Already last night, after watching the U.S. presidential debate, I decided that I would check the Hungarian media’s coverage of the event. I’m happy to report that on the whole coverage of the debate was fair, with the exception of right-wing, pro-government sites that tried to make Trump the winner. A fair number of the leading papers relied in part on MTI’s report from Washington, with additional information coming from the American media. A few sleep-deprived reporters even listened to the debate live, and thus their writing reflects the genuineness of personal experience. Here I am especially thinking of Anita Köműves’s “Clinton was well prepared and didn’t give Trump a chance” in Népszabadság and A. Király’s “Clinton forced Trump to defend himself” in 444.hu. Eszter Balla, a correspondent of sorts for valasz.hu, sent a report from San Francisco titled “Clinton-Trump 1:0,” in which she stated that “Hillary Clinton won the debate with convincing dominance.” In my opinion these reports and assessments can stand on their own. Hungarians who rely on them will have a pretty solid grasp of what transpired last night.
The same cannot be said of some of the pro-government sources, which have been rooting for Donald Trump for months. First of all, most of the journalists who work for these papers are ideologically close to the right wing of the Republican party (although Trump is not its most obvious spokesman). And, second, Viktor Orbán made it clear some time ago that he is cheering for the Republican candidate.
In the last few months Magyar Idők has worked hard to acquaint its readers with Trump. In almost every issue there has been something about him, however insignificant. Yesterday, for example, it published a short news item picked up from The Washington Times which alleged that CNN had edited “crooked” out of Trump’s tweet before Hillary Clinton’s name. This occasion gave them the opportunity to talk about the biased CNN, which “Republicans simply call Clinton News Network.” Also yesterday we could read in Magyar Idők that “a veterans group that is trying to force swing-state Republican lawmakers to ‘disavow’ Donald Trump is actually being propped up by the George Soros-funded pro-Democrat advocacy group MoveOn.org.” The news originally appeared in breitbart.com, which seems to be the favorite news source in Hungarian right-wing circles.
Hirado.hu is the “official news outlet” of MTVA, the organization that supplies news to the so-called public television and radio stations. M1, the channel concentrating on news almost exclusively, asked a political scientist who is employed by the Külügyi és Külgazdasági Intézet, a think tank that supplies background material to the diplomats of the foreign ministry, to inform the public about Trump’s chances in the battle for the presidency. Márton Ugrósdy, who after getting a degree at ELTE spent a year at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, confidently announced that as long as Trump doesn’t make a huge mistake he will have an easy time of it at the debate. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton will have a much more difficult time. He also predicted that the first few sentences of the debate will decide the end result, adding that actually debates nowadays are not as important as they were, let’s say, ten years ago. Clearly, this expert has been sending reports to the ministry about a Trump presidency as a fait accompli.
By this morning or early afternoon most Hungarian papers concluded that Clinton did a much better job than Trump. But there were exceptions. Magyar Idők to the last minute refused to admit outright that their favorite candidate had lost the debate. The title of their article on the subject was “According to Trump, Clinton doesn’t have enough stamina to be president,” and they added only that “according to CNN the secretary of state won the debate.” And, of course, we know what the journalists of Magyar Idők think of CNN’s liberal bias. Magyar Idők by late afternoon, most likely reluctantly, published an MTI report based on an interview with Tibor Frank, professor of American Studies, who is a real “expert” on the United States, on MTV’s M1 channel. He pointed out Trump’s problems with the truth, adding that “Clinton, once she says something, it is true the next day as well.”
888.hu, one of the newest pro-government tabloids designed to capture the imagination of right-wing youth, also had problems with reality. They found someone who lives in New York who filed his opinion of the debate, which can be summed up as “a half-hearted attempt, a very average performance in which no winner could be named.” This afternoon 888.hu announced that polls conducted by CNN and NBC “naturally will declare the candidate of the Democrats the winner, but the readers of the largest, most authoritative online news sites without question declared Donald Trump to be the winner of the debate.” This announcement was then followed by a list of these sites: Drudge Report, Fortune, Time, CBS New York, CNBC, Washington Times, Slate Magazine, AOL, and Fox5. (We, of course, know how that happened.)
I left Magyar Nemzet to last. Today it came out with a short article which basically collected the results of American media opinion on the debate and freely admitted Clinton’s victory. Four days ago, however, the paper published a very strange opinion piece by Krisztián Pap, who has written two or three articles for the paper in the last couple of years. He seems to be a true right-winger with a hatred of the United States and admiration for Russia. In one of his earlier articles for Magyar Nemzet he called the United States “a terrible drag on Europe” (kolonc a nyakán). Therefore, it is not at all surprising that Pap would welcome the presidency of Donald Trump, who wants to move the United States back to splendid isolation. In the course of the article, for example, he accused the United States of entering the war in 1941 not to save Europe from Nazi domination but for selfish economic reasons. The United States wants to rule the world economically and otherwise, but Trump is a different kind of candidate. His supporters see him as a true patriot and not a figure in the global chess game. Trump is a man who is “the guardian of the old-fashioned American values of the early settlers and farmers while his rival, Hillary Clinton, openly presents herself as the fighter for the rights of Afro-American and Spanish-speaking minorities.” Pap is looking forward to a Trump presidency, which will bring about an inward turn and will cherish the kind of isolationism that was prevalent between the two world wars. “At last the sword will be placed back in its sheath” and the United States will give up its incessant sermonizing. I may add that many comments, even in liberal papers like Népszabadság, are strongly anti-American.
So, media coverage on the U.S. in general and on the presidential campaign in particular is a mixed bag. Opinions about the candidates depend, just like here, on one’s political views. Hungarian society is just as deeply divided, if not more so, than American society. I would like to see a poll on Hungarian attitudes toward the candidates. It could be revealing.