His presence in the country was not previously announced by Carlson or his employer, leading to some confusion on Monday when the country’s right-leaning, populist, anti-immigration prime minister — Viktor Orban — posted a photo on his Facebook page with a smiling, arms-crossed Carlson.
Carlson told his viewers on Monday night that he will be hosting the show from Hungary all week and made a pitch for why the Central European country should matter to them. “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 said, before transitioning into one of his more typical attacks on the Biden administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
His trip to Hungary and meeting with Orban isn’t completely out of the ordinary for the host, who has sat with other world leaders who have faced questions about their commitment to democracy and the rule of law. In March, Carlson traveled to El Salvador to interview President Nayib Bukele about illegal immigration from the country to the United States and gang activity. Carlson called his interview with Bukele a “long and legitimately interesting conversation.”
Carlson’s visit to Hungary coincides with his scheduled appearance on Saturday at MCC Feszt, a conference run by an educational institution that has received substantial financial support from Orban’s government. The institution, Mathias Corvinus Collegium, “has audacious plans to train a conservative future elite” in the country, according to a New York Times investigation in June.
While the institution’s financial backing and mission are controversial, the festival that Carlson will be speaking at is described in promotional materials as something of a cross between the Aspen Ideas Festival and the South by Southwest festival.
“There will be onstage discussions on topics of public interest and public affairs, Olympic coverage, interactive exhibitions, as well as popular music concerts and parties until dawn,” according to the festival, which begins Thursday. Carlson’s session will be called “The World According to Tucker Carlson.”
Festival organizers did not, as of press time, comment on Carlson’s appearance, but he’s not the only American conservative thought-leader scheduled to speak. Talk-show host Dennis Prager will be delivering a talk on “media and free speech” on Friday.
Despite international criticism of Orban, who has overseen a rollback of democratic freedoms, Carlson has praised him in the past. Talking about declining birthrates in Hungary, Carlson said in 2019, “Instead of abandoning Hungary’s young people to the hard-edge libertarianism of [billionaire George Soros] and the Clinton Foundation, Orbán has decided to affirmatively help Hungarian families grow.”
“The pompous title of Carlson’s speech, ‘The World According to Tucker Carlson,’ may seem laughable, but there’s nothing funny about this encounter,” wrote New York University history professor and authoritarianism expert Ruth Ben-Ghiat on Tuesday. “Carlson’s world aligns to an alarming degree with that of Orbán, a wily political operative who claims Hungary is an ‘illiberal democracy’ but as of 2020 rules by decree.”
R. Daniel Kelemen, the Jean Monnet Chair in European Union Politics at Rutgers University, said the meeting between Carlson and Orban is significant for both men.
Orban “thinks that might play well with him in terms of upping his prominence internationally,” Kelemen said in an interview.
He also noted a similarity between the right-leaning tilt of the Republican Party over the last few years and Orban’s Fidesz political party, which was once more moderate.
“The Tucker Carlson, Trump wing which is basically dominating the GOP right now, I think they see in Orban a kind of model of an electoral autocracy dominated by a single party that maintains the veneer of democratic elections … but can tilt the playing field so heavily in its own favor that it can ensure its own dominance,” he said.
Fox News representatives did not respond to a request for comment on Carlson’s visit to Hungary and his meeting with its leader.
Orban is viewed as particularly hostile to the kind of independent, privately operated media organizations that Carlson works for. Earlier this month, Reporters Without Borders listed Orban as one of the world’s 37 “press freedom predators,” arguing that he “has steadily and effectively undermined media pluralism and independence since being returned to power in 2010.”
At the end of his Monday night show, Carlson’s guest, the conservative Canadian pundit Mark Steyn, nodded to the upside of the host’s foreign trip. “Sometimes you have to be in Budapest to see America clearly,” Steyn said. “Yes!” Carlson replied, before lobbing a familiar attack on certain American cities as hotbeds of mayhem and filth.
In contrast, he called the city he is broadcasting from “safe, clean Budapest.”