Last week we brought you a report on an article written by newspaper correspondent Markus Guenther. (Read that here). Mr. Guenther's work put forth the argument that Americans gladly commemorate distant tragedies (Holocaust or slaughter of Armenians or the plight of Cubans or the victims of other communist regimes) - yet fail to commemorate their own national tragedies - such as slavery or the plight of Native Americans. The opening lines of his work read:
"Ein neues Mahnmal in Washington erinnert an die Opfer des Kommunismus. Doch über die Leichen im Keller der eigenen Geschichte geht die amerikanische Gedenk-Leidenschaft eher wortlos hinweg.
A new monument in Washington reminds of the Victims of Communism. But, when it comes to their own skeletons in the closet, the American passion for commemoration really goes by without a word." (emphasis ours)
We took him to task on that claim - pointing out that Americans commemorate the horrors of slavery and the plight of Native Americans through museums, holidays, film, education and many other means - including monuments and memorials. We also pointed out that millions of Americans are, in fact, victims of communism and/or took direct part in the struggle against communism - in Korea, Vietnam and along the Iron Curtain - refuting Mr. Guenther's claim that the Victims of Communism Memorial commemorates nothing more than a far away tragedy to Americans. Finally, we pointed out that Mr. Guenther's incorrect claims were certain to feed German resentments against the United States.
Well - it did not take long for Mr. Guenther's media friends to react. Journalist Ralf Schuler of the Maerkische Allgemeine (one of the papers for which Guenther writes) responded with an article on our posting - and the basic message was this: When criticized, Guenther and his colleagues will put protecting one another ahead of facts. In this case, Schuler defends his colleague by downplaying and diluting his anti-American comments, presenting an incomplete and one-sided version of the dispute and pointing to emails Guenther received that have absolutely nothing to do with our discussion - distracting readers and attempting to smear us by association. He writes:
"In the Crossfire of the “Incorrect”
Self-appointed media watchdogs in the Internet accuse MAZ’s America correspondent Markus Günther of anti-Americanism
It was just a little tongue-in-cheek poke in the ribs, but it drew a violent response. MAZ’s America correspondent Markus Günther took the occasion of the solemn dedication of a Monument to the Victims of Communism in Washington by US President George Bush to look into the modes of thought of the Americans. His – somewhat loosely formulated – rule of thumb; “The further away suffering is from the USA, the more Americans empathize with it.” After all, the fate of the native American Indians or the Afro-American slaves is not as significant in the USA of today as the mass murder of the European Jews, the Armenian genocide, or the misdeeds of the Castro regime in Cuba.
This thesis isn’t particularly exciting in itself. After all, for obvious psychological reasons, people in other countries aren’t usually in the habit of wringing their hands over their own country’s misdeeds. Nevertheless, Ray D. flew into such a rage over the article (MAZ of June 20) that he published a fiery philippic against Günther on his website, “Davids Medienkritik-Online” (medienkritik.typepad.com) that was hardly justified by the actual text. He claimed that the author was one of those ignoramuses who don’t let the facts stop them from freely expressing their own anti-American resentments while they cater to those of the German public. D. drew attention to the many American museums which commemorate the history of the blacks and Indians. Fair enough, although museums aren’t the same thing as public monuments. And, for that matter, the level of engagement of the Americans in fighting Communism (not least significantly at the Berlin Wall) certainly gives them some connection to the victims of Stalinism. The article concludes with the question of why Günther was recently awarded the Arthur F. Burns Prize, which is supposed to be given for contributions to German-American understanding. After all, Markus Günther has actually contributed to the gulf between Europe and America, and reinforced anti-American stereotypes.
Normally one wouldn’t take such misleading and obviously ignorant rants from the nether regions of the web seriously, if D. hadn’t gone on to list the mailing address of the correspondent, so that other “good Americans” could give him a piece of their minds. What gives self-appointed media monitors (“we consider ourselves a watchdog site”) the right to take such punitive actions isn’t quite clear. Ray D. and his partner, David Kaspar, who run the site, reveal only that they are both German citizens, and consider themselves “politically incorrect” observers of politically correct reporting about America.
In any case, since then MAZ-correspondent Markus Günther has received a great deal of e-mail characterized by a remarkable niveau: for example, Frank Knapp from California – “A proud (yes proud) American!!” wrote, “I read your piece of excrement about how we Americans sweep our ugly past under the carpet. Slime balls like you are the reason that German-Americans like me don’t want to return to Germany.” And a certain David asks: “What did your father do in World War 2, Markus? He should have concerned himself more about you. The absence of normal parents often leads to problem children. I suspect the ovens in hell are more or less as hot as those in Germany’s past. Let me know when you get there.” Sowing hate between America and its one time allies or spreading disinformation are generally the least severe of the charges formulated in the messages. The point is made repeatedly in no uncertain terms that anyone who criticizes America in that way can only come from a Nazi family. No one with any self respect would seek to justify himself in response to such drivel, not to mention reply to it. Brazen anti-Americanism certainly exists in Germany; however the way in which D. and Kaspar use the protection of the Internet to unleash the most vulgar and shadowy species of “patriots” on journalists certainly won’t improve the situation. Quite the contrary.
