“New York Perspective”

This is the title of an article by József Debreczeni in today's Népszava. The author complains about the coverage of Hungarian politics by The New York Times and The Washington Post. I will return to the article a bit later, but first I would like to talk about the American media and Hungary in general terms. Yesterday a radio station (Rádió Café) asked me to say a few words about the American media reaction to the current Hungarian political crisis. I was on during the second half of the one-hour program on world affairs, and I don't know who came before me. However, the interviewer started our conversation with something like  "My former guests all reported that the Hungarian political crisis was really no news in their countries." So, he added, he expects the same in the United States. I corrected this supposition and said that as far as I can see the coverage is quite extensive. I mentioned specifically that The Wall Street Journal has published an article about Hungarian developments every day since Ferenc Gyurcsány's speech on March 21. I also pointed out that, as a matter of course, Bloomberg follows Hungarian events practically daily. I also told him that their reports tend to be accurate and balanced, mostly because they have correspondents on the spot as opposed to, for example, The New Times or The Washington Post. Some of the correspondents, judging from their names, are Hungarians who are able to give a fuller picture of the situation than someone who pops into Budapest from Berlin.

I mention Berlin because one of the articles József Debreczeni is complaining about was written by The New York Times's bureau chief, Nicholas Kulish, who seems to have accomplished a lot in his thirty-four years. Among other things, he wrote a well-received novel, Last One In, about an embedded journalist in Iraq. Kulish is of Croatian-German heritage and is fluent in German. Therefore, I'm certain he is thoroughly familiar with German politics. He seems to be not so well acquainted with Hungary. He most likely made a quick trip to Budapest where he fell into the trap of getting information from only one side. And this is what Debreczeni is complaining about. Kulish talks about numerous analysts but mentions by name only Ágoston Sámuel Mráz of the Perspective Institute. This think tank is basically a Fidesz creation. According to information I received from a reliable source, it was set up by a "foundation" financed by the party under the stewardship of Zoltán Balog, MP and protestant minister, who is Viktor Orbán's "spiritual father." When this institute was brought to life, after the infamous speech of Ferenc Gyurcsány became public in 2006, and when Mráz first appeared on the scene, I made fun of this young man in one of my blogs about the "political scientists" of Hungary. I don't remember exactly what the event was, but Mráz with all the self-assurance of a young man with little experience in political analysis said that something definitely would or would not happen. A few hours later exactly the opposite occurred.

In any case, Mráz studied in Germany and Balog also has good German connections. Apparently he was in the entourage of Viktor Orbán the last time the party chief visited Germany. I assume it was because of this German connection that Kulish ended up at the Perspective Institute, whose board of directors includes János Martonyi, Orbán's foreign minister, András Lánczi, a close advisor to Orbán who calls himself a philosopher, and Zsófia Vitézy, a cousin of Orbán who was brought up by the Orbán family. The person in charge of running the office is Tibor Navracsics's wife. All in all, not exactly an independent source of information.

Debreczeni wasn't happy with the coverage of recent Hungarian events by Pablo Gorondi either. His article appeared in The Washington Post. As opposed to Kulish, Gorondi's headquarters seems to be in Budapest. But he is not a correspondent of the paper; rather he works for the Associated Press. Thus, the very same article Debreczeni is complaining about appeared not only in the Post but also in the conservative Washington Times. Gorondi didn't even get to Mráz. He talked only to a certain Orsolya Milován, the "press secretary" of the Perspective Institute. No one has ever heard of her. Debreczeni found it interesting that two of the most respected American papers found this particular institute their best source of information. In defense of The Washington Post I must mention that besides the AP article they also published a report by Reuters written by Krisztina Than and Gergely Szűcs. It is factual and balanced.

One thing is sure. Fidesz is much more adroit in reaching out to foreign correspondents. According to information I received, every time there is a new reporter in town, the "party activists" with foreign language skills get in touch with him and "introduce" and "guide" him through the complicated labyrinth of Hungarian politics. This tactic is certainly good for the party, but unfortunately not for the foreign reader who would like to find reliable information about the country. From both "perspectives."

Finally, on an optimistic note. At the beginning of the blog I wrote about the very thorough coverage of The Wall Street Journal. I would like to call attention to the latest addition to the string of excellent articles in WSJ. The paper today published an analysis by Charles Forelle: "Pension Glut Lies at Heart of Crisis Wracking Hungary." http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123793340762430957.html I highly recommend it.

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