‘Pardon me, Comrade, this is the verdict’

Like Virág in The Witness, they've already reached their verdict on the Orbán Government and every piece of reporting about Hungary has to uphold that verdict

On Monday, POLITICO Europe published a truly odd piece of journalism, “Hungary’s election: The essential guide.”

It’s odd for a couple of reasons. One, it’s not really a guide at all. It’s mostly a list of slanted articles, more than a dozen, from “POLITICO’s coverage of Hungary and the elections” and nearly all of them are authored by Lili Bayer. In fact, an alternative title for this “primer” could be “The best of Lili Bayer.”

Secondly, the list of articles appears below a few paragraphs, which appear without a byline, that tell us how “surprisingly” tough this election campaign has been and that “the prime minister fears losing”. Then we get this little gem:

“For Fidesz, defeat is not an option: a series of scandals means that if they lose power, Orbán’s allies and perhaps even the prime minister himself will face the threat of long jail terms.”

Wait, what?

That paragraph appears in the article completely unsubstantiated and not attributed to any source. I don’t know who we have to thank for that borderline defamatory claim – because no author is listed for the introductory text of this “essential guide” – but that’s an outrageous statement that betrays the reasons we’ve been so critical of POLITICO Europe’s – and especially Lili Bayer’s – coverage of Hungary. 

It’s so absurd, in fact, that it reminded me of a funny dialogue in the Hungarian cult classic film A tanú (The Witness).

The film’s protagonist is a man named József Pelikán, an ordinary dike keeper who is promoted unexpectedly to important positions in the communist apparatus. In a famous exchange, Pelikán is talking to his communist minder, Árpád Virág, about a show trial where he is expected to testify against an old friend. Virág suggests Pelikán should practice his already prepared testimony, and their dialogue goes something like this: 

Virág: A little refresher never hurts. A good priest studies his whole life. You know who said that, Pelikán?

Pelikán: Yeah, I know. Hand it over.

Virág [handing him the piece of paper]: We’re expecting a very nice testimony from you, Comrade Pelikán.

Pelikán [reading the paper]: Pardon me, Comrade Virág, this is the verdict.

The verdict, of course, has been written before the trial has even begun. It’s a funny little moment in the film, which is one of the best pieces of satire ever produced about the absurdities of the communist system.

In similar fashion, Comrade Lili Bayer and whoever wrote this “essential guide” have already written the verdict. “Long jail terms”. There’s absolutely no substance to back up this sensational claim, but never mind. Why let facts get in the way? 

Since its debut in April 2015, POLITICO Europe has achieved remarkable success and rightfully so. It shook up the world of English-language media in Europe with refreshing and thoughtful content. Its coverage of Hungary, however, because they have relied almost exclusively on the reporting of Lili Bayer has been terribly slanted. This correspondent takes advantage of her editors’ lack of knowledge of Hungary and Hungarian to file stories that are consistently unbalanced in their sources and studiously omitting details that get in the way of her politically-driven narrative.

I wrote a few weeks ago about her article on the trial of Ahmed H., an atrocious piece of reporting that attempted to portray one of the leaders of a violent mob that attacked Hungarian border guards as some kind of victim of aborted justice, cynically omitting any of the details and the photos and video of the violence that occurred that day. I also wrote about the puff piece on Gábor Vona that she published in Forward a year ago, shamefully brushing over the anti-Semitic and racist incidents in Jobbik’s history.

But those are just a couple of examples. Like Virág in The Witness, this correspondent has already reached her verdict on the Orbán Government and every piece of reporting she publishes about Hungary has to uphold that verdict. It’s political activism posing as journalism and it is an embarrassment to a professional news organization.