Aside from the fact that Mr. Guenther did not have the courage to speak for himself - this article is nothing more than journalistic rear-covering. Mr. Guenther simply cannot support his flawed thesis: That the (supposed) absence of national monuments is somehow proof that Americans are unwilling to commemorate (or even make mention of) the tragedies of slavery and the oppression of Native Americans. But instead of making a case for his argument (or admitting he was wrong) - Mr. Guenther apparently decided it would be better to allow his colleague to score a few cheap points by lowering the debate and distracting readers with references to irrelevant emails.
Unfortunately, he simply cannot or will not address the following, specific criticisms of his original article:
---Mr. Guenther claims that Americans suppress memories of slavery. That is simply not the case. In fact, there are numerous museums, films and monuments that remind Americans of the horrors of slavery. Additionally, the American educational system spends a great deal of time and effort teaching about slavery and the Civil Rights movement at all age levels. Americans also celebrate Black History Month and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
---Mr. Guenther claims that Americans suppress memories of oppression of American Indians. Again, that is ridiculous. As we point out, there are dozens of museums and monuments all over the country - including the national museum in Washington - which does deal with the oppression and removal of Native Americans from their lands.
---Mr. Guenther addresses Abu Ghraib: Members of the US military, political elite and press all came forward to expose and address Abu Ghraib - and the issue was debated for months. The result was an anti-torture bill passed with an overwhelming majority in the Senate and signed into law.
---Mr. Guenther claims that Americans have little direct connection to the victims of communism. This despite the fact that 1.) Over 100,000 Americans died fighting oppressive communist regimes in Korea and Vietnam - with countless thousands more wounded. 2.) The United States spent enormous amounts of money and manpower to defend Western Europe from communism during the Cold War. 3.) Millions of Americans fled their home countries (Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, Eastern Europe and elsewhere) because of communist regimes and have family members who died at the hands of those regimes.
Once again - we invite Mr. Guenther to address those concrete criticisms of his article - not to defend his theory in abstract or general terms - or allow a colleague to do so. Further - the assertion that I was somehow in a "rage" is rather amusing considering my email attempts to engage Mr. Guenther in a dialog on his article and my expressions of empathy for Mr. Guenther in those very emails. Interestingly enough, that dialog stopped as soon as I asked Mr. Guenther to address my specific criticisms - for which he has yet to offer a direct response. Finally - the complaints about a few angry or inappropriate emails are really quite pathetic: If we dropped a tear every time we received an angry or inappropriate email - we would be crying our readers a river. Grow up - and stop deriding our entire readership as "vulgar patriots" simply because a few people went overboard in their email comments.
One of our commenter's put it best:
"Hat tip to Scholl for posting the German media response. Nothing surprising here. We’re all familiar with the MO from the German media apologists who show up here occasionally. Instead of addressing the substance of Ray’s criticism, the responses dismiss him as a self-appointed ranter. They then use the pretext that Ray posted Günther’s (public) e-mail address to try the usual canard of associating him with poison pen messages with which he and Medienkritik have no connection whatsoever. As you can see, the first response is mainly self-righteous whining and pathetic posing as the poor, misunderstood victim of the evil Medienkritik, and the second one is more of the same. We get the usual ludicrous and hackneyed “objective criticism” defense, demonstrating the extent to which German journalists are capable of the “self criticism” they so freely recommend to Americans. Apparently, “self criticism” is only of value when applied to Americans. German journalists have no problem with savage criticism of America. Dare to criticize them, though, and you can forget about “self criticism.” Read the hand wringing, self-righteous responses below, and you’ll get the idea. Other than the blurb from the second article (see below) there is no attempt to actually address the substance of Ray’s critique. If you think it might occur to these “professional journalists” to investigate further the many instances of American self-criticism in museums, monuments, children’s school books, etc., noted in the article, not to mention the comment section, dream on. After all, if they actually had the integrity, not to mention the common decency, to look at the facts for themselves, it couldn’t escape the notice of these “professionals,” not to mention that of their readers, that Günther’s “gentle poke in the ribs” is nothing but more of the usual lying propaganda. That, however, is a level of integrity to which they hardly aspire. Instead, Günther’s lame excuses are simply accepted at face value, with no attempt at further investigation. So much for German media “self criticism.”"
Endnotes: Mr. Guenther's email address is readily available online to anyone willing to take two seconds to Google it. Our publication of his email address was nothing more than the replication of information already available to the online public. If Mr. Guenther thinks that I am somehow using the Internet as cover or a hiding place to ambush and attack him - I will be happy to meet him anytime in person for an on-the-record taped interview on his article in Washington, DC in which I will give him every chance to clarify his comments. He can email me anytime to set that up.
Again - I am willing to continue this discussion. Is Mr. Guenther?
According to the website of one of Guenther's publishers, he received the Arthur F. Burns prize for journalism from the German Foreign Ministry in 2006. The site further states that: "Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier congratulated Guenther on the award and emphasized that he was "successful, in an impressive manner, in promoting and deepening the understanding between the United States and Germany." We encourage readers to contact the Arthur F. Burns journalist fellowship program with concerns about Mr. Guenther and his work. Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep all comments polite and professional.
UPDATE: More journalistic circling-of-wagons in defense of Guenther at the "Augsburger Allgemeine" in an article by Rainer Bonhorst entitled "Unser Mann im Orkan der Empörung." (Looks like the attack of the "B" newspapers.) The modus operandi is much the same: The author attacks emails and comments left by others that have absolutely nothing to do with the arguments put forth by Davids Medienkritik. He then disingenuously attempts to imply that Guenther's comments were simple irony.