The two pro-government dailies, Magyar Idők and Magyar Hírlap, don’t express their editorial opinions on the U.S. presidential election too often. They seem to be satisfied reprinting the reports of Magyar Távirati Iroda/MTI coming from its Washington correspondent Judit Járai, who is a fully committed ideologue of the right, if not the extreme right. Járai arrived in the United States only a few months ago, but this is not her first stint in Washington. She was the correspondent of Magyar Rádió/MR between 2004 and 2010. She turned out to be a biased reporter whose knowledge of the English language and the American media was scant. After her return to Budapest, I wrote a Hungarian-language article about her incredible ignorance and her misrepresentation of the U.S. political process. If you know Hungarian and want to have a good laugh, read my piece in galamus.hu.
So, Járai is back and is continuing where she left off six years ago, except that now she can do much more damage than before. As the correspondent of MTI, which supplies news stories to all Hungarian media outlets, regardless of their political persuasion, her biased reporting can spread far and wide. The leadership of MTI must be very satisfied with Járai’s reporting because almost every article she sends to Budapest is designated as “Judit Járai reports from Washington,” something that was not customary during the tenure of her predecessor, Demeter Pogár.
In my Hungarian article I noted that Járai doesn’t seem to know that a reputable journalist doesn’t rely on the notorious National Enquirer as a source. She still hasn’t learned which American sources are reliable and which are not. This resulted in MTI passing along misinformation, which has remained largely uncorrected.
Here is the story. A right-leaning internet site, DailyCaller, published an article about Khizr Khan, the father of the slain Muslim war hero whose appearance at the Democratic National Convention was one of its most memorable moments. The author claimed that Khan had written extensively on Sharia law, which he considers to be superior to all others. It is unlikely that Járai read this short, not very coherent post, but she certainly discovered an article by Paul Sperry in the right-wing Breitbart News. On August 2, under the headline “Khizr Khan Believes the Constitution ‘Must Always Be Subordinated to the Sharia’,” Sperry offered a fuller account of two publications by Khizr Khan: a very short book review and a juristic classification of Islamic law. Sperry, I assume quite intentionally, completely misinterpreted Khan’s writings. On the same day, Khan appeared on CNN and in a conversation with Anderson Cooper explained that he couldn’t possibly be an adherent of Sharia law for the simple reason that there is no such thing. “There are laws of various Muslim countries which are a hodgepodge of British laws, French laws, Portuguese laws. In them, there is tremendous discrimination of genders which disqualifies them under the constitution of the United States.” Since then, a detailed critique of Sperry’s interpretation appeared in the Huffington Post titled “Breitbart Tried To Smear Khizr Khan, But Face-Planted.” By the way, Breitbart is still on Khan’s case. Now the site tries to besmirch his legal qualifications by talking about his age when he passed the bar exam.
Judit Járai most likely wasn’t paying attention to the fact that, aside from Breitbart News, no respectable American newspaper picked up the spurious story. Nor that Khan had explained his position on the subject on CNN two days earlier. Otherwise she wouldn’t have filed a report on August 4 taking the accusations against Khan as proven fact. And of course she didn’t take the trouble to check Breitbart’s sources, because if she had (and if her English is good enough) she would have discovered that Breitbart’s accusations were unfounded.
Járai makes no effort to hide her political bias in her reporting. Here are a couple of telling sentences from her Khan story. She describes Khan as “a lawyer from North Carolina who after the party meeting [pártgyűlés] arrived in Washington, where he continually delivers indictments [vádbeszédeket] against the Republican candidate, Donald Trump.” Her disapproval and sloppiness shine through. For starters, Khan lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, not in North Carolina. And then there is her choice of the word ‘indictment.’ In this country a grand jury hands down an indictment only if it finds, based on evidence presented to it, that there is probable cause that a crime has been committed by the suspect. A loaded word, and one that is especially loaded in Hungarian. Khan was not delivering an indictment, he was expressing his opinion. In a democracy this is not a sin. As for the “party meeting,” it is an odd way to describe the party convention. As far as I know, the Hungarian word is “konvenció.” Or, here is another sentence by the “objective” reporter of MTI: “Khan, who is invariably introduced as a ‘Pakistani-American’ by the Clinton campaign team and the liberal media, is an expert on the doctrine of Sharia law.” What is wrong with describing Khan as a Pakistani-American? He was born in Pakistan and later in life he and his family emigrated to the United States where he became an American citizen. A perfect description of Khan’s status. But obviously Járai’s mind works differently. To her Khan is first and foremost a Muslim and a Pakistani. The unnatural emphasis on Khan as an American is a political ploy to drum up public resentment against Donald Trump.
Járai’s report was published by Magyar Idők and a couple of other mostly right-wing or extremist internet sites, Gondola, Hunhir, Dzsihádfigyelő, and a few independent ones whose editors were not careful. To my surprise, the next day Magyar Idők ran (well, actually, buried) a correction under the unlikely headline “The Clintons’ man is under fire.” Buried in the story is the crucial sentence admitting that Khan didn’t express his own opinions but rather “summarized legal arguments” on Sharia.
I’m sure that if one took the trouble one would find hundreds of subtle and not so subtle comments in Járai’s reports favoring Trump and denigrating Clinton. But, for now, Hungarians prefer a Clinton presidency by a large margin. Her biased reporting hasn’t changed their minds. More about this tomorrow.