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Polish President gets quality time on Fox News: What are the key takeaways?

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Warsaw, Poland – In addition to his diplomatic duties at this year’s UN General Assembly in New York, and filming a slickly-produced video featuring his meetings with Recep Tayip Erdogan and Jair Bolsenaro, Polish President Andrzej Duda managed to fit in an interview on Tucker Carlson Tonight, the US’ most-watched cable news program.

Duda’s appearance on the conservative newscast fits with Carlson’s recent trend of spotlighting central European leaders – first and foremost Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban – as ideals for American conservatives to look up to and learn from.

The polarization of US media is such that Duda’s appearance went mostly unnoticed by Americans outside the Fox News-led conservative media ecosystem. In Poland, however, Duda’s interview received significant coverage from a range of perspectives.

Polish President Andrzej Duda gives interview to Tucker Carlson

Initially, there was some confusion about whether Duda’s interview would even run, as Carlson’s show made no mention of Duda on the day the interview actually took place. This uncertainty was cleared up in a tweet by Jakub Kumoch, the Secretary of State in the Chancellery of the President of Poland, who confirmed that the interview was recorded and would not be broadcast live.

When the interview eventually ran on September 27, Carlson preempted his introduction of Duda by referencing the US and wondering if “a better country [has] ever been led by worse people.” “Probably not,” he concluded, and with that shifted to discussing his show’s focus on bringing on foreign leaders “who actually care about their people.” According to Carlson, Duda is one such leader.

The interview provided Duda an opportunity to trumpet his own religiosity and Poland’s “pro-family” policies, the Polish government’s opposition to EU migrant quotas, and respond to Joe Biden’s harsh comments about Poland on the campaign trail last year. Duda responded to Carlson’s questions in Polish (a live translation was provided on the broadcast), and also had the opportunity to lament how Poland’s opposition had sought to smear and discredit the current government, even though it maintained its leadership role after the 2019 parliamentary elections.

In its coverage of the interview, Polish media close to the PiS, Poland’s ruling party, emphasized Duda’s strong statements about his defense of “family values” and proud self-identification as a practicing Christain.

TVP also ran an article covering online comments from American views made about Duda’s performance in the interview. The featured comments praised Duda as a president who openly answered questions from foreign media, contrasting him with Biden. Comments praising Duda as a patriot and a Christian who stands up for his values and his country were also given much attention.

Government-friendly media focus on “pro-family” and Christian values

In addition to these topics, TVP Polonia, which produces content aimed for the Polish diaspora, also emphasized Duda’s support for the 500+ family program, which provides parents with a monthly tax-free benefit of PLN 500 for every child, provided the family has more than one child.

Polsat’s coverage mirrored many of the other sources, focusing on Duda’s statements about his faith and “pro-family” orientation, the 500+ program, Poles’ love for freedom. It also, however, mentioned that Duda did not take Carlson’s bait about George Soros when Carlson asked about Soros’ funding of organizations in Poland, choosing instead to note the diversity of organizations in Poland and the freedom of assembly they enjoy.

This may have been a disappointment for Carlson, who spent his September 24 show (the day his interview with Duda was taped) noting “we learned a lot about George Soros when we went to Hungary” and blasting Soros for funding an organization that is helping resettle Afghans in the United States.

Other outlets, meanwhile, took a more critical stance on the interview. These pieces focused less on the interview and more on Carlson himself. For example, Gazeta Wyborcza’s headline asked “Who is the only journalist who interviewed Duda in the USA”? The story went on to frame Carlson quite negatively, highlighting his recent efforts to normalize the white nationalist  conspiracy “Great Replacement” theory and convince his viewers that Joe Biden is plotting to replace white “legacy Americans with more obedient people from far-away countries.”

In this way, it counters the narrative of Duda’s interview with Carlson as a diplomatic triumph for Duda on the global state.

“Diplomatic suicide”?

Similarly, Onet noted that Carlson, a “star of conservative media,” is known for his “scandalous statements” and is accused of “racism and propagating conspiracy theories.”

Polityka’s story about the interview was even more critical, calling the interview “diplomatic suicide.” It went on to note that Duda’s appearance on the “standard program of ultras,” one that still questions the legitimacy of Biden’s rule, can hardly be framed as a diplomatic victory.

Clearly, the interview serves both Duda and Carlson’s interests; Duda got an easy interview with a friendly host on the US’ top-rated cable news program, while Carlson got another Central European leader to express admiration for and hold up as a model for what he would want the Republican party to turn into. But who is using who? Who benefits more?

This probably depends on what Duda’s objective is. Short-term, being featured on Tucker Carlson tonight is great base politics, as having an important American journalist fawn over him will always look good. In the long term, however, such appearances could potentially further polarize Poland’s relationship with the US, something that would have deeply negative consequences.

Particularly as the US commits to centering its foreign policy in the “Indo-Pacific” and countering China, deemphasizing Europe in the process, using a trip to New York to get an interview on Tucker Carlson’s show is unlikely to boost Poland’s image in large swaths of the American political class, and decreases the likelihood that Polish interests will be taken into account in Washington DC.

By Nicholas Kulawiak

A Californian born to Irish and Polish parents, Nicholas received his M.A. in Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies from Georgetown University, along with a graduate certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies. He enjoys hiking, skiing and eating baklava, among other things. He is currently based in Sarajevo.