(By Ray D.)
Welcome to the world of German media. This is your first day as a SPIEGEL ONLINE trainee. Your mission: To become an expert on transatlantic relations. Let's get started:
Lesson number one: The United States government is always wrong.
Lesson number two: Bush is evil - no matter what.
Now let's examine a current case: The United States wants to engage in multilateral cooperation, negotiation and engagement on the environment and climate change. They want to sit down and compromise on how best to reduce global greenhouse emissions in an effort to avoid confrontation. So - how do we spin this development in accordance with lessons one and two? Exactly...we sensationalize America's attempts to reach-out and cooperate as a hostile "offensive against Chancellor Merkel's climate plans."
SPIEGEL ONLINE Homepage Headline: "US Push: Bush Begins Offensive Against Merkel's Climate Plans"
Now let's step outside the classroom: The language is quasi-military ("Vorstoss" / "startet Offensive"). The photo aggressive. The background accented with hyper-patriotic flag-waving.
What does it all mean? Well, this is clearly a packaging and portrayal of events intended to upset and emotionalize the pacifistic, left-leaning audience. This despite the fact that the Merkel government has openly welcomed the willingness of the United States to move the discussion forward - a fact that SPIEGEL ONLINE readily acknowledges.
Further, this is the biased reporting readers have been conditioned to expect after years of hate-America coverage. The covers speak for themselves:
After years of the above, how could it be any different? Bush - the perennial villain - the most dangerous man on the planet - could not be portrayed in any other way. The established "bad guy" template has grown so thick and entrenched that it would be impossible to shatter. And - with Bush now relatively unpopular in the USA - the cost of putting emotion and vilification before reason and analysis is historically low in covering the US administration.
So Why Does the US Reject the German Position on the Environment...Do Most Media Consumers in Germany Really Know?
SPIEGEL ONLINE has not been alone in its efforts to trump up conflict over the environment. Other media outlets have repeatedly played the "us versus them" card in coverage of debate over a proposed German plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions at the upcoming G8 summit. Rather than cool analysis and explanation of differing positions, much of the German media's reporting has wrapped American resistance to German environmental positions in nationalist undertones. (Read President Bush's actual speech on aid to Africa and environmental initiatives. Warning: This transcript is unfiltered by German media.)
Above all, there has been virtually no attempt to explain why the U.S. government rejects certain aspects of the German position - or to explain the environmental policies of the current administration. Further, they chronically fail to consider the following points, made so eloquently by Robert Samuelson in 2005:
"Europe is the citadel of hypocrisy. Considering Europeans' contempt for the United States and George Bush for not embracing the Kyoto Protocol, you'd expect that they would have made major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions -- the purpose of Kyoto. Well, not exactly. From 1990 (Kyoto's base year for measuring changes) to 2002, global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, increased 16.4 percent, reports the International Energy Agency. The U.S. increase was 16.7 percent, and most of Europe hasn't done much better.
Here are some IEA estimates of the increases: France, 6.9 percent; Italy, 8.3 percent; Greece, 28.2 percent; Ireland, 40.3 percent; the Netherlands, 13.2 percent; Portugal, 59 percent; Spain, 46.9 percent. It's true that Germany (down 13.3 percent) and Britain (a 5.5 percent decline) have made big reductions. But their cuts had nothing to do with Kyoto. After reunification in 1990, Germany closed many inefficient coal-fired plants in eastern Germany; that was a huge one-time saving. In Britain, the government had earlier decided to shift electric utilities from coal (high CO2 emissions) to plentiful natural gas (lower CO2 emissions).
On their present courses, many European countries will miss their Kyoto targets for 2008-2012. To reduce emissions significantly, Europeans would have to suppress driving and electricity use; that would depress economic growth and fan popular discontent. It won't happen. Political leaders everywhere deplore global warming -- and then do little. Except for Eastern European nations, where dirty factories have been shuttered, few countries have cut emissions. Since 1990 Canada's emissions are up 23.6 percent; Japan's, 18.9 percent. (...)
What we have now is a respectable charade. Politicians and advocates make speeches, convene conferences and formulate plans. They pose as warriors against global warming. The media participate in the resulting deception by treating their gestures seriously. One danger is that some of these measures will harm the economy without producing significant environmental benefits. Policies motivated by political gain will inflict public pain. Why should anyone applaud?"
We now know that many of the European participants in Kyoto have missed their targets. The lack of real analysis and debate of that point in German media has been deafening. Yet the lack of real analysis and debate on virtually any issue has long been a tradition in most coverage of the Bush administration over the past six years. Typically, the coverage does not get too much further than: Bush = Bad.
Voices of Moderation - Signs of Hope...
It hasn't helped that the usual Social-Democrat suspects have opportunistically seized the issue to attack the United States - a tried and tested method for rallying their America-hostile political base. It would seem that, to them, no agreement is truly multilateral and satisfactory unless it excludes the United States.
Yet, in rare instances, responsible voices have broken through the thickets of bias and confrontation.
The first example is a tagesschau interview with Karl-Heinz Kamp of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a foundation affiliated with Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats. The opening paragraph correctly depicts the transatlantic debate over the environment as "heated" - yet warns that it would be wrong to celebrate it as a transatlantic fight. Mr. Kamp correctly notes that Germany must genuinely engage the United States and other nations on the environment - not dictate absolute positions from on-high - and then vilify those who do not go along. He emphasizes that - despite George Bush's "Darth Vader-like" poll numbers in much of Western Europe (which also have more to do with media-driven vilification <see above photo> than true understanding of Bush and his politics) - that many Germans recognize the importance of strong transatlantic relations.
A second hopeful example is to be found - of all places - at Tagesspiegel. Amidst advertisements for a book by former Guantanamo inmate Murat Kurnaz and a typical smear photo of George Bush - a small gem of intellectual honesty sits like a diamond in the rough.
Tagesspiegel Homepage - Christoph von Marschall's article offers a Glimmer of Hope in a Sea of Bias...
Christoph von Marschall, Tagesspiegel's Washington correspondent, published an article that actually discusses the differences in policy and outlook between the United States and Germany. The headline and photo - which push negative images - were likely added by the online editors. The article itself delves into the political context of the debate in the United States and acknowledges that Kyoto was rejected by the US Senate (95-0) in 1997 well before George W. Bush ever assumed office. It admits that Germany and other European partners will fail to uphold their Kyoto commitments - a commitment they have attempted to force on the United States despite that nation's concern that such an agreement could cost millions of jobs and billions of dollars in economic loss. Most incredibly, it discusses in some detail the Bush administration's environmental policy and acknowledges that there are areas in which the United States is ahead of Germany. He writes:
"Bush has, for example, created a billion dollar project to develop emission-free coal power plants. As in Germany, around 50% of the energy comes from coal. Thanks to Bush, America will have a reduced emission or even an emission-free coal plant on the energy net by 2012, years ahead of Germany. The proportion of renewable energies from wind, sun and water is almost as high as in Germany. Additionally, Bush is spending billions to support the gradual transition from oil-based gasoline to biofuels like Ethanol."
Given the fact that Mr. Marschall has offered positive comments about Bush and his policies, it is quite remarkable that his work made it past the editor's desk. (Perhaps Malte Lehming is on vacation?) This respect for balance and fact could be a sign of hope - and it is certainly a sign that at least one German correspondent possesses some degree of intellectual honesty.
Overall though, the "environment" issue has been characterized in German media by conflict, confrontation and transatlantic hostility. One can only hope that the small but growing trend towards moderation and engagement will continue to move in a positive direction - despite the many voices of division.