(By Ray D.)
Germany: No Balance in News Leads to Conformity of Opinion
One of the fundamental problems with reporting on the United States in the German media is that the views of American conservatives are rarely, if ever, presented. That means that the views of those who hold power in the United States are rarely heard. Conversely, left wing, Bush-critical views hold a near monopoly in the German media and reporting on America.
OK, So what’s new? You’ve heard this all before from us, right?
Well, I believe that it is vitally important to point the following out: We at Davids Medienkritik do not advocate or desire a media that only tells the conservative side of the story or that only favors the Bush administration. If we did, we would be no better than the people we criticize.
Let us clearly state for the record: Bush-critical and America-critical voices are an essential part of the conversation. They are absolutely necessary.
But let us also state just as forcefully: Bush-critical, America-critical voices MUST be balanced by opposing points of view. Otherwise, conformity of opinion emerges that stifles debate and dialogue. Unfortunately, this is precisely what has happened in the German media, politics and society in recent years. Because we at Davids Medienkritik dare to call for balance in the German media, we are often attacked as Bush apologists, radicals and right-wing reactionaries. This further stifles debate and pushes anyone calling on the media to present both sides into the extremist corner. That has to change.
A Concrete Example of Bias: Sueddeutsche Zeitung’s Recent Front-Page Article
An excellent example of the phenomena of one-sided, attack journalism is a recent front-page article from Sueddeutsche Zeitung entitled “Truth and Fiction: Protocol of a Premeditated War” by Thomas Kirchner.
Here is how the article begins:
“Saddam must go: Everything was subordinated to this objective by Tony Blair and George Bush, even the truth. Now a document proves that they consciously lied to the public.
On 23 July 2002, eight months before the Iraq war began, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called his security policy experts to Downing Street 10. Foreign and defense ministers were present, the attorney general, security advisors and the leaders of the Army and secret service. They discussed the strategy for the fight against Saddam Hussein.
Almost three years later and four days before the election in Great Britain, on 1 May 2005, the Sunday Times published the secret protocol of the meeting. The Iraq war cost Blair votes, however the document went under in the election campaign. (A link to the document can be found at the end of this article.)
It has to do with the first internal government evidence that US President George Bush and his main ally Blair deliberately lied to the world in their preparation for the Iraq war.
Saddam must go: Everything was subordinated to this objective by Tony Blair and George Bush, even the truth. They manipulated intelligence information and made the dictator appear more dangerous than he was. That is known." (emphasis original)
Here again, the author conveniently forgets to mention a fact that is almost always overlooked in the German media. Namely, that the Clinton administration also had an official policy of regime change in Iraq. As James S. Robbins points-out in his outstanding piece on the Rycroft memo (also known as the "Downing Street" memo):
"In the summer of 2002 the policy of the United States was that Saddam Hussein should be removed from power. However, that does not mean that the decision to go to war had already been made.
Contingency planning for military operations against Iraq had begun as early as November 2001. This is no secret; the full timeline along with a wealth of details can be found in General Tommy Franks’s memoir American Solider. The plan that became known as OPLAN 1003V began to be put together in earnest in January 2002. The existence of war planning does not in itself prove that the use of force was inevitable. The purpose was to provide the president with the full range of credible alternatives for pursuing U.S. policy vis-à-vis Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Regime change had been U.S. policy since October 31, 1998, when President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act. It was not a state secret. On February 12, 2002, Colin Powell stated that "With respect to Iraq, it has long been, for several years now, a policy of the United States government that regime change would be in the best interests of the region, the best interests of the Iraqi people. And we are looking at a variety of options that would bring that about." The policy had bipartisan support; in June 2002 Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said, "There is broad support for a regime change in Iraq. The question is how do we do it and when do we do it."" (emphasis ours)
But that doesn't interest Mr. Kirchner. Furthermore, his three-page article is absolutely uncritical of the memo. The document is presented to readers as solid, incontrovertible evidence that Bush and Blair lied. In fact, the memo's authenticity has yet to be confirmed or denied. According to the UK's Sunday Times, the document was written on July 23, 2002 by Matthew Rycroft, a foreign policy aide to Blair, who was recording the statements of Sir Richard Dearlove, head of MI6, upon returning from a meeting with CIA officials in Washington. In other words, the memo is Mr. Rycroft's record of Sir Dearlove's impressions gained from conversations with unnamed intelligence officers. Put another way, the entire thing is based on second or even third-hand hearsay derived from the opinions of unidentified sources at the CIA! Of course none of this is so much as mentioned by Sueddeutsche.
