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Nov 06, 2019 - Zoltán Kovács

European Commission vs. Novak and the New York Times: 1-0

The Commission’s response to the agenda-driven reporting at The New York Times: There are clear rules and procedures in place to effectively address alleged misuse of common EU money. Meanwhile, no surprise at the bias of the NYT considering who they rely on for Hungary reporting.

In a lively exchange (see video below) on Monday afternoon in Brussels between European Commission spokespersons and The New York Times on the alleged misuse of EU agricultural funds and subsidies in Central Europe, Commission officials pushed back on the latest piece of agenda-driven reporting in the NYT.

A NYT reporter asks a question about whether the Commission would support conflict of interest rules, and the Commission smacks it down.

“These rules already exist,” says the Commission official. “[T]he Commission follows up on any allegation of conflict of interest it receives and closely monitors the implementation of the relevant rules,” adding that not only is the European Commission involved in the investigations, but OLAF, Europe’s specialized anti-fraud agency, is as well.

“The European Union has very clear rules about how EU funds should be managed,” the official says, “notably when it comes to agricultural funds.”

“In 2018, according to the European Court of Auditors,” he says, “the error rate in direct payment expenditure was below two percent, regarded as insignificant.”

Furthermore, Commission Spokesperson Mina Andreeva underlines the fact that the Commission provided the NYT with a detailed, official response, which “was not accepted”. Perhaps the Commission’s responses were a bit too factual for the NYT reporters and didn’t fit their narrative.

And the reporters conveniently neglected to mention in their article that a law passed under the Orbán Government says that no Hungarian citizen may own more than 300 hectares of land.

The Commission cannot simply decide to modify EU laws, and where rules are concerned, decisions won’t be made upon the claims of politically biased reporters for hire, especially reporters that have demonstrated by their past work that they support a clear political agenda. One of the reporters on that NYT article is a certain Benjamin Novak. You’ll be forgiven for not knowing him, so here’s a bit of background.

While his byline has been appearing lately in the NYT’s always fair and balanced coverage of Hungary, Novak was previously known in Hungary for a now defunct English-language news portal – cutely designed to resemble the NYT – that was, to put it plainly, unmitigatedly anti-Orbán and totally in the tank for Hungary’s opposition. He cooperates closely with the Hungarian news portal 444.hu, which is stridently opposition-leaning and also funded by – you guessed it – Soros dollars. As a writer, he’s free to do what he wants, of course, but his is the profile of a political operative, not a journalist.

The bigger question is how The New York Times can abide this? Remember those lovable social media guidelines that the NYT sanctimoniously published for its newsroom in 2017?  Cautioning its reporters about what they should post online, the memo read:

If our journalists are perceived as biased or if they engage in editorializing on social media, that can undercut the credibility of the entire newsroom.

We’ve always made clear that newsroom employees should avoid posting anything on social media that damages our reputation for neutrality and fairness.

Apparently, nobody at the NYT bothered to look at Novak’s past “reporting” online, nor at his Twitter account, which features posts like this clever meme featuring a photo of Prime Minister Orbán behind bars in the year 2039, or this meme that was, in his words, “getting a lot of action” (37 retweets) featuring a photo of Prime Minister Orbán embracing President Erdogan in a spoof of Coca-Cola’s #LoveisLove campaign (how funny!).

And this little Twitter opinion rant in June in which he calls Prime Minister Orbán a “far-right authoritarian who idolizes eastern autocratic regimes” and states that “corruption is rampant” as if these were simple facts, then wonders whether the Orbán of 1989 would “detest” the Orbán of today.

Apparently, the NYT isn’t bothered by how that may damage their “reputation for neutrality and fairness.”

But it was refreshing to see that on Monday, the European Commission was having none of their biased, agenda-driven reporting.