During a Friday night appearance on "The Rachel Maddow Show," a former U.S. ambassador to Russia was clobbered online for claiming that in certain aspects, Adolf Hitler wasn't as evil as Vladimir Putin. The comments were regarded as insensitive and blatantly false. The backlash forced both the ambassador and MSNBC to issue apologies in less than 24 hours.
Michael McFaul was appointed as the U.S. ambassador to Russia by former President Barack Obama, and served in the position from 2012 until 2014. McFaul found himself in hot water for comparing Putin to Hitler.
McFaul appeared on "The Rachel Maddow Show" to give his opinion on "how horrific" the invasion of Ukraine by Russia has been. During his appearance, McFaul said he gave an interview to a Ukrainian TV news program 30 minutes prior to going on MSNBC.
"One of the Russian journalists said, 'You know, there's one difference between Hitler when he was coming in and Putin. Hitler didn't kill ethnic Germans. He didn't kill German-speaking people,'" McFaul told host Ali Velshi – who was filling in for Rachel Maddow.
"I think people need to remember that we're talking about cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol and Kyiv, there are large populations there, you know, up to a third and sometimes as much to a half that are Russian speakers and are ethnic Russians," said McFaul – who is a Stanford University professor of international studies. "And yet Putin doesn't seem to care about that. He slaughters the very people he said he has come to liberate."
The Maddow Blog – which is a Twitter account run by "Rachel Maddow and her staff" – shared the sentiment, "One difference between Putin and Hitler is that Hitler didn't kill ethnic Germans, German-speaking people. Putin slaughters the very people he said he has come to liberate."
In reactions to the comments on Twitter, commentators were outraged by the simplistic and incorrect comparison, including by the official Twitter account for the Auschwitz Memorial.
Auschwitz Memorial: "On a factual note: Hitler did kill ethnic Germans & German-speaking people: those who opposed the Nazi regime, those who resisted, those who did not fit into the 'Weltanschauung'. He ordered the murder of people with different disabilities & finally the murder of German Jewry."
Investigative journalist Jerry Dunleavy: "Hitler 'didn’t kill German-speaking people' is an insanely false claim since many of the Jews murdered in the Holocaust spoke German. Pro-Tip: You don’t have to try to play weird word games to try to make Putin seem worse than Hitler — Putin is plenty bad on the objective facts."
Editor Noam Blum: "'Ethnic Germans' is a really weird way to get around the wholesale murder of German Jews."
Political commentator Drew Holden: "I promise you, no matter what, you don’t have to favorably compare Hitler to current foreign leaders."
Former CIA ops officer Bryan Dean Wright: "VILE & WRONG: Obama’s Ambassador to Russia — Michael @McFaul — claimed last night that Hitler didn’t kill German speaking people. Putin, on the other hand, is killing Russian speaking people and thus is worse, he declared."
Researcher and Middle East analyst Kyle Orton: "The first systematic victims of the Nazi regime were disabled non-Jewish Germans, for one thing. And, of course, what makes the Shoah so shocking is that German Jews were so integrated - 'German-speaking' was the least of it - and were targeted simply because of their identity."
Political commentator Pradheep J. Shanker: "MSNBC arguing the relative moral superiority of... Hitler. STOP IT."
Editor Max Blumenthal: "McFail’s rant absolving Hitler to own Putin is not just a window into the mentality of the ex-US ambassador to Moscow who helped instigate the new Cold War, but of the Blinken/Nuland State Department that is driving the desperate campaign to extend and escalate the war."
Journalist Jeff Carlson: "Obama's ambassador to Russia – who helped promote the Russian-Collusion narrative: 'One difference between Hitler, when he was coming in, and Putin. Hitler didn't kill ethnic Germans. He didn't kill German-speaking people.' These people are idiots."
Following the severe backlash, the Maddow Blog and McFaul issued apologies for making the comparison.
The Maddow Blog wrote on Twitter: "The historical record is clear. Hitler killed millions of Germans. We tweeted out part of an inaccurate statement made last night by former Ambassador Michael McFaul without attribution, and we regret doing so. We have since removed the tweet."
McFaul also walked back his comparison of Putin to Hitler.
"After a long of commentary that started with Morning Joe and end with Maddow, I slipped late last night and violated an unwritten taboo – never compare Hitler with anyone. I agree. He was incomparably evil. I won't do it again," McFaul tweeted.
"To those who wrote to me to explain that Hitler committed the same atrocities against ethnic Germans that Putin is committing against ethnic Russians today in Mariupol and Kharkiv, please suggest to me the best scholarly readings on this history," he added. "I'm eager to learn. END And please, to clarify the obvious, last night and today, we were NOT discussing Hitler's horrific killing of German citizens. Please have some decency to know that I would never compare Mariupol to the Holocaust."
Despite blaming fatigue for his comparison between Putin and Hitler, it was only a little more than two weeks ago when McFaul said, "I know it's taboo to compare anyone to Hitler. But the similarities between Hitler and Putin are just too many to ignore anymore. On some dimensions, they are very different. On others, they are not."
Also on Feb. 24, the former ambassador wrote on Twitter, "There are many parallels between Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939 and Putin's invasion of Ukraine in 2022."
McFaul likened Putin to Hitler on March 1, "Two dictators in last hundred years have attacked Kyiv— Hitler and Putin."
On Jan. 21, McFaul said, "Ukraine has done nothing – absolutely nothing – to threaten Russia. But Putin is threatening to invade Ukraine. Feels like Saddam invading Kuwait or Hitler invading Poland. Wrong historical analogies? Which ones are better?"
McFaul once again suggested similarities of Putin and Hitler on Feb. 22, "Dictators (& sometimes democrats) who use war to achieve their aims sometimes succeed. And sometimes for a while. And then, they overreach. For Hitler that was the day he invaded the Soviet Union, For Brezhnev that was the day he invaded Afghanistan. For Putin, Ukraine 2022?"
He also asked, "Is Putin today acting more like Hitler or Milosevic? Discuss."