The Kremlin has demanded an apology from Fox News after host Bill O’Reilly called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “killer” over the weekend.
O’Reilly made the comment during an interview with President Donald Trump in which he questioned Trump’s apparent admiration for the foreign leader.
“Will I get along with him? I have no idea,” Trump told O’Reilly during the pre-Super Bowl Sunday broadcast.
“Putin’s a killer though. Putin’s a killer,” O’Reilly asserted.
“We’ve got a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” Trump replied.
In a statement on Monday, the Kremlin called O’Reilly’s words inexcusable.
“We believe that such a statement by the Fox News host was insulting and impermissible,” a Russian government statement said. “We would prefer to hear apologies addressed to the president from such a respectable television network.”
Fox News did not immediately return a request for comment on the apology request on Monday.
Trump has previously defended Putin by waving off allegations that the Russian president is responsible for the deaths of his critics and opponents. When MSNBC host Joe Scarborough accused Putin in 2015 of orchestrating the assassination of journalists, the then-presidential candidate was nonchalant.
“He kills journalists that don’t agree with him,” Scarborough said.
“Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe,” Trump replied.
On Monday, the “Morning Joe” host replayed that interview and asserted that there is no similarity between Putin’s actions and those of the United States.
“How do you compare a country whose leader assassinates journalists, a country’s leader who assassinates political rivals ― we saw one found dead in the street across from the Kremlin a year ago ― who jails economic rivals, who has an authoritarian regime that has put everyone on notice?” Scarborough asked. “It was disturbing enough a year ago. It is baffling now, as president of the U.S., that he’s still doing this.”
At least 34 journalists have been murdered in Russia since Putin took power in 2000, fact-checking website PolitiFact has reported, citing records on press rights violations collected by the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Moscow-based Glasnost Defense Foundation. Some of the alleged victims were found stabbed, shot, and poisoned.
While there appears to be no evidence directly linking Putin to the murders, press freedom advocates emphasize that a political climate that is hostile to journalists makes it far more likely that they will be killed with impunity.
Last week, it was reported that Putin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza, who nearly died of a suspected poisoning two years ago, has been hospitalized for organ failure.
“Vladimir Putin does not deserve any benefit of the doubt here, given how commonplace political assassinations and poisonings have become under his regime,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a statement. “I am praying that Kara-Murza’s condition improves, and I urge the Trump Administration, including Secretary of State Tillerson, to make Kara-Murza’s cause America’s cause, question Russian authorities about this, and ultimately hold Putin accountable if he was targeted by the regime.”