Oliver Stone appeared on Monday night’s The Late Show to promote his Vladimir Putin documentary and looked every bit uncomfortable as Stephen Colbert questioned the director’s alarmingly unchallenging interview with a dictator.
For his four-part documentary, The Putin Interviews, available on Showtime, Stone spent 20 hours with Putin, enough time for the Russian head of state to enforce his agenda and offer little substantial information. Last night, Colbert aired a documentary clip in which Putin, when asked about interfering in elections, tells Stone, “Unlike many partners of ours, we never interfere within domestic affairs of other countries.” The devious expression on Putin’s face in the clip suggests otherwise.
Colbert used the opportunity to push Stone on his responsibility to dig for the truth as a filmmaker, asking, “What do you say to the people who will say this is a fawning interview of a brutal dictator?”
In response, Stone said he “took that [statement] at face value,” which echoes what he said in a previous interview with CBS This Morning—that he had no reason to believe Putin would lie to him. Stone tells Colbert, “You know, you have to be polite because this was a two-year deal, and it was four times. I think he respected me, and he respected my work, and he knew I would give him a fair hearing.” This is confusing politeness with deference.
Rightfully perplexed, Colbert wonders why Stoned failed to ask a follow-up question to Putin, like any capable reporter would in that moment—“No follow-up on that question where he says, ‘Oh, we didn’t do it,’ and you say, ‘Great, see ya tomorrow’? That doesn’t seem like an interview. That seems like an opportunity for him to merely propagandize,” said Colbert.
One would also wonder what’s the point of interviewing a dictator, if not to question his toxic style of rule. Stone, who views Putin as misunderstood, seemed more concerned with capitulating to Putin than openly challenging him. “I think he’s devoted to his country, and I’m amazed at his calmness and, as I said, his courtesy,” said Stone, again resting on the satisfaction that Putin at least gave him 20 hours of his time. “He never really said anything bad about anybody. I mean, he’s been through a lot. He’s been insulted and abused.” Stone added, “What is wrong with détente with Russia? Why would you be against it? I don’t understand this mentality. Maybe it’s because you hate Trump.” Maybe.