OK, let’s bookmark this day. I’m sitting in front of a keyboard, the day before St. Patrick’s Day so I’m reasonably sober, and I’m about to say something nice about Fox News. So let's do a little hopscotching around the Ukraine situation.
I’ve been switching around the networks watching the coverage and in particular, I wanted to check in on the latest from Moscow on Tucker Carlson’s little evening soiree. More about that in a moment, but in doing so, I discovered that the folks in the field for all the channels are honestly doing a great job. In fact, watching Bret Baier in the afternoon, I had to admit the reporters in Ukraine and military analysts in the studio were laying it all out very well, sandwiched in between the My Pillow guy whining about being “canceled” and Sebastian Gorka comparing freedom to some pain ointment or something. But overall, high marks to all at the Fox news division.
Now, Richard Engle of NBC is still the gold standard in foreign reporting for this generation, but it was reassuring to see everyone stepping up their game when a tragedy like this unfolds, and of course, we’ve already lost 3 press folks in the fighting. I’ve only gotten to do a few assignments abroad, and none where I was shot at, except with SCUD missiles, but I can say the adrenalin rush of being where big things are happening is intoxicating.
I once spoke with Peter Arnett the legendary war reporter and he told me that when he was brought home and given the White House beat by CNN, normally a prize assignment, he was bored stiff.
And of course, this monstrous event has brought out the best and worst in everyone from capitol hill to your living room.
Take for example the congressional version of Larry the Cable Guy, the incredibly misnamed Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana. In that cornpone accent he puts on that makes Foghorn Leghorn sound like Anthony Hopkins, he said on Fox that the third world war has already begun and, “We need to win this war. We need to win it militarily, we need to win it economically, I don’t think we have to do something foolish to achieve either of those ends. But we need to do what’s best for the world, the American people and the people of Ukraine.” He had no other suggestions other than to, uh, well just get in there and win, I guess. He gives the word cliché whole new universes of meaning. Win the war, but don’t do anything foolish. Oh, and Biden sucks. Thanks for that profile in courage, pun intended.
Then there’s the price we pay at home at the gas pump. Since my column last week, American producers have agreed to increase output and the world is calming down a bit. The price of oil as I write this is below $100 a barrel and we all hope this was a fever dream, but I tend to doubt it. The blame game though continues because we are all too lazy to read anything. Just point at the White House or the Exxon headquarters and start whining.
I saw the reputedly savvy financial radio host Dave Ramsey on the Jesse Watters program, you know, the guy who wants to be Hannity when he finishes high school. Ramsey of course said the gas prices are all Biden’s fault. Why? He didn’t say, and wasn’t asked. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest he said it because he was on Fox and wants to be asked back.
Over at MSNBC, I noticed that everyone is also taking time out from the latest Trump gobbledegook to focus on the unfolding Ukrainian crisis. Of course, Joy Reid found a racial aspect to the coverage, but by and large, they just pitch it to Engle or some retired general and shut the ef up. Good move.
All right, OK, Ari Melber in the afternoon will manage to reassert his street cred and sandwich in his knowledge of hip-hop to the befuddlement of some former Secretary of State on the other end of the satellite feed. And Nicole Wallace, Sen. John McCain's former press person, tries to squeeze in the occasional interview between proclamations that she is no longer a Republican. Other than that, they, like CNN and Fox, have managed to stay somewhat on the subject.
That is unless they are talking about a guy who worked for both MSNBC and CNN before finding his current home and meal ticket. Of course, being the heir to the Swanson Frozen Foods fortune, Tucker Carlson doesn’t need a meal ticket because being a member of the lucky sperm club is sufficient to make sure you’re never reduced to dumpster diving.
But now that he is the least likely, certified TV success, Tucker is trapped in the same dilemma that Howard Stern found himself in years ago. When you deal in outrage, you have to keep upping the ante because what was outrageous last week is the norm now. In Carlson's case though, the outrage is more serious, because there are a lot of unserious people who consider him serious. And remember, this is a guy who had his tush handed to him on the Crossfire program by Jon Stewart years ago on CNN. Like several folks we could name on multiple networks, he is a dumb guy's idea of a smart guy.
