By:
August 9, 2021

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson spent last week in Hungary, met with authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and gave a speech at a far-right conference in Budapest that is backed by Orbán and his government.

If you saw any of it, it looked an awful lot like one giant infomercial for Orbán. And a preview for what Carlson would like to see happen right here in the United States.

In fact, Carlson even said on his show, “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.”

Carlson meant that as a compliment of Hungary’s ways of doing things.

Or how about this quote from Carlson? “Who’s freer? If you’re an American, the answer is painful to admit.”

The New York Times’ Benjamin Novak and Michael M. Grynbaum write, “For Mr. Carlson, the Hungary trip was an opportunity to put Mr. Orban, whom he admires, on the map for his viewers back home, a conservative audience that may be open to the sort of illiberalism promoted by the Hungarian leader.”

In a piece for NBC News’ THINK, Casey Michel, author of “American Kleptocracy,” writes, “For anyone who’s followed Hungary’s trajectory under Orbán, Carlson’s paeans to the country’s supposed ‘democracy’ are laughable. Under a decade of Orbán’s rule, Hungary has transformed from a bright spot of political freedoms to a cautionary tale in how a right-wing authoritarian can dismantle a democracy, piece by piece, while helping his cronies profit along the way. Pick any metric you’d like, and Hungary’s self-proclaimed ‘democracy’ hardly survives scrutiny.”

For example, start with press freedoms. As Michel points out, Reporters Without Borders named Orbán an “enemy of press freedom.” Orbán is the only European Union leader to make the list, his name alongside the likes of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

“Or look at the culture of corruption and elite predation that Orbán has fostered,” Michel writes. “Not only does Transparency International now rank Hungary lower than dictatorships like Belarus or Cuba in its Corruption Perceptions Index, but the government in Budapest has transformed into little more than a vehicle for pillaging.”

He adds, “If anything, the notion that Hungary supports ‘Western civilization’ stems directly from the kind of bigoted policies that many far-right, traditionalist Americans would like to see replicated in the U.S.”

Carlson’s fawning over Orbán and Hungary is not all that surprising. Novak and Grynbaum write, “Even as Mr. Orban is increasingly shunned by many European conservatives, Mr. Carlson has been effusive in his praise, depicting the Hungarian leader as a virtuous champion of family values and a model for the United States.”

So, yeah, not surprising.

“After all,” Michel writes, “Trump and his supporters have proved only too happy to mimic Orbán’s authoritarian steps over the past few years. … If anything, the notion that Hungary supports ‘Western civilization’ stems directly from the kind of bigoted policies that many far-right, traditionalist Americans would like to see replicated in the U.S.”

During an appearance on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, The Atlantic’s Yasmeen Serhan said Carlson’s description of Hungary “really boggles the mind.”

Serhan added, “What I sort of took away from Tucker Carlson’s extolling of  how great Hungary is is that he really wants Americans to see that brand of autocracy as something not only desirable, but within reach and something that we should be aspiring to.”

When you consider Carlson has the most-watched prime-time cable news show, that’s deeply concerning.

While, yes, it’s troubling to see Carlson’s trip to Hungary, let’s not forget this: Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch is signing off on this. Fox Corp. CEO and executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch is signing off on this. Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott is signing off on this.

Don’t blame just Carlson. His bosses are perfectly OK with letting Carlson say and do whatever he wants, including going all the way to Hungary to hand a microphone to a deplorable world leader.

End of the games

Fireworks illuminate National Stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Sunday. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

The Tokyo Olympics, held a year late because of COVID-19, came to an end Sunday.

As far as the competition? It was sensational entertainment for fans. As always, the Olympics were full of magic moments — the USA men’s and women’s basketball teams won gold; host Japan won a gold medal in baseball; American swimmer Katie Ledecky won two gold medals and two silver medals to up her Olympic medal count to 10; a 13-year-old (Japanese skateboarder Momiji Nishiya) won a gold medal; and American Allyson Felix became the most decorated track-and-field athlete in U.S. Olympic history. And those are just a few of the highlights. (New York Times sports editor Randal C. Archibold has “Seven Olympic Moments Worth Revisiting.”)

There also were important stories, such as American gymnast Simone Biles bringing more attention to the mental wellness of athletes by withdrawing from several events.

But off the field, the Olympic TV ratings were definitely not gold. When all the numbers are in, it’s expected that the average nightly viewership will be more than 10 million viewers fewer than the 29 million per night who watched the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.

