Pretend to be surprised: Another big election in Hungary, another article from the New York Times claiming it’s rigged

They’ve done it again.

The New York Times published an article today under the headline, “In Hungary, Viktor Orbán Remakes an Election to His Liking,” reporting that Prime Minister Orbán has rewritten Hungary’s election rules to favor the governing parties.

Wait while I put my surprised face on. This is totally shocking.

How many times can they recycle this biased story? Every four years we have leap year. Every four years we have parliamentary elections in Hungary. And every four years the New York Times writes a really, really serious article about how the elections in Hungary are rigged. You know, because Orbán.

I kid you not. Four years ago, almost to the day, the NYT published, “In Hungary, Disunity and Gerrymandering Frustrate Anti-Orbán Voters.” Reporters Patrick Kingsley and Benjamin Novak rolled up their sleeves and after what must have been strenuous work talking to all those opposition leaders and Socialist-affiliated think tanks produced a hard-hitting exposé about how the electoral districts in Hungary have been seriously gerrymandered to favor Fidesz. They went into detail on Budapest 1, the electoral district in downtown, as “one of the best examples” of that gerrymandering. 

It was all so troubling! Except on election day in 2018, who won in the electoral district called Budapest 1?  The opposition.

It was a story with no legs to begin with, then the results proved it completely wrong. Did the New York Times print a follow-up, a correction, a brief set-the-record straight?  I think you know the answer to that question.

Four years later, having done such a crack job last time, the same reporters from the NYT are back. And this year’s installment upholds their standard.

Earlier this week, Hungarian voters were subject to what could be one of the largest incidents of campaign fraud in the history of the country. The alleged perpetrator: a company called DatAdat, owned by figures from the former Socialist government and working for the opposition campaign. Personal data was scrubbed from Facebook profiles. A database of mobile phone numbers was compiled. Reportedly, some one million (!) Hungarian voters received text messages from the campaign – without their consent. It’s a grave violation of campaign laws and a flagrant breaking of European data protection rules prohibiting the use of personal data.

Any mention in the New York Times? Zero.

Earlier this week, at least two major, conservative-leaning news websites were hacked, the websites replaced by a hostile message. The website of Fidesz, the governing party, was also hacked and taken down. Any mention in this NYT article?  Zero.

The opposition’s six-party coalition includes a far-right party called Jobbik, whose leadership are known for Nazi salutes and absolutely deplorable, anti-Semitic remarks. The NYT?  Not a word.

Péter Marki-Zay makes inappropriate remarks about the number of Jews in Fidesz and bizarre, racist jokes – what he called a “cute joke” – about Stevie Wonder, blindness, and being black (although Marki-Zay used the n-word). Hungarian voters see that, and it’s one of the reasons Marki-Zay’s favorability numbers are so low. The NYT?  Nada.

Instead they carry water for the left-liberal opposition and their cohorts. They begin by quoting Klara Dobrev – failing to mention that she’s the wife of former Socialist PM Ferenc Gyurcsany – claiming emails sent out by the Hungarian government were illegal. What they neglect to mention, is that those receiving them, signed up. They had to actively opt-in by checking a box to receive additional newsletters from the government. It was entirely their choice. But you wouldn’t know that by reading the NYT article because the reporters either didn’t know that because they only talk to sources sympathetic to the opposition, or, what’s worse, they knew that but deliberately omitted it.

The reporters refer to a “symbolic” LGBT referendum. It’s not an LGBT referendum. It’s a referendum on who gets to decide on the sex education of children. And for parents in Hungary, it’s most definitely not symbolic.

Gerrymandering is back. This time they attribute the unsubstantiated claim to an “expert” at Political Capital. The NYT loves to quote Political Capital – they were in that article four years ago, too – but it’s not an “independent policy center,” as they write. Political Capital’s leaders are closely aligned with the former Socialist government; they even consulted for the former Socialist prime minister’s office. V-Dem, which is also quoted and claims fantastically that Hungary more closely resembles the Soviet era, is also funded by the left (read Soros).

Then there’s this tired, ignorant argument: In the last two national elections, Fidesz “received less than half the votes, yet still secured a two-thirds supermajority.” Yes, that’s because the electoral system is – like the UK Parliamentary elections or the US Congressional elections – majoritarian, not proportional. That result – win less than 50 percent of the vote but take more than 50 percent of the seats – can happen anywhere there is a majoritarian system. You have to win those electoral districts. Does the NYT understand that?  Apparently not.

The New York Times is preparing its readers for what will be a shock on Sunday. When Prime Minister Orbán and the ruling parties win on April 3rd, as I predict they will, their readers will now be convinced that it couldn’t possibly be because Hungarian voters support the prime minister and dislike the opposition. It couldn’t possibly be because Prime Minister Orbán has kept a steady hand at the wheel in a time of war, deftly promoting strategic calm in lockstep with the EU and NATO. It couldn’t possibly be due to the fact that the opposition has failed to come up with good candidates and a winning program. It couldn’t have anything to do with voters being upset at having their data stolen. No, if you’re a reader of the NYT, this election must certainly be rigged. Because Orbán.

Sadly, this is today’s New York Times. Once the grand dame of journalism, the newspaper is totally in the tank for Hungary’s left-liberal-far-right opposition.