollars and happen to be in Moscow and go grocery shopping. And here’s the bottom line on it. Things aren’t perfect in the United States, by any means. Income inequality, stagnant wages, people who can’t afford unexpected expenses. It’s not perfect here by any means. But think of the portion of the population that can afford to go to an Aldi or a Trader Joe’s or a Whole Foods even, or whatever is the local equivalent where you live. It is a much higher percentage than the percentage in Russia that can afford to go and spend 100 bucks the way that Tucker Carlson did, and that is the missing context from these experiments.

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