Continuing the complete upending of everything we once considered “normal,” Bill O’Reilly became an unlikely voice of reason yesterday in his pre-Super Bowl interview with Donald Trump, in which he made the bold assertion that Vladimir Putin, a man who has demonstrably killed people, is “a killer.” Trump—once again sounding like the villain in some hack James Bond knock-off—replied with a bit of cynical moral equivalence, saying, “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?” It was, to use another word that has lost all meaning lately, insane.
When O’Reilly pointed out that there may be a slight difference between the mistakes the American military made in the Iraq War—to which Trump reflexively retreated—and Putin’s critics frequently turning up poisoned or shot in the head, Trump shrugged, that there are “a lot of killers around.” As far as the glib, comment board flame war that passes for political discourse now, that seemed to be that. But having the President of the United States trash America to come to Putin’s defense wasn’t enough to appease the Kremlin, which is now demanding that Fox News issue a formal apology.
“We consider such words from the Fox TV company to be unacceptable and insulting, and honestly speaking, we would prefer to get an apology from such a respected TV company,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters today. It’s a statement that took pains to demonstrate how much it values Fox News, all as part of our bizarro new world where arch-conservatives and communist dictators blow transatlantic kisses at each other, but it also carried the ominous implications of what might happen if Fox and O’Reilly don’t say they’re sorry. Not that anything would happen! After all, no one has ever proven that the many critics and political opponents who have turned up dead over the years were directly assassinated under Putin’s orders. The Kremlin is merely suggesting that it might be wise for Mr. O’Reilly to reconsider his words and that polonium-210 is nearly undetectable, a fun, random fact that we are just throwing out there.
Trump has offered similar defense of Putin before, of course, memorably responding to Joe Scarborough asking the exact same thing in 2015, about whether he should praise a man who kills journalists, by calling Putin “a leader” and saying, “I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so, you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe”—a statement as true now as it was then. And of course, at every turn, Trump and his administration have shrugged off the looming specter of Russian influence in our country as so much fake news, acknowledging its interference in the 2016 election but hand-waving it away, and even putting our own vice-president in this bit of jaw-dropping absurdist theater where he’s incapable of saying that the U.S. is morally superior—and all as the Trump administration’s ties to Russia become increasingly self-evident. If this were all just a political thriller paperback, you would leave it on the airplane and not even give a shit.
Anyway, as of now, Fox News has yet to comment on the Kremlin’s demands, and neither has Trump. It’s never easy when your best friends fight.