Several factors may have influenced the numbers, including a half-day’s time difference between Tokyo and the United States. There’s also just a general somber vibe because of COVID-19 and the lack of fans.

Veteran sportscaster Bob Costas, who was the prime-time host of 12 Olympic Games, told The New York Times’ Tiffany Hsu, “You can only play the hand you’ve been dealt, and they’ve been dealt a difficult hand. You can’t create something out of thin air. Everybody knows that this is, we hope, a one-of-a-kind Olympics. It’s like if somebody is running the 100 meters and they have a weight around their ankles. That is not a fair judge of their speed.”

But it’s not all grim news for NBCUniversal. Streaming numbers are up, and NBC is likely to see growth in subscriptions for Peacock, the network’s streaming service. And during a conference call last week, Jeff Shell, the chief executive of NBCUniversal, said he expects the Tokyo Games to be profitable. Let’s not forget, even though numbers are down compared to other Olympics, the TV ratings for the games still crush whatever else is on.

Reviews of NBC’s coverage have been mixed. There have been complaints of the Olympics being on too many channels. Although, should we really consider giving the viewer too many options to be a bad thing? Still, many insist NBC could have been clearer on the starting times of certain events and where they could be found on their TVs or online.

But the time difference can be discombobulating for viewers, and I’ve read from those who thought NBC could have done a better job introducing viewers to the athletes either before they competed or after they did something special. In other words, more in-depth features beyond interviews. I’m not sure I agree with that pushback, but there were enough complaints that they can’t be dismissed.

In a good piece, The Los Angeles Times’ Greg Braxton, Tracy Brown, Thuc Nhi Nguyen and Eric Sondheimer with “These Olympics have often made for frustrating TV. Here’s how to fix it.”

Also, to wrap up the Olympics, here are a few more good suggestions:

Interview of the day

Brittany Commisso, one of the 11 women who have accused New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment, being interviewed by “CBS This Morning” and the Times Union of Albany, New York. (Courtesy: CBS News)

Last week, the New York state attorney general released a report in which 11 women accused New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment. One of those was identified as “executive assistant #1.” Today, “CBS This Morning” and the Times Union of Albany, New York, have an exclusive interview with Brittany Commisso, also known as “executive assistant #1.”

Speaking publicly for the first time, Commisso said Cuomo “needs to be held accountable.”

Commisso said, “What he did to me was a crime. He broke the law.”

Harris leaving ABC News

Dan Harris, the co-anchor of the weekend editions of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” said on air Sunday that he is leaving the network in two months.

He told viewers, “This was a difficult decision for me. As some of you may know, I’ve been spending a lot of time on my extracurricular gig, my side hustle, a meditation company, called Ten Percent Happier. It’s been a lot to juggle and even though I’m a public proponent of work/life balance, if I’m honest, I’ve struggled to follow my own advice.”

Harris has been at ABC News for 21 years. He also appears on “Nightline” and “ABC World News Tonight.”

Remembering a legend

Bobby Bowden, the former longtime head football coach at Florida State and one of the best daggum coaches in the history of the sport, died Sunday after recently being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was 91. Here are some noteworthy pieces about Bowden:

Media tidbits

(Courtesy: NBC News)

  • This week, NBC News will feature in-depth coverage of wrongful convictions and the state of the criminal justice system in the U.S. The series — “Justice for All” — will air across many NBC platforms, including the “Today” show, “The NBC Nightly News,” “Dateline,” MSNBC, NBC NewsNow and NBCNews.com.
  • The New York Times’ Azi Paybarah with “Ugh: Life at Andrew Cuomo’s Hometown Newspaper.”
  • CNN’s Chris Cuomo is on vacation this week. He has recused himself from covering his brother, Andrew, and some might think this week is a way for Chris to duck that story. But Chris’ 51st birthday is today and, apparently, he typically takes off the week of his birthday. CNN’s Brian Stelter reported on his “Reliable Sources” show Sunday that he was told Cuomo’s vacation had been planned for months — well before anyone knew when the attorney general report would be released.
  • Writing for The Hill, Joe Ferullo with “Confused about COVID: Too many news outlets prioritize hype over accuracy.”
  • For HuffPost, Mary Papenfuss with “Ex-Newsmax Host Who Attacked ‘Lying Freak’ Dr. Fauci Over ‘Scamdemic’ Has Died Of COVID.”
  • Singer R. Kelly goes on trial today in federal court in Brooklyn. He is charged with racketeering based on sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping, forced labor and Mann Act violations. The New York Times’ Laura Zornosa and Jacey Fortin have a timeline of the allegations.

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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