I suppose it is naive to be shocked by anything from Fox News and its prime-time star Tucker Carlson. But even though I have been arguing for years that Fox News is a propaganda outlet and not a news organization, I was shocked by the kind of pure, unadulterated propaganda Mr. Carlson was delivering on behalf of autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orbán last week during shows broadcast from Hungary.
While Mr. Carlson’s lavish praise of Mr. Orbán and putdowns of American life under President Joe Biden were simply disgusting, the real danger here is in the way Mr. Carlson and others on the right are celebrating Mr. Orbán as a way of laying the groundwork for a return to the Oval Office by Donald Trump in 2024. The two leaders have often been compared, most famously by Steve Bannon, a former adviser to Mr. Trump, who in 2018 called Mr. Orbán “Trump before Trump.”
Mr. Orbán was the first European Union leader in 2016 to endorse Mr. Trump’s presidential bid. In 2017, Mr. Orbán praised Mr. Trump for “thinking precisely as we do when he says ‘America First.’”
As the Hungarian leader explained it, “We say the same: ‘Hungary first, and then everyone else.’”
On his first show from Hungary last week, Mr. Carlson told viewers, “If you care about Western civilization and democracy and families and the ferocious assault on all three of those things by the leaders of our global institutions, you should know what is happening here right now.”
He went on in subsequent shows to describe Hungary as a “happy” and “orderly” country at odds with the chaos, crime and violence in American cities and on our borders.
He said he traveled to the Hungarian border to see a wall that Mr. Orban had built to keep immigrants out, and what he found was “order and clarity.”
The wall “works,” he said. Comparing Mr. Orbán and his wall to America’s immigration policies under Mr. Biden, Mr. Carlson said it is “embarrassing to be an American.”
Mr. Carlson argued that Hungarians are freer than Americans.
“Who’s freer?” Mr. Carlson said. “If you’re an American, the answer is painful to admit.” he said.
“Opposition figures don’t worry in Hungary,” he said. “In what country are you more likely to lose your job for criticizing the ruling class orthodoxy?”
He said that those Americans who attack White House policies “would likely be silenced by Biden’s allies in Silicon Valley.”
Has Mr. Carlson been silenced by Mr. Biden’s so-called allies in Silicon Valley? Not exactly.
If not the theme of Mr. Carlson’s week of broadcasts from Hungary, then the leitmotif was: Look at what a “happy” and “orderly” country Hungary is under Mr. Orbán, as opposed to the chaos and darkness of American life under Mr. Biden. We need someone like Mr. Orbán to lead America out of that darkness. And who would that someone be but Mr. Trump, who was described as a “great friend of Hungary” by the Hungarian leader in an interview with Mr. Carlson last week.
Meanwhile, Mr. Carlson depicted Mr. Biden as an enemy of Hungary.
“Are you worried that there will be international interference in your election in Hungary?” the Fox host asked Mr. Orbán. “When the president of the United States describes you as a totalitarian thug … that suggests why wouldn’t the Biden State Department work to prevent you from being reelected?”
This celebration of Mr. Orbán, who controls the press and the courts in Hungary, might not be so alarming if American democracy was not at such a precarious point after Mr. Trump’s efforts to undermine the rule of law, government institutions and such democratic norms as the peaceful transfer of power. Last week, we found out more about how relentless Mr. Trump was between the election in Nov. and Jan. 6 in trying to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory. News about his efforts to use the Justice Department to help in this effort is chilling.
Sadly, Mr. Trump’s efforts did not end with Mr. Biden’s inauguration. His continued efforts to push the Big Lie and raise money for a return to the White House continue. And he has the most popular host in prime-time cable news TV going to new lengths to help him.
David Zurawik is The Baltimore Sun’s media critic. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter:@davidzurawik.