Hungarian political scientists as spin doctors: the case of Gábor Török

A friend of mine who lives in Hungary wrote a very pessimistic letter immediately after Viktor Orbán’s February 7 speech on the state of the nation. She is not a fan of Orbán and so I didn’t expect to hear anything positive about the speech. And indeed, she disliked the speech almost as thoroughly as she dislikes the current Hungarian regime.

By contrast, we know that the invited guests loved Orbán’s address. It was enough to listen to the members of the crowd leaving the building. When asked how last year treated them, they expressed their total satisfaction with their lives in 2011.

I haven’t read anything about how many people watched Orbán’s speech and haven’t seen any quick poll on how the population as a whole responded to it. Most likely Fidesz sympathizers found Viktor Orbán convincing and welcomed the bright future the prime minister outlined while those who are his political opponents found his words empty political slogans. The undecided probably watched something more entertaining on cable.

This same friend of mine who disliked Orbán’s speech was especially outraged at Gábor Török’s analysis of the prime minister’s address on Olga Kálmán’s Egyenes beszéd. Gábor Török is a “political scientist” who notoriously avoids straight answers. She asked me whether I heard him. According to her, Török, who was always very critical when it came to Ferenc Gyurcsány’s “lies,” “found every excuse to defend all the untrue statements of this populist politician.”

Yes, I saw the interview twice and eventually I began to understand why most of these so-called “political scientists” are untrustworthy. If one listened carefully to the conversation between Török and Kálmán, it became clear that Török wasn’t looking at the speech from the outside but from the inside. Almost as if he had been the speech writer of Viktor Orbán. In his opinion, it was “an excellent speech from Viktor Orbán’s point of view.” Under the circumstances the best he could come up with. It was a well constructed “narrative.” It was logical and believable for those who are not antagonistic toward the present government.

But is it the job of a “political scientist” to analyze a politician’s speech from the point of view of the speaker? Or from the point of view of the party he leads? I doubt it. One hopes that Török is not a member of the Fidesz brain trust or one of Orbán’s speech writers who after putting the final touches on the prime minister’s address can lean back with satisfaction:  “job well done!” That would be a misunderstanding of a political analyst’s job.

Török behaves less like a political commentator and more like a spin doctor who tries to explain away his employer’s rough edges.

Spin doctor

Török tried something like the White House spokesman is doing in this cartoon, though his efforts were not nearly so funny.

Török claimed that the speech was designed to bridge the gap between the confrontational policy of yesterday and the policy of accommodation of tomorrow. Therefore, he maintained, the speech, insofar as Orbán addressed his past actions, was not without self-criticism. In reality, there was only one sentence that could be construed as self-critical: when Orbán described the extra levies on banks and selected companies as “not very elegant.” But he immediately added that it had to be done.

As for the couple of jibes against the European Union, admittedly Orbán lowered the volume somewhat. This time around Brussels wasn’t compared to Moscow. However, he blamed Europe for intoxicating the Hungarians who then think that they can achieve great things, but in the last moment the old continent thwarts the people’s dreams. If this is preparation for a policy of accommodation with the European Union it is certainly a very oblique one. Another jibe at Europe was his reference to the Europeans’ “circuitous worries” about, I assume, the state of Hungarian democracy. Török didn’t linger over these negative references to Europe and didn’t feel the need to explain how these sentences fit into the alleged change of policy of the Orbán government.

As for the lies, they were brushed aside. Török admitted that certain parts of the speech weren’t exactly truthful but again, looking at the speech from the point of view of the speaker, our political scientist doesn’t expect anything else. After all, the final product is what is important. It has to be successful from the point of view of the speaker. Therefore, overall Török found the speech “good and appropriate.” Whether it was successful we will see; the elections are far away.

Do we need a quasi spin doctor to explain the inner workings of the politician’s mind as they are manifested in a speech? I don’t think so. Let them remain the secret of the prime minister and the brain trust that surrounds him.

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Member

“we know that the invited guests loved Orbán’s address.”
For those INVITED guests, what not to like? THey pay way less taxes because of the 16% flat tax, that was a frontal attack on the poor, but a dream come through to the wealthy. It does not matter what the future holds to Hungary until Orban stays on his course to serve the middle class as he stated many times.
“Török admitted that certain parts of the speech weren’t exactly truthful ” Orban’s election promises were not truthful either (“do not listen to what I say [in order to be elected”], his Prime Minister is still lying that he holds a PhD (which he isn’t, he has a Dr.Univ.) and likely committed plagiarism even for this inferior degree, as well as the head of the Media Council who supposed to provide a moral and ethical stance is woman who was a porn magazine publisher, ad this is just the well known facts, just the tip of the iceberg.

