Jul 8, 2021 - Podcasts

Tucker, Putin and the NSA

Last Monday, Tucker Carlson went made an extraordinary accusation before his millions of viewers: that the National Security Agency was spying on his emails. The NSA issued a rare, public denial that Carlson had been targeted.

  • Plus, turmoil in Haiti.
  • And, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi on the unfair expectations placed on athletes.

Guests: Axios' Dave Lawler and Jonathan Swan, and How to Be an Antiracist's Dr. Ibram X. Kendi.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Justin Kaufmann, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Amy Pedulla, Naomi Shavin, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Thursday, July 8th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: Jonathan Swan with his latest scoop. Plus, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi on the unfair expectations placed on athletes.

But first, turmoil in Haiti is today’s One Big Thing.

Maybe like me, you woke up yesterday to the news that the president of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse was assassinated overnight at his home on Wednesday. It's just the latest and most serious incident in months of turmoil for the Caribbean nation. Axios’ world editor Dave Lawler is here now to catch us up. Hey, Dave.


NIALA: First, I think the most important question is, do we know who is running Haiti right now?

DAVE: So according to the prime minister of Haiti, he is running the country. He did a televised press conference yesterday where he came out and tried to say that the situation was under control. But obviously, if you have to come out and say that you are the president now, you're in a position where this chain of succession is not clear. And so, you have a situation where countries around the world are trying to sort of assess who's in charge. It's a very confusing situation, not made simpler by the fact that, you know, you don't have a clear transition of power and there's some concerns about a power vacuum in Haiti.

NIALA: Can you remind us what the past few months have been like in Haiti?

DAVE: So this political crisis kicked off in February when you had the president's opponents saying that his term had ended. He actually accused 23 members of the opposition of mounting a coup to try to topple him. And those-those people were rounded up and arrested. And since then, you've been in a scenario where the president says that he is still the legitimate president. But a lot of the country says that he should be out of the job. Now, this dates back to a delayed election in the previous cycle. So his term started later than it otherwise would have. And then you had this murky situation about when his term should end. Also you have in Haiti, gang violence that has risen to really shocking levels as kind of an epidemic of kidnappings in the country. But Niala, I'd actually like to ask you, you know a lot more than I do about the history here in Haiti and the broader context. So if you could explain a little bit to me about what actually we need to know about Haiti that would be great.

NIALA: That's a great question, Dave and I have lived in, worked in Haiti. I have reported there and studied there. And I think this maybe came up during the earthquake for the first time for a lot of Americans, but it’s understanding Haiti's history and context as being the second democracy in the Western hemisphere. Haiti got its freedom in 1803. And I think people don't realize that that was the Haitian Revolution, overthrowing slave owners from France. But I think it's really important to look at how Haiti was isolated and punished by the rest of the world for being a free Black country of people who overthrew slave owners. And I think the best way to think about that is just looking at the debt that France forced Haiti to pay. For 122 years, Haiti paid billions of dollars. I think as much as $17 billion in today's money to have its freedom. And I think it's really important when we look at the poverty, and the crime, and everything else that is part of Haiti’s story that we understand that too. Thanks for talking to me about this, Dave.

DAVE: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: In 15 seconds, Jonathan Swan’s latest scoop on Tucker Carlson, the NSA and Vladimir Putin.

Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Last Monday, Fox's Tucker Carlson went in front of his several million viewers and made an extraordinary accusation that the NSA was spying on his emails. The NSA in turn issued a rare public denial that Carlson had been targeted and Axios’ Jonathan Swan decided to look into this. Jonathan, what do we know about this story?

JONATHAN SWAN: I know that the U.S. government, senior U.S. government officials learned that Tucker Carlson was trying to set up an interview with Vladimir Putin And that that happened shortly before Tucker Carlson made this extraordinary public claim that the National Security Agency was spying on him. I don't know how they learned that Tucker Carlson was trying to set up this communication. He's obviously publicly claimed that they learned from monitoring his emails and text messages. I haven't independently confirmed that one way or the other.

NIALA: What does this tell you about Tucker Carlson's role in this post-Trump presidency era?

JONATHAN: I don't think it's an exaggeration to call him one of the most important figures on the American right. Elected officials are scared of him. They go cap in hand to him. They suck up to him. He's a king maker. And there are many people who think that if he ran for president in 2024, he'd be a force of nature. Such as the media political environment that we live in now. So he's an important figure on the right.

NIALA: Is that why this story was so interesting to you?

JONATHAN: Yeah. I mean, it was interesting to me because. It's pretty rare to have a public figure in a position like that making a claim that is so specific and so incendiary, and to have an agency that's usually so secretive and so reluctant to comment, publicly commenting on it. It was unusual for lots of reasons and I was naturally intrigued.

NIALA: Axios’ Jonathan Swan. We will put the story in our show notes and link it out so you can read the whole thing. Thanks, Jonathan.

JONATHAN: Thank you.

NIALA: You might remember a few weeks ago we talked about the treatment of tennis star Naomi Osaka by the media...when she cited mental health as the reason for not wanting to do press interviews and withdrew from the French Open - and Wimbledon.

This week we also heard new questioning of Olympic rules -- especially those that affect people of color. Check out our Tuesday conversation with Ina Fried if you missed that.

Well that's all gotten me thinking: how does what we expect and demand of our athletes differ from what we expect from other public figures like, say, our politicians? I put that to historian and author Dr. Ibram X. Kendi -- he's the host of the podcast Be Antiracist and our guest every Thursday this summer.

IBRAM X KENDI: It's fascinating that athletes are required to talk to the media and politicians are not required to talk to the media. I mean, that to me is, you know, says everything about what's wrong with our politics, and even potentially what's, what's wrong with, American athletics. Now, I do think that public figures, particularly, athletes, part of, sort of the game and the sport is, understanding what they were thinking when they took that shot or, or, or what they felt when they beat someone. So I think there should be access, but the requiring of it, in the context of it - when we're not requiring CEO's and we're not requiring elected officials, to me that that strikes of a travesty.

NIALA: It is an interesting question, what it would be like if politicians face the same repercussions or fines, for example, that Grand Slam tennis stars do for not showing up for media obligations?

IBRAM: Exactly. And what's ironic is there's an expectation that politicians won't present themselves to the media in controversial moments. And there's an expectation that even after you lose and have a horrible game, right, you know, as an athlete.. that you're supposed to still sort of face the media. When no politician wants to face the media, right, you know, after a huge political debacle in the midst of a, sort of a political storm.

NIALA: As we head into the Olympics in just a few weeks, how are you looking at these games differently? How are you looking at these games through an anti-racist lens?

IBRAM: I'm looking at, you know, specifically Black athletes. I'm not just thinking about how strong they are physically gifted. I'm thinking about how mentally tough, how hard working, how much tacticians they are, of their sport. I'm looking at their intelligence, as much as their sort of physicality, just as one would for a white athlete or, you know, any other athlete, we should really see these people as whole.

NIALA: Dr. Ibram X Kendi is a historian and author of How To Be an Anti-Racist. You can also catch his new podcast How To Be Anti-Racist. Thanks for being with us.

IBRAM: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

NIALA: That’s all we’ve got for you today! You can reach our team at [email protected] or reach out to me on Twitter.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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