So, he has decided to play to the basic American instinct to stay out of other people's fights. That isolationist impulse has always been there, but while it might have kept us out of Viet Nam, it also could have kept us from helping defeat Hitler, had not the Emperor of Japan intervened. But Tuck has taken it a step beyond simply saying Ukraine isn't our fight. He has offered several rationales on behalf of that poor man's Stalin, Vladimir Putin. And this even included, and I kid you not, "He never did anything to me."
Well, neither did Ted Bundy, but that's hardly a defense. And the latest bit of logic requires the skill of a carnival sideshow contortionist. Wearing that expression that a friend described as a dog watching a magic trick, Tucker first said that we are a caring people and we don't want to see the people of Ukraine suffer as they have the last few weeks. But if we give them weapons, and the fight continues, won't the suffering as well? So, helping them fight a tyrant, as we did our good friends across the pond during the Battle of Britain, is just increasing the pain and should be stopped. I saw that myself, and had to clean up the supper I threw at the TV.
And he also posited that the emotions of the American public are being manipulated by Washington by playing up the carnage. And that control of you and me was perfected during the pandemic with masking and working from home. Yes, it wasn't about nearly a million Americans dead, it was about control. And now, Tuck claims, they know it works so, on to Ukraine. There is a reason a recently leaked memo from the management of Russian TV urged more use of clips from Tucker's show in Moscow on "Dimitri Tonight!" or whatever their version of "Gutfeld" is. So, like poor Howard, he has to keep pushing the envelope. After all, he now has an international audience to consider. Hopefully, Tucker won't also be reduced to spanking porn stars or something.
But, TV carnival barkers aside, all of NATO is worried about being sucked into a conflict with Russia that could go nuclear with a flick of Putin's itchy trigger finger. Two things about that.
Many have been surprised at the miserable performance of the Russian military in this conflict. Short of supplies and morale, the conscript army we so feared has proven to be outmatched by what amounts to a guerrilla-style opposition. Casualties and desertions are unexpectedly high. Of course, we have been on the receiving end in these conflicts ourselves, but the Russian performance and strategy has been especially poor.
But it shouldn't be surprising, as the Pentagon has over the years made a habit of overstating Russian equipment and skillsets, and understating ours. The goal, of course, is higher congressional appropriations.
I have a copy of an annotated version of one of the annual reports on Soviet Military Power, prepared by the Defense Department for congress during the Cold War. This one was from 1988, and the corrections added by the author are in many cases laughable. You name it, fighters, bombers, subs, ships, it all was formidable and usually more so than our gear. The trouble is, everything from numbers to performance was inflated, and our equipment underreported. The public believed it, too, and now we see the reality of an economic system that would be third world if it weren't for oil, and the creaking army it produces.
Perhaps that is why Russian media pundits are now endorsing the idea of publically hanging Ukrainian officials when captured to break the will of the people. For Putin, this thing is spinning out of control, and he's playing whack-a-mole with Zelenskyy.
But the threats from NATO are also on the order of a big silverback thumping his chest. With Russian shells landing 11 miles from Poland's border, the Prez is shaking his fist like Lumpy Rutherford at the Beaver and daring Vlad to knock the chip off his shoulder. But, is NATO ready to mete out the punishment they are threatening? David Schlapak of the Rand Corporation said recently, "We're in a reassurance posture, for our allies. We're showing we're in the game and our commitment is still strong. We are not in a deterrence posture or in a credible warfighting posture." The maddening overuse of the word "posture" aside, he has a point.
Even if we wanted to give Zelenskyy a no-fly zone, we don't have the aircraft in Europe to do it. It would take weeks to set up. Think how long we were in Desert Shield before it became Desert Storm. And such preparations are noisy and public and Putin would watch it happen. NATO has a little over 100,000 troops available in Europe, and Russia could call in 900,000. Could we bring more? Sure, but it would take months unless we want to emulate Russia's successful strategy and rush in like Kramer on Seinfeld. NATO realizes this as well, and a grand rethink of the current strategy is underway.
Meanwhile, Americans left and right, old and young are united behind the courage and aspirations of the Ukrainian people. Nah, just kidding. The internet won't allow that, not while Steve Bannon has a podcast.