“This attempt to hold Orbán’s Hungary up as a model has been growing for over a year now, and that is concerning,” Dresden said. “The academic and think tank research has been really clear: Hungary has been on this incremental path (toward authoritarianism) for over a decade at this point, and Orbán has followed the playbook very, very closely in ways that everybody should be worried about. “
Her group’s playbook lays out seven fundamental tactics used by “aspiring authoritarians” and offers guides as to how reporters and editors can recognize and report on them. The steps used to gain authoritarian control range from trying to control the media to stoking violence and corrupting elections, according to the report.
Coverage of Orbán at CPAC should include “the fact that the vast majority of media in Hungary are controlled by the government or allies of the government,” Dresden said. It should also include “the electoral system changes that were put in place, which have given an outsize advantage to the ruling party at the expense of opposition parties in terms of how districts are drawn and elections are run,” she added.
Another piece of essential context is the timing of Orbán’s arrival at CPAC.
“You don’t want to give this guy airtime, but it’s a story you have to cover,” said Robert C. Lieberman, professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University.
“The fact that American conservatives seem to admire him and think of him as someone to emulate really reveals the true colors of that wing of the Republican Party and American conservative movement,” the co-author of “Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy” added.
“It’s one thing when Tucker Carlson says nice things about him on television or does his show from Budapest (last summer). It’s even another thing when CPAC has a meeting in Budapest (in May),” Lieberman said. “But I think having Orbán standing up in the United States as a mouthpiece for this movement is taking that to another level of potential harm.”
Dresden says it’s a story “that shouldn’t be ignored, but it is also a situation where amplifying Orbán and his role in this in some ways can also have negative effects.”
She cautions against sensationalism: “And that extends beyond reporters. We know from other research in other areas that headlines matter a lot and imagery matters a lot … So, just being thoughtful and taking a second to think about coverage is the first thing I would say.”
There has been a considerable amount of thoughtful pre-speech coverage.
Lieberman is hoping those who read and see such coverage will think about the seriousness and possible danger of Orbán’s visit to CPAC.
“We used to think of CPAC as a circus,” he said. “Here are these people who get together and wear their silly outfits and talk among themselves. And they’re kind of harmless. But that’s not the case anymore.”