US Republicans and their European allies tore up news headlines and ejected a Guardian journalist from a conference of radical rightwing activists, on the same day that they highlighted the importance of free speech.
Speaking at the second annual meeting in Budapest of the US Conservative Political Action Coalition (CPAC), Kari Lake, a failed Republican gubernatorial candidate, said that “truth-tellers and peacemakers” were being destroyed by “fake news”.
“It’s always opposite day in the media: if they’re telling what you’re doing is bad, it’s probably good,” said Lake before tearing up a sheaf of printed articles about the conference aimed at cementing radical rightwing ties across the Atlantic.
Despite being a former TV news anchor, Lake made hostility towards the press a central theme in her unsuccessful 2022 election campaign, which included an advert in which she smashed TVs and pledged to “take a sledgehammer to the mainstream media’s lies and propaganda”.
Addressing CPAC, she said her childhood ambition was to be a journalist, but that during the Covid pandemic she had realized that “some of the news wasn’t true”.
Lake was one of the most high-profile Republicans in the midterm elections to embrace Donald Trump’s lie about voter fraud. She lost her bid to become the governor of Arizona but refused to concede and continued making false claims of electoral wrongdoing.
The CPAC audience also watched a recorded message from Donald Trump in which the former president said conservatives were “fighting against barbarians” and listed freedom of speech as one of the cardinal virtues of the far right.
“We believe in tradition, the rule of law, freedom of speech and a God-given dignity of every human life. These are ideas that bind together our movement,” Trump said.
Not long afterwards, a Guardian journalist was ejected from the conference, during an interview with Rick Santorum.
The former Republican senator was praising Hungary’s parental leave policies, when one of the conference organisers grabbed him by the arm and pulled him away mid-sentence.
A security guard then led the reporter to the exit.
Meanwhile, speakers including the Newsweek comment editor, Josh Hammer, were preparing for a panel on “Free Speech”.
CPAC later described the reporter’s registration for the conference as a “system error”.
The International Press Institute (IPI) denounced the Guardian’s ejection from the event as a “shameless move” and an “attack on media freedom”.
Enmity towards the media has been a constant theme at CPAC’s Hungarian iteration. Last year the organizers refused entry to journalists from all US media outlets, including Vice, Vox, Rolling Stone, the New Yorker and the Associated Press.
This year, most independent journalists were refused accreditation for the event, held in a country where the IPI has said media freedom “remains suffocated”. During the Covid outbreak, Viktor Orbán’s government passed a law imposing prison sentences of up to five years for spreading disinformation.
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