And other key information is completely ignored by Kirchner, for example: Both the Bush administration and Senator John McCain have already stated that they strongly disagree with the contents of the memo. Additionally, both Bush and Blair addressed the memo in detail and rejected its assertions at a recent joint press conference. But despite the length of his work, Mr. Kirchner sees no need to so much as mention those views. They are simply omitted.
Just to be clear: Our objective at Davids Medienkritik is not to judge whether the memo is accurate or not. We are not in a position to determine that, nor is the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. If the memo is both authentic and accurate, (which is far from clear), then it does indeed raise troubling questions about the Bush administration’s approach to the war. No doubt about that. But again: When a contentious debate erupts over a controversial document, it is the media’s duty to cover both sides of the debate and to examine the merits of the arguments on both sides. Thomas Kirchner badly fails to do so.
Buried and Out of Context...
Usually, biased left-wing publications like Sueddeutsche (or Spiegel or Stern) at least make a weak attempt to present both sides of the story to maintain a thin façade of journalistic professionalism. That usually means that inconvenient facts or opinions (those that contradict the main thrust of the article) are buried in the closing paragraphs that few readers ever reach, often badly mangled and out of context. True to form, Mr. Kirchner briefly mentions Blair’s reaction to the memo at the very end of his twenty-eight paragraph work:
“Blair reacted to the publication of the memorandum at the BBC. At that time nothing had been decided on the attack, he said: “We determined then to once again go to the UN and give them a last chance.
In the USA the New York Review of Books also published the protocol. At the end of its analysis the author quoted a “high-ranking advisor” to Bush: “We are an empire now, and when we act we create our own reality.”
Not surprisingly, Blair's statement, which is preceded by an unmitigated three-page attack on his character and motivations, is placed in the article so as to make him appear all the more disingenuous and cynical.
The final paragraph serves as the author's final indictment on Bush and Blair. The great irony is that the final quote could best be used to describe the German media and the author himself:
"When we act we create our own reality."
Indeed. Mr. Kirchner has in fact created his own reality, a reality shared by millions of Germans who believe they are getting the straight story from their media. It is a reality in which the voices of those who question anti-American, anti-Bush populism are ignored, shut-out and condemned. It is a reality in which inconvenient facts and opinions are buried out of context and out of view. It is a reality in which, in the words of Dominic Hilton:
"The industry of anti-American sentiment is just that – an industry. It should not be mistaken for legitimate and considered concern. “I hate America” is the world’s default position. Knocking America is a form of displacement. It helps non-Americans avoid focusing on their own big problems."
It is a reality in which SPIEGEL staff members openly admit to publishing anti-American magazine covers to keep their million readers happy. It is a reality dictated by bias and ideology. Bluntly put: It is a sad reality that is destroying healthy transatlantic relations.
Why America Doesn't Care
Recently, many pundits have asked why Americans don't care about "memogate" and all of the other stories from Great Britain and elsewhere that shed a negative light on the Bush administration. Why won't Americans listen to the anti-war crowd? Why won't they see the light?
A major reason is that many Americans already understand that "I hate America" IS the default position of far too many around the world. Many Americans realize that much of the criticism they hear blaring from across the seas is not fair, balanced, constructive and heartfelt but rather dishonest, biased, destructive and vindictive. Far too many critics of America would rather see the country go down in failure and flames as opposed to changing the nation for the better, and Americans know that. In the case of the German media, the exploitation of populism for profit is also a motivating factor as the SPIEGEL comment clearly indicates. So how do many Americans react? They rightfully close their ears in mistrust and the dialogue is cut off.
And that won't change until the Thomas Kirchner's of the world make an honest attempt to present both sides of the story and to present all of the facts, even those that might not conveniently fit into their anti-Bush tirades. Because as long as front-page articles read more like propaganda than news, there is little hope for honest debate and open discussion.
Update: For those of you who might have thought the Sueddeutsche article was an isolated incident: Die Zeit just published a shorter article with the same one-sided approach. The article is entitled "Concrete War Planning already in 2001: An internal British government document shows how Bush and Blair misled the public." (Hattip: Stefan of Politically Incorrect)