Member

I still think the emperor was butt naked. Slick Viki basically said absolutely nothing. His speech writers did an awesome job crafting a neutral bull crap bonanza for him. He rattled it off then disappeared. It was only 35 minutes. Seriously? Small country, small speech?
It’s amusing to watch Olga Kalman also struggling with figuring out what questions to ask. Torok’s job was basically explaining how “haute couture” were the emperors clothes.
I like Olga Kalman but I think she is a little bithcy in the interviews. This takes a bit away from the credibility. She should hold back a little. She needs less emotions, less eyebrow raising (it’s hot though). Just let the bozos talk a bit, loosen them up, seduce them, then suddenly and casually go for their jugular. Is it just me?

observerM
Guest

I have heard the Kálmám interview with Török, and I am not a fan of his because of his sometimes biased commentaries, but I think that in this case he had it mostly right. He was asked whether the Orbán speech was good. He answered, correctly, that it depends cui bono. His purpose was pleasing and brainwashing his core supporters, and to me it seems that he achieved his goal. As most autocratic rulers in history, he is a master of propaganda, and he produced a carefully constructed, believable narrative to those who are ignorant of the facts, or whose thinking is hopelessly distorted by bias. The speech was not for the opposition, they will be fully aware of the lies in the speech, but at this point they do not matter. So while the speech was shameful, and terrible for Hungary, it was, unfortunately, good for Orbán’s purposes.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

ObserverM: “I have heard the Kálmám interview with Török, and I am not a fan of his because of his sometimes biased commentaries, but I think that in this case he had it mostly right.”
We can have a good discussion whether he was or he wasn’t.

Paul
Guest

OT (sorry) – interesting article on the NYT website about a man who owns huge amounts of Irish and Hungarian government debt. He basically bought when everyone else was selling, betting on the value going up. He’s made a lot on the Irish debt, but so far not much (if any) on the Hungarian bonds.
The article mostly concentrates on the Irish debt, but it’s still worth a read for the insight it gives into how and why traders do what they do – and on the views of a man prepared to gamble huge amounts of money on Hungary’s future.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/08/business/a-contrarian-bets-ireland-and-hungary-will-rebound.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1
One point I found interesting – and a little worrying – apparently Hungarian debt is mostly foreign owned and is therefore more difficult to sell. And presumably this affects the rate which potential lenders expect?

Wondercat
Guest

Also OT, but… Hannes Swoboda, chief of Europe’s social democrats, has returned from a visit to Hungary. He was warmly received and has only the best to report on OV’s restructuring of polity… NOT. http://kurier.at/nachrichten/4484515-swoboda-stern-von-orbn-ist-im-sinken.php

Joseph Simon
Guest

How could Prime Ministers and Presidents survive without those mind benders? Remember Rumsfeld’s enrichment of the English language? ‘There are known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns’. And he was not justifying a speech by his President but a major war.

Member

Joseph Simon: “How could Prime Ministers and Presidents survive without those mind benders?” It’s a better question to ask how could the Hungarian President survive (accidently I wrote above Prime Minister) who fraudulently claims to the whole world that he holds a PhD (which he isn’t, he has a Dr.Univ.) and who likely committed plagiarism even for this inferior degree?
How could a Prime MInister of a country still support a man like above and still stay in office? How could he stay in office when he has as fact continually misleads his country and the International community? Only in Hungary, Simon, and maybe in some other countries with other dictators in power.

Öcsi
Guest

With all the negative news from Hungary I think it’s time for a bit of comic relief.
Lerner and Loewe must have had a premonition about Orbán (That Dreadful Hungarian) when they wrote the lyrics to My Fair Lady.
Henry
Thank Heavens for Zoltan Karparthy
If it weren’t for him I would have died of boredom
He was there, all right
And up to his old tricks
Mrs. Pearce
Karparthy
That dreadful Hungarian
Was he there
Henry
Yes
That blackguard who uses the science of speech
More to blackmail and swindle than teach
He made it the devilish business of his
“To find out who this Miss Doolittle is”
Ev’ry time we looked around
There he was, that hairy hound
From Budapest
Never leaving us alone
Never have I ever known
A ruder pest
Fin’lly I decided it was foolish
Not to let him have his chance with her
So I stepped aside and let him dance with her
Oozing charm from ev’ry pore
He oiled his way around the floor
Ev’ry trick that he could play
He used to strip her mask away
And when at last the dance was done
He glowed as if he knew he’d won
And with a voice to eager
And a smile too broad
He announced to the hostess
That she was a fraud


Joseph Simon
Guest

Some 1. Oh come now. How did Bush survive by lying to his own people and the whole world about WMD in Iraq? And it was not over a silly Master’s degree.

