Viktor Orbán at CPAC: why the media will have to bring their A-game

Since coming to power, Orbán’s government has “made access to asylum nearly impossible, interfered with independent media and academia, launched an attack on members of the lesbian, gay , bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and undermined women’s rights,” according to a 2021 Human Rights Watch global report. He even has his own 12-step manual for gaining and keeping power, which he presented at the CPAC gathering in May.

“This attempt to make Orbán’s Hungary a model has been developing for more than a year now, and it is worrying,” Dresden said. “The academic and think tank research has been very clear: Hungary has been on this gradual path (toward authoritarianism) for more than a decade at this point, and Orbán has followed the playbook very, very closely. ‘a way everyone should be worried about.”

His group’s playbook lays out seven fundamental tactics used by would-be authoritarians and offers guides on how journalists and editors can recognize and report on them. According to the report, the steps used to achieve authoritarian control range from attempting to control the media to stoking violence and corrupting elections.

Orbán’s coverage at CPAC should include “the fact that the vast majority of media in Hungary is controlled by the government or government allies,” Dresden said. This should also include “the changes to the electoral system that have been put in place, which have given an outsized advantage to the ruling party at the expense of opposition parties in terms of constituency draw and the conduct of elections”, he said. -she adds.

Another key piece of context is the timing of Orbán’s arrival at CPAC.

Last summer, writing about Tucker Carlson hosting several of his Hungarian prime-time shows on Fox News, I said, “This celebration of Orbán, who controls the press and the courts in Hungary, does not might not be so alarming if American democracy weren’t at such a precarious point after Trump’s efforts to undermine the rule of law, institutions of government, and democratic norms such as the peaceful transfer of power.
A year later, the state of our democracy has been further weakened by restrictive election laws, Supreme Court rulings, and the continued amplification of the lies from Donald Trump and his allies about the 2020 election. growing number of citizens and analysts are wondering if our democracy can survive the onslaught it is under.
What does it say about the state of the American conversation on democracy today that a major conservative organization like CPAC is featuring a leader who last month warned against ‘racial mixing’ in language so racist that it led to the resignation of a 20-year-old councilor from her when she called his lyrics ‘pure Nazi text’? And he will appear on the same CPAC stage as former President Trump and more than 20 members of Congress.

“You don’t want to give this guy airtime, but it’s a story you need to cover,” said Robert C. Lieberman, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University.

“The fact that American conservatives seem to look up to him and look up to him as someone to emulate really shows the true colors of this wing of the Republican Party and the American conservative movement,” wrote the co-author of “Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American”. Democracy,” added.

“It’s one thing when Tucker Carlson says nice things about him on television or does his show from Budapest (last summer). It’s even another thing when CPAC has a meeting in Budapest (in May)” , Lieberman said. “But I think having Orbán standing in the United States as a spokesperson for this movement takes this to another level of potential harm.”

Dresden says it’s a story “that shouldn’t be ignored, but it’s also a situation where Orbán’s amplification and his role in it can also have negative effects in some ways.”

She cautions against sensationalism: “And that goes beyond journalists. We know from other research in other areas that headlines matter a lot and pictures matter a lot… So just being thoughtful and taking a second to think about the cover is the first thing I would say.”

There was a considerable amount of thoughtful pre-speech coverage.

In a strong article published Aug. 2 in The Dispatch, Dalibor Rohac asked if “American conservatives know what they’re signing by kissing Hungary’s strongman?”
The Washington Post editorial board made a powerful argument in a July 30 article, saying Orbán’s racist comments should have prompted CPAC to uninvite him.
And CNN’s Fareed Zakaria provided the necessary context by explaining on July 31 how Orbán’s “mixed race” warning ignored the facts of the country’s history.

Lieberman hopes that those who read and see such coverage will reflect on the seriousness and possible danger of Orbán’s visit to CPAC.

“We used to think of CPAC as a circus,” he said. “Here are these people getting together and wearing their silly outfits and talking to each other. And they’re sort of harmless. But that’s not the case anymore.”