(By Ray D.)
Reading SPIEGEL ONLINE Means Never Having to Think for Yourself
When George W. Bush won the 2004 election last November, the first reaction of the journalists at SPIEGEL ONLINE was, "How could this happen?" After years of biased, one-sided, negative campaign journalism against Bush and Conservative Americans, it was hardly surprising that the publication's readers were completely baffled and upset at the election results. An editorial soon followed stating that the United States had become "as scary as Osama bin Laden." These peculiar reactions can be explained only if one understands the well-insulated parallel-reality in which consumers of left-wing German media find themselves. It is a reality in which stifling bias and selective negativity reign. It is a reality in which America and Bush can do no right and all those who support them are religiously denounced as vassals.
Over the past several years, this form of systematic, negative campaign journalism has also been thickly applied to coverage of Iraq at several German media outlets. While some in the press actually make an honest effort to present both the negative and positive aspects of the situation, publications like SPIEGEL ONLINE have been diligently constructing yet another comfortable, parallel-reality for readers in which the negative predominates and critical thought is unnecessary.
The most recent installation in SPIEGEL ONLINE's campaign of doom is a front-page, three-part masterpiece of bias composed by Georg Mascolo and Bernhard Zand under the headline: "Iraq: The Start of the Civil War".
SPIEGEL ONLINE Headline: "Iraq: The Start of the Civil War"
The article, which carries the subheadline, "Iraq: The Seed of Evil", begins with dire predictions of collapse and civil war. The introductory paragraph reads (our translation of the original German):
"Sunni suicide-bomb commandos inflict bloodbaths on the Shiites that are gradually forcing the country into a civil war. Instead of become a democratic point of light for the entire region, collapse is threatening. All of the ethnic groups are seeking greater independence."
And the tone of the article barely changes over the next three pages. It is a non-stop litany of negativity as the two authors catalog, point-by-point, all that is wrong with Iraq while totally ignoring all that is right. Apparently, the editors at SPIEGEL ONLINE enjoyed the piece so much they decided to have it translated into English as well...
SPIEGEL ONLINE's English Site Plays the Selective Translation Game with Headlines
Yasser Arafat was a well-known practicioner of duplicity during his long career. He would tell his Palestinian audience one thing, while delivering a completely different message to the West in English. It seems that SPIEGEL ONLINE is engaged in a similar shell game. The "SPIEGEL Online English Site" just published a translation of the Mascolo-Zand article. But the headline was distinctly different in tone. Instead of reading, "Iraq: The Start of the Civil War", it reads "Crumbling Iraq: Is the Country Heading for Civil War?"
Confused Reality at SPIEGEL ONLINE: Has the Civil War Started or Not?
In the German version, the headline clearly indicates that a civil war is already beginning, whereas in the English version, the headline is far more speculative and simply asks whether the country could be heading towards civil war. In fact, the article's actual content completely contradicts the English version's altered headline. The eleventh paragraph of the magazine's English translation reads:
"This civil war, which has in fact been underway for some time, isn't just frightening the citizens of Baghdad, whose lives have become a living hell as a result."
So if the civil war "has in fact been underway for some time," why would you lead the story with a headline asking if the country is "heading for civil war?"
On the whole, SPIEGEL's "English Site" is noticeably less strident in terms of its anti-American, anti-British tone when compared to its German-language counterpart. Few of the magazine's harshest articles, (the sort that we frequently post about here on Davids Medienkritik), ever make it onto the "English Site." Now why might that be? Is SPON afraid to tell English-language readers what it really thinks of them?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ignoring History, Ignoring Reality
Now back to our focus, the Mascolo-Zand piece. As usual, the article ignores vital facts and historic context. First of all, ethnic killings in Iraq are hardly a new phenomena that began in 2003 with American military intervention. Saddam's mass graves are filled with untold thousands of Shiites massacred as they sought to claim autonomy from the dominant Sunni minority in 1991. Saddam's mass graves are also filled with untold thousands of Kurds who resisted Arab domination and were slaughtered by the thousands in places like Halabja. Just because today's German media barely reports on Saddam's genocidal mass-murder of Kurds and Shiites, doesn't mean that these acts of barbarism didn't happen. Sadly, ethnic conflict, turbulence and internal strife are hardly new to Iraq and have marked the regions' history for centuries on end. But in the parallel-reality of SPIEGEL ONLINE, it seems that these forces have been suddenly 'unleashed' by US military action.
The authors' morbid obsession with the negative is reflected in passages like these, (our translation from the original German, SPIEGEL's translation is here):
Five times in the past four weeks, for example, in the Amarija Quarter along the street to the airport, common people have been killed who did not have the slightest to do with the building up of Iraq. (...)
"It looks like a civil war," says Aiham al-Samarrai as well, who last week arrived in Washington for talks. (...)
Last week temperatures climbed to more than 50 degrees Celcius in Baghdad, at the same time the city experienced, what has even been seldom in the time after the war, the simultaneous collapse of the three most important supply systems. (oil, water, electricity) (...)
For months US military have complained that the Iraqi police and Army units are nowhere near capable of pacifying the country. (...)
"The war of confession has begun," declared Imam Dschalal al-Din Saghir in his sermon on Friday and called for restraint. (...)
British and American officials also have evidence of the torture practices of the Iraqi units. (...)
Kurdistan, Shiitistan, Sunnistan - the question remains what fate in such a breaking apart of Iraq would befall the city of Baghdad and its 5 million residents in which none of the three groups has a clear majority.
Wayne White was formerly an Iraq expert in the US State Department. Now he works in a Washington think tank. He points to the gloomy historic model Beirut. When there is not imminent success in terms of improving the lives of Iraqis and isolating the terror, the struggle for dominance in the capital city will be fought out - with the massive driving-out of refugees?
And who will have the upper hand in the end? "A winner is not yet clear," says White.
The last few paragraphs are particularly interesting. The article's entire premise seems to be based on the authors' interpretation of the opinions of a former State Department employee currently working at the Middle East Institute. The premise is supported throughout by unbroken, uniform predictions of civil war and chaos. SPIEGEL ONLINE systematically ignores those with differing opinions and a more optimistic view of Iraq's future as if they simply did not exist. Positive events such as the rebuilding of schools, hospitals, power-plants and roads or the nation's economic growth or the sinking US casualty rate or efforts to draft a constitution with the Sunnis are meticulously avoided and omitted. And this is the fundamental problem with much of the German media's reporting on Iraq today.
And so another confused parallel-reality has grown from the seeds of bias sewn by SPIEGEL ONLINE and other likeminded media outlets. It is a parallel reality in which readers' understanding of the world is clouded and distorted by a fundamental lack of journalistic balance rooted in the publication's obsession with the negative and the sensational and its stubborn omission of the positive.
Above all it is a parallel-reality molded to conform to the ideals of the leftist, 1968-generation of Germans who hold so many high positions in the German media today. For them, American defeat in Vietnam was one of the proud, defining moments of their lifetimes. And, of course, whether they are willing to openly admit it or not, nothing would be more satisfying than a replay, regardless of what the consequences would be for the millions left behind at the mercy of a terrorist regime. That is why, despite the many, inescapable differences between Iraq 2005 and Vietnam 1965, the comparison continues to be made.
In closing let it be clearly stated: The point of our criticism is not to deny that major problems currently confront Iraq. They clearly do. The nation is still years from being a peaceful and stable democracy. Violence and terror remain a constant blight. There is clearly much to be done. But there is also clearly much that has been accomplished. To ignore this "other side" of the story with such resolve and to shut out opposing, optimistic points-of-view so completely over three pages is to forfeit ones credibility as a journalist.