Wondercat
Guest

@Joseph Simon: To read variations on “Tu quoque” over and over again as this person or that one attempts to excuse Schmitt Pal is… tiresome.
Bush behaved criminally by lying. So did Schmitt. Bush was not worthy to be in a position of honour or power. Neither is Schmitt. Bush is gone. Schmitt persists, soil, filth, stench, the example and epitome of outsiders’ reasons to mistrust Hungary — as long as she will not see that she is dirty, and declines to cleanse herself.
(The same for those in the USA who refuse to acknowledge the evil that Bush did, by the way, before anyone recurs to that particular mis-argument.)
Is a “silly Master’s degree” all that bad? The President of Hungary should be above reproach, Mr Simon; not wallowing in cause for it. Remember that the word “candidate” comes from the Latin for purity so white that it glows. Schmitt has been anything but candid. What Schmitt did befouled him and, by extension, stains the nation. He must go.

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest

Has anyone any idea what to send the Viktator as s St Valentine ’s Day card?
Remember he is expecting every true Hungarian (whether living in Hungary, Greater Hungary or elsewhere) to tell him how they adore him!

Member

@ Joseph Simon, Who is talking about Bush here? I wan to talk about Bush, I would go the an American discussion. Maybe you should think about that. As fir the rest , I would of been interested about the lies of ORBAN and SCHMIITT You want to comment? Please comment on them and not on Bush from ten years ago.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Some1: ‘I would of been interested about the lies of ORBAN and SCHMIITT You want to comment? Please comment on them and not on Bush from ten years ago.”
I hated Bush so much that I couldn’t even look at him on television. However, I’m not even sure whether he outright lied or the intelligence they got was lousy.

GW
Guest

Joseph Simon, here is yet another chance missed, with the Schmitt case, to show that Hungary can be better than the rest. Instead of showing its own people and the rest of the world that Hungary does not tolerate lying, in the form of plagiarism, the government is showing that lying is to be tolerated, indeed, to be elevated into the highest office in the land. What a lesson for Hungary’s children! What conservative, national values on display!

Ivan Adamis
Guest

There is only one real point of view, which a political analyst may look at the things from. The pint of view of the truth and the county’s and its habitants’ interest. Evaluatiing a politician’s speech or act from any other perspective leeds to bullshitting. We all know – we do not need a professional interpreter for that – that Mr Orban did a good job for himself and satisied their fanatic, blind followers.

Member

@Joseph You’re pathetic. The way you’re trying to protect “one of your own” even sacrificing your own moral values. If Schmitt would be a child rapist you would go like “Oh, stop bickering about this silly rapist thing. Pedofil, schmedofil.” Come on. Admit that Orban picked his signing droid from the country’s trash dump and you can sleep easy. How far do you want to pretend that your conservative values are the same as Orban’s? They are not. You’re duped.

Paul
Guest

The whole WoMD issue is a fascinating (and continuing) subject over here.
Bush came across so thick (his cartoon form was often a monkey with arms trailing on the ground) that I can believe that he really thought Sadam had nukes, bacterial weapons, etc. Blair, however, was bright enough to know that he probably didn’t (the ‘intelligence’ was very thin).
But Blair wanted to go to war with Bush (why? God alone knows) so badly that he chose to ‘sex up’ the little intelligence there was and made out that WoMD were practically confirmed.
All this came out pretty clearly after the invasion, but Blair still maintains he did the right thing for the right reasons.
Thatcher, Blair and now Cameron – I sometimes wonder if Orbán might actually be preferable.

