Tucker Carlson's “Hungary vs. Soros” is ham-handed propaganda straight out of the authoritarian playbook

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Citation From Fox Nation's Tucker Carlson Originals: Hungary vs. Soros: The Fight For Civilization

The season finale of Tucker Carlson’s Fox Nation “documentary” series, titled Hungary vs. Soros: The Fight for Civilization, is a ham-handed propagandist screed that heavily recycles the same antisemitic tropes that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán used to get reelected in 2018.

Orbán, a far-right nationalist who has embraced authoritarian tactics, will face reelection again in April after years spent making Hungarian billionaire philanthropist and Holocaust survivor George Soros public enemy No. 1, relying on antisemitic stereotypes to generate public backlash.

Carlson takes the same line in Hungary vs. Soros: The Fight for Civilization, describing Soros as an insidious, unseen political kingmaker who seeks to destroy the national sovereignty of Hungary and transform its culture by leveraging his money and control of the media –  while blasting menacing synth chords over black and white images of Soros.

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Citation From the January 26, 2022, edition of Fox Nation's Tucker Carlson Originals

Conspiracy theories about Soros are a staple on the extremist right, echoing long-standing antisemitic myths about the amount of power in the hands of prominent Jews. And these conspiracy theories have already motivated antisemitic violence in the U.S. Robert Bowers, the man who killed 11 Jewish worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018, regularly posted conspiracy theories about Soros. Cesar Sayoc, the man who sent pipebombs to prominent Democrats and CNN, had sent the first of his bombs to be found to Soros’ home.

Fox’s fearmongering about Soros is not limited to Carlson or his Fox Nation show. From January 1, 2021, through January 25, 2022, Fox News has mentioned “Soros” a total of 379 times, according to Media Matters’ transcript analysis of the Kinetiq video database. This coverage ramped up in the past three months, with at least 90 references to Soros on Fox so far in January. While Tucker Carlson Tonight had the most mentions by far, he’s not alone; Fox & Friends had the second most, and The Five came in third. Fox’s adoption of Soros as a civilizational boogeyman reflects the network's steady integration of extremist ideology into its core programming. 

Carlson has previously described Soros as a mastermind behind a plan to transform the United States by replacing “legacy Americans” with immigrants, and the Fox host has gone so far as to accuse him of creating “a program of destruction aimed at the West.

In his latest Fox Nation special, Carlson describes Orbán’s “Stop Soros” law as a “crackdown on Soros-backed NGOs” that “convinced” Soros’ Open Society Foundation to close its office in Budapest. In reality, the law made it a criminal offense for any individual or organization to assist refugees or migrants in applying for asylum, using the cover of anti-Soros sentiment to legislate heavy-handed restrictions on immigration.

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Citation From the January 26, 2022 episode of Fox Nation's Tucker Carlson Originals

The Fox host also lavishes praise on the Orbán government for building a border wall and taking a hard line against immigration, promoting an electric fence topped with razor wire and describing Hungary as a “serious country that enforces its own laws.”

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Citation From the January 26, 2022, edition of Fox Nation's Tucker Carlson Originals

Despite Carlson’s flowery depiction of Hungary’s deportation process, the country has been repeatedly accused of abusing refugees and immigrants attempting to cross its border. In 2015, Human Rights Watch Emergencies Director Peter Bouckaert described people in Hungary’s detention centers as being “kept in pens like animals, out in the sun without food and water, without any medical assistance." According to Vox, “this is all by design: Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said his goal is to discourage refugees from crossing into Hungary, even at the cost of treating them inhumanely.”

Hungary vs. Soros marries Carlson’s brand of hard-line, ratings-driven nationalism with Orbán’s existing propaganda strategy. This partnership extends beyond the Fox Nation documentary -- Hungary vs. Soros is just the latest development in Carlson’s embrace of the Orbán government.

Carlson has repeatedly hosted Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó on Tucker Carlson Tonight to discuss his country’s anti-immigration policies. (According to The New York Times, the 2019 interview was arranged by Carlson’s father’s lobbying firm, which has lobbied on behalf of the Orbán government.) He traveled to the country in August 2021 to interview Orbán himself (the season finale of “Tucker Carlson Originals” includes parts of the interview not previously aired on Fox News), speak at a far-right conference, and shoot this special for Fox Nation. He also broadcasted his Fox News prime-time show from Budapest for an entire week.

Carlson traveled to Hungary at the behest of Rod Dreher, a right-wing Catholic blogger who recently spent four months in the country and wrote many glowing articles about Orbán and his policies. Dreher is also interviewed in the Fox Nation special, praising Orbán for his “populist, nationalist instincts” and claiming the far-right leader “correctly identifies [Soros] and what he stands for as a threat to Hungary’s national sovereignty” – “a condensed symbol of everything the Hungarian right hates.” 

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Citation From the January 26, 2022, edition of Fox Nation's Tucker Carlson Originals

Carlson’s friendly embrace of Orbán’s Hungary as a model for conservative utopia relies on an intentional obfuscation of the country’s backslide into autocratic rule. Carlson and the team at Fox are not producing documentary-style journalism – they are stoking anti-immigrant fears and antisemitic conspiracy theories to launder authoritarianism and present the erosion of democratic norms abroad as an appealing option for American conservatives.