Everything about the 2005 parliamentary election was unusual: Schröder's loss of support within the red-green coalition seeming to be more a reason for a resignation than re-election as chancellor. All the polling agencies bad predictions. The result working out to permit only coalitions among partners who don't like each other. Schroeder's Caesar-like reaction after the election as he laid claim to the chancellorship despite heavy losses.
And then there's the media's role.
I can't remember any parliamentary election during which the leading political media like SPIEGEL, Stern, ZEIT, the Süddeutsche Zeitung or the Federal Republic's TV broadcasters had not supported the left's leading candidate (except in 1990 when SPIEGEL publisher Augstein argued against Lafontaine because of his position against re-unification).
Whereas in 2005, with a few exceptions, there were hardly any media voices for the Left's candidate Gerhard Schröder. That the right-wing BILD newspaper attacked Schröder didn't surprise anyone (the surprise was rather the determination with which they did it). But SPIEGEL and Stern were also against Schröder. Even government media journalists with well known SPD ties who more or less habitually supported every SPD frontrunner in past elections failed to support Schröder in 2005.
SPIEGEL’s cover pictures from the parliamentary election years 1994 (Kohl vs. Scharping), 1998 (Kohl vs Schröder) and 2005 (Merkel vs. Schröder) bear witness to the sea change that has taken place:
(from left to right: Cover 40/1994 “Power transfer Still Possible?“ FDP (Kohl’s coalition partner) slips away. Kohl’s majority in decline”. Cover 39/1998 “Panic in the home stretch. Bugging operation and Tax Lies”. (Cover 38-2002 “Final spurt”).
(from left to right: Cover 12/2005 “The Long Good-Bye of Red-Green”. Cover 27-2005 “Schroeder’s Last Card”. Cover 28/2005 “What Does Angela Merkel Want? What Can She Do?”).
Schröder and other SPD politicians are completely right when they complain about the media’s biased reporting of the 2005 election (some exceptions apply). However, the SPD itself certainly profited in the past from biased left-leaning reportage. And the Greens more so when their frontrunner Joschka Fischer enjoyed the practical equivalent of teenage hero worship from a substantial number of political journalists (and sometimes still does even today). The left’s criticism of leftist media’s lack of support sounds downright hypocritical.
From an objective standpoint German journalists’ herd-like and unprincipled coverage is certainly regrettable. Whether it’s the Iraq war, the political climate, the Katrina tragedy, or George W. Bush, you’ll always find a broad media coalition with one sided, slanted journalism that makes it hard for the average German to form his own opinion. This isn’t just a betrayal of the citizen, it’s also a declaration of bankruptcy for qualitative, high-value journalism. Independent, self-critical journalism is in as short supply today in Germany as bananas were in the former communist East Germany.
I certainly agree with journalist Giovanni die Lorenzo when he states:
Almost every commentator sings the same sad song that politics is experiencing a credibility crisis. Not all of them notice that the media have long been part of this crisis because they don’t call themselves into question often enough. A few important media concerns have ceased to practice mutual criticism even when one of them stages a crusade or practices vendetta journalism on its critics. At the end of the day though it’s all about our credibility with the readers or viewers. Credibility means, as in politics: independence. And discernability.
(Translation by Richard Bartholomew)