GDF
Guest

Joseph Simon:”Remember Rumsfeld’s enrichment of the English language? ‘There are known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns’. And he was not justifying a speech by his President but a major war.”
I guess Rumsfeld was somewhat smarter than most of those like Joseph Simon and others who made fun of his remarks.
See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_are_known_knowns

Member

Intelligence is always probability. You rarely have 100% confirmed information. I think even the seal team 6 who killed Bin Laden was acting on a 50% intelligence. I can imagine that W was told that the probability of finding WMDs is not 100% but he needed public support for the war so didn’t really emphasize the fact.
I think the real question is why did we need to invade Iraq. I’d say we needed to kick some more butts so certain governments will stop the direct support for terrorists – and that happened. Clinton’s occasional gentle cruise missile attacks on terrorist camps just didn’t work. These great Arab leaders didn’t want exchange their golden palaces to a 6 by 6 foxhole like Saddam pulled out from.
Anyway Bush and his reasons are not comparable to the Hungarian Duce’s actions. I think W was a bad president but after 9/11 he did what all other presidents would have done and he handled it well. He manage to unite the country’s majority. That’s the exact opposite what Orban the 5th is doing now. He’s dividing the country.

GDF
Guest

Paul:”The whole WoMD issue is a fascinating (and continuing) subject over here.”
It’s easy to draw charicatures of Bush as a monkey but I guess it’s a little harder when you are in the position to make the “go/no go” decisions.
When a number of years ago Israel bombed into the ground Syria’s nuclear plant (in progress, built with North Korean assistance), I assume you had similar thoughts.
Just imagine Assad Jr. using his nuclear bombs against his people (as Saddam had used his chemical weapons against his own people – I really think, that’s when Iraq should have been invaded) …

Paul
Guest

I’ve never understood this one-sided support for Israel. If any other nation behaved as they do we’d all censor them – quite rightly.
And remember, it’s all well and good to worry about Iraq, Syria, Iran, etc, etc having nuclear weapons, but the only country in that area who actually has them is Israel.

Curly
Guest

To bring the discussion back to the start (Schmitt and plagiarism), one might note the role plagiarism played in the build-up to the Iraq war. Some of the intelligence Blair relied on to support going to war was based upon information that was plagiarized from an MA thesis. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/2736575.stm
It wasn’t the sole justification for starting the war, nor was it exactly the same as the type of plagiarism I encounter frequently here in Hungary. But it does show an extreme case of what can happen. And it (plagiarism) happens ALL the time in this country. There is a reason why it is considered taboo.

GDF
Guest
Paul:”I’ve never understood this one-sided support for Israel. If any other nation behaved as they do we’d all censor them – quite rightly. And remember, it’s all well and good to worry about Iraq, Syria, Iran, etc, etc having nuclear weapons, but the only country in that area who actually has them is Israel.” I am not interested in a debate on this topic here. Just a couple of facts and then as far as I am concerned, I am done with it. 1. I don’t think my posting contained anything that could be interpreted as “one-sided support for Israel”. 2. In all wars Israel was involved in it was it’s neighbors that were the ones whose goal was the destruction of this state. Israel’s only desire was always to live in peace. It is absolutely true that there is a faction in Israel that would like to occupy all the biblic land of Israel, but they always were and are still a minority. They could become a majority if the Arabs maintain their goal of destroying the state of Israel. 3. It is true that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons. It… Read more »
enuff
Guest

More news on Hungary everyday, I can’t keep up! and now Eva has another post 🙂
http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/2012/feb/12/imre-kertesz-hungary-wrong-side-history
http://artistsagainstracism.eu/?p=336

GDF
Guest

Curly:”To bring the discussion back to the start (Schmitt and plagiarism), one might note the role plagiarism played in the build-up to the Iraq war. Some of the intelligence Blair relied on to support going to war was based upon information that was plagiarized from an MA thesis. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/2736575.stm
I don’t see anything wrong if a government relies on a thesis that deals with a relevant topic when this kind of decisions are made. I would think this actually is desirable.
This example is not comparable with Schmitt’s copying his master’s thesis from someone else’s published work.

Paul
Guest

GDF – I don’t particularly want to debate that subject on here either, but unfortuntely your ‘facts’ are about as accurate as your counting.

Inka
Guest

I have completely enjoyed reading the post. I have learned here many useful things. Just what I need such a long time. Thanks a lot!!!

Tyrker
Guest

I hold Mr Török in high regard. His writings are always balanced – a virtue so sadly missing from nearly all Hungarian publications (and journalists). No wonder he’s constantly under attack from left and right alike.

I love Hungary
Guest

Orban’s idea of “spin” is wearing high-heels, to make himself look taller.
Frankly, FIDESZ and JOBBIK are probably the only two Partys in the world that could actually use a spin doctor or two.
It’d be refreshing to see them stop being arrogant, obnoxius, little men long enough to actually talk policy for a change.