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Jul 06, 2017 - Zoltán Kovács

The New York Times takes a “road trip” through Hungary, and it turns into a train wreck

A New York Times journalist recently took a “A Democracy Road Trip Through Hungary”. As a piece of journalism, this road trip turns into a train wreck.

In search of democracy in Hungary, the reporter travelled all the way to Pécs in southern Hungary because it’s “not always easy or convenient” to find democracy practiced in Hungary. A reporter has a hard time finding democracy because Hungary, you know, is becoming “increasingly authoritarian,” where the “depressing reality” is that the country is “veering further and further from democratic norms” and is violating the “core values” of the EU and NATO.

We reached a point some time ago when certain parts of the international mainstream media no longer feel any compulsion to exercise objectivity in reporting on Hungary. There’s only one narrative about Hungary and it has become so unquestionably accepted that there’s no longer any need to ask tough questions, to present different sides of the issue or even to pursue a balance of sources. This “road trip” through Hungary presents the latest egregious example.

True, this is an editorial, but what are her sources besides other NYT opinion pieces? She quotes only opposition figures and makes no effort to cover different opinions. She attends a meeting of the Liberal Party, which, we’re told, “polls in the single digits” but their leaders are “smart, committed.” I guess zero counts as a single digit in this case because latest polls have the Liberal Party somewhere between 0 and 1 percent. They’re hardly representative of a significant number of Hungarian voters, but I suppose their message resonated with this reporter.

Finding democracy in Hungary, in fact, is quite easy, if a reporter genuinely wants to see it.

She could have visited Budapest during one of the “unusually large street protests” that she mentions in a later paragraph. Despite the unquestioned assertion that the Orbán Government has “cracked down on independent media,” she could have tuned into any of a number of television channels, radio stations, print or online media critical of the government. If she spoke Hungarian, she could have read Index, a news portal that would never be considered pro-government and ranks as the most popular internet site in Hungary (after search, YouTube and Facebook).

She could have visited Hungary during one of the recent petition campaigns to see volunteers canvasing the streets collecting signatures. She could have visited during one of the parliamentary by-elections in the past few years to see seats won by opposition candidates in Hungary’s free and fair elections. She could have also taken a closer look at Hungary’s recent national consultation in which a record 1.68 million citizens took part, 400 thousand more than the total number of votes received by Hungary’s leftist parties in the 2014 parliamentary election.

The author informs us that Prime Minister Orbán is a xenophobe “with a cruel anti-refugee agenda.” She could have talked to a few of the many Hungarians who support the government’s tough stance on illegal immigration. She could have cited sources on how the border fence has reduced to practically zero the number of illegal entries on this section of the border of Europe’s Schengen Area.

In the face of such a “depressing reality,” she could have wondered why the country’s birth rate is on the rise, the number of suicides are declining, the number of abortions are down, and the number of marriages is up.

The writer could have done many things to produce a thoughtful, challenging editorial, exploring why so many of us Hungarians, like many Central Europeans, remain decidedly pro-EU but staunchly opposed to an unelected, centralized bureaucracy in Brussels over-stepping its authority.

But that more complex picture of Hungary would not have fit the simple, liberal narrative. Instead, she joins her fellow NYT editors in producing yet another vacuous piece that could have been written from The Times newsroom in Manhattan, trotting out the tired old tropes about creeping authoritarianism and displaying a profound ignorance for what’s going on today in Central Europe.

It’s unintelligent and unprofessional. It’s insulting to the readers, and it’s poor journalism. This road trip is a train wreck.