Claus Christian Malzahn must stick out like a sore thumb at SPIEGEL ONLINE. Along with Henryk Broder, he is perhaps the only America-friendly voice on the magazine's entire staff. You could say he and Broder are the publication's two token pro-Americans. And make no mistake: They are both highly intelligent, eloquent representatives of a viewpoint rarely heard or voiced in Germany.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Another Peculiar Translation Omission
Today, Mr. Malzahn published an outstanding editorial on the controversial reaction of Germany's Environmental Minister Juergen Trittin to Hurricane "Katrina". In the original German version Mr. Malzahn clearly writes in the first paragraph of his work that the ruling German government or "amtierende Regierung" is to blame for the "shameful low point" or "beschämenden Tiefpunkt" in Transatlantic relations brought on by Environmental Minister Juergen Trittin's comments that the US has itself to blame for natural catastrophes like "Katrina." Interestingly enough, the English version offered up by SPIEGEL ONLINE's translators has a slightly different translation of the first paragraph. It merely mentions "a German minister" and not the "ruling government", which is completely omitted.
Furthermore, SPIEGEL ONLINE's translation totally omits the word "shameful" and simply mentions "low point." Finally, the English version's first paragraph then ends with "How pathetic." which does not appear in the original German at all. And these mistakes are all just in the first paragraph...Coincidence? Oversight? An unusually loose translation? Hard to tell, but the English translations offered up on SPIEGEL's English Site are frequently inaccurate and loose.
Anyway, here is a sampling of Malzahn's work, which is still impressive despite the mediocre SPON translation:
"Hurricane Katrina has cost the lives of hundreds and devastated the US Gulf Coast. But instead of aid donations and sympathy, the Americans have heard little more than a haughty "I told you so" from Germany. It's another low point for trans-Atlantic relations -- and set off by a German minister. How pathetic. (...)
Cold and malicious
Apparently the Americans had it coming: "The American president has closed his eyes to the economic and human damage that natural catastrophes such as Katrina -- in other words, disasters caused by a lack of climate protection measures -- can visit on his country." Who wrote this? None other than Jürgen Trittin, Germany's minister of the environment.
At a moment when the dead on the Gulf Coast are still being counted, the German minister of the environment could think of nothing better to do than -- in an essay published Tuesday in the center-left daily Frankfurter Rundschau -- to blame the US itself for the catastrophe. The piece is 493 words long, and not a single one of them is wasted to express any sort of sympathy for the victims of the storm. The worst of it is that Trittin isn't alone with his cold, malicious tenor. The coverage from much of the German media tends in the same direction: If Bush had only listened to Uncle Trittin and signed the Kyoto Protocol, then this never would have happened.
Bullshit. Trittin's article is a slap in the face to all the victims. Let's just assume that the environment minister is right, that there is a direct relationship between greenhouse gases and Hurricane Katrina. Even still this would hardly be the time for yet another round of America bashing and finger pointing. Three years ago, just before the US election, former Minister of Justice Hertha Däubler Gmelin compared US President George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler. This time, with German elections looming, the environment minister is using a natural catastrophe as an excuse to once again campaign with subtle anti-Americanism and to unabashedly pat himself on the back. A "Kyoto Two" is "desperately needed" screamed the headline over his insensitive attack.
There are scientists and Nobel Prize winners who see the problem of global warming totally different than Trittin. Many consider the fight against AIDS, hunger and malaria as higher priorities than a reduction of carbon dioxide output. Last year, some of these experts jointly published the "Copenhagen Consensus," in which they outlined the greatest problems facing the world. Global warming figured low on the list. And believe it or not, the scientists are not on the payroll of the Texas oil industry. But that's hardly the point at the moment. Right now, the situation calls for empathy with the people in the American south who are suffering the after effects of the massive storm.
It's not the American people's fault that the storm hit and they couldn't have stopped it. The Germans, on the other hand, could have done a lot to prevent World War II. And yet, care packages still rained down from US troops. Trittin's know-it-all stance is therefore not only tasteless, it is also historically blind."
Malzahn is exactly right. This is a dried-up (soon to be unemployed) political hack returning to his core instincts, just as he and his ilk did back in 2002. Human life and suffering are of little consequence to them when their grip on power and the moral high ground is at stake. So, as is so often the case, they blame the victim. They blame the one nation on earth that is a greater force for good in the world than any other.
But don't worry too much about Mr. Trittin while he is busily discrediting himself: He's already a frustrated lame duck. On September 18 German voters will throw his entire party out of office on their ears for at least the next four years. Good riddance!
UPDATE: Here is an outstanding comment posted on SPIEGEL ONLINE in an article consisting entirely of Americans' reactions to Mr. Trittin's statements:
"Hello, I'm an anti-Bush liberal (yes, we exist) who is more and more concerned about a kind of orthodox anti-American bigotry that is so frequently spewed out of Europe. While Europeans have consistently decried the 'ignorance' of Americans about the wider world, I find that Europeans (the media anyway) have a stunningly warped conception of America and its many cultures. Articles and commentaries often seem to be written by 2nd year University students who think they have a grand-unified-theory on the sociology of the United States and its ultimately evil nature (expressed in a manner similar to G. Bush, ironically). When Germany is flooded with a diet of negative American stereotypes to the exclusion of the wide and vibrant array of opinion, culture and political dissent here, it's no wonder that I find the kind of blanket-statement U.S. bashing that I do.
I have very few complaints about the broader European view of American foreign policy. It's the steady, toxic, cultural bigotry that pops up in the European media (I'm most familiar with the British, French and German mainstream press) whenever any sort of reference to America is involved.
Everything here is not McDonalds and murder and fundamentalist philistines.
Sorry to be so nebulous about my compaint, but this comes after reading European media for about 15 years. The echo-chamber nature of journalism is just as dangerous in Europe as in the U.S.. If the European press corps want to claim a great regard for toleration, reason, and respect for other people and cultures, an exception can't be made for Americans, just because you hate G.W. (and whatever else you want to hate about us).
All Arabs aren't terrorists, all Americans are not ugly.
- Tobin Manley"
That's exactly what we've been saying about German media culture for the past two years here at Davids Medienkritik Tobin. And yet we are smeared by publications like SPIEGEL ONLINE and big-shot journalists like Malte Lehming over at Tagesspiegel as dangerous, hard-core conservative Krawallos. Far from it. We simply see the obvious for what it is!