Being President isn't easy. Dropping approval ratings at home - and now this from SPIEGEL? The afterglow from the 2008 Berlin speech has clearly faded with the German media elite...Et tu Brutus?
Here's what's interesting about this article: The small headline below the article summary reads "The German Prism: Berlin Wants to Spy Too." If America's activities constitute spying - than the German government not only "wants to spy" - it has been "spying" for decades now. In many instances, Germany and other European governments have acted more aggressively than the United States.
Even Augstein tacitly acknowledges that his criticism of the United States could equally be a criticism of European governments. This is the pot calling the kettle black while simultaneously criticizing it. Put another way, Augstein's commentary is both inconsistent and incoherent.
It boils down to this: Every society must grapple with the eternal conflict between privacy and security - and in many cases - European countries come down more heavily on the side of security. America - after all - does not have a national ID card or Anmeldungspflicht.
But Augstein's work has little to do with some noble crusade to protect the privacy of European citizens. Instead, he is doing what SPIEGEL has always done: Scratching for some pretext to attack the "imperialist other" - the American boogeyman - while attempting to stoke Transatlantic conflict. This was and remains a time-tested formula for moving copy and cashing in with SPIEGEL readers.
Celebrating Obama has outlived its usefullness. Anti-Americanism has a much longer shelf-life...
Spiegel's crack Amerika-Korrespondent Marc Pitzke strikes again! Apparently - SPIEGEL Online has gotten an extra early scoop on the death of GHW Bush!
Or perhaps its a bit of wishful thinking on the part of Marc Pitzke - who has already prepared a masterpiece of false praise, which is, in fact, a poorly disguised litany of attacks against the elder Bush's son George W.
Pitzke gets the usual low blows in: The mandatory griping about endless war, torture and how terrible a place America has become since the first Bush governed in a more innocent time. Ah the good old days!
But most importantly - SPIEGEL gets it wrong - again. This isn't the first - but perhaps one of the most dramatic examples of the magazine's total bias and lack of professionalism. Pitzke's next story: Elvis still lives - in New York - in the studio next to mine!
Today I attended a seminar at the Goethe Institute in Washington DC on Germany and the challenges of terrorism. In attendance was Stefan Aust, until recently the editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel. During the questions-and-answer period, I introduced myself and asked him whether he thought it would be fair to say that Der Spiegel and other German media had sometimes veered from legitimate criticism and questioning of the United States over the past few years into anti-American populism designed to profit from some need of the readership. Not surprisingly, he replied with a "no" and went on to say that he felt that his publication's coverage of the run-up to the Iraq War was fair and included voices from both sides - even those who supported the war!
It is interesting here to remember Jeff Gedmin's encounter with a Spiegel reporter a few years back. A look at our archives and the covers below may also lead some to question Herr Aust's conclusion.
Nope. No anti-American populism in sight...
Endnote: The Goethe Institute organizers did mention that recordings from the seminar would be on NPR. I just hope they don't play the question asked by a woman before me - which was an embarrassing monologue that went on with no real point for nearly 10 minutes.
There are several troubling situations in the world at the moment: There is genocide in Darfur. There is unending unrest in Congo. The war in Chechnya has claimed thousands of lives with no end in sight. North Korea seems on the brink of exploding a nuclear weapon. Islamic extremists continue to threaten the civilized world.
But wait a minute. There are elections in four weeks in the USA and a new Bob Woodward book that casts the Bush administration in a less than favorable light. And believe it or not, there are German publications that actually believe they can influence the outcome.
Some bloggers began to argue that "Der Spiegel" might actually be run by pro-American editors and young professional yuppies with no real left-wing axe to grind. Well, as we predicted, it was only a matter of time before the magazine awoke from its hibernation and returned to its traditional modus operandi. After all, bashing Bush and America on spectacular covers is not only politically well-received among readers, it is also exceedingly profitable. Thus the latest installment:
Power and Lies: George W. Bush and the Lost War in Iraq
We all know that defeat for America (and particularly Bush) is one of the deepest fantasies of many in the German media and on the Angry Left. How else could you explain all of the Iraq = Vietnam comparisons? How else could you explain the self-censorship in German media in the run-up to Iraq in which pro-war viewpoints were systematically discouraged and even shut out? How else could you explain the massive self-censorship in German media when it comes to reporting positive progress in Iraq?
In all of this, let us make one bold prediction about this edition of "Der Spiegel" before it has even come out: The magazine will have made absolutely no real attempt to interview or fairly represent the opinions of anyone who would defend American efforts in Iraq or contend that the war in Iraq has not already been hopelessly lost. In other words, just as in the run-up to Iraq, there will be massive, self-imposed censorship of unpopular views. "Der Spiegel" simply does not possess the integrity and intellectual honesty to present its ideologically-inclined readership with an honest, two-sided debate on Bush and Iraq for fear of losing subscriptions and aggravating its customers. The simplistic, inaccurate, black-and-white coverage of the United States that has predominated at "Der Spiegel" for years now is particularly ironic considering that the magazine and its readership view themselves as paragons of nuance and profound discerners of the world's many shades of gray. The same people who so mindlessly demonize the United States with the most simple-minded, propaganda-like slogans (Bombing-Terror for Freedom - Torture in the name of Freedom - Blood for Oil - Bush is a Liar) are the same people who violently oppose what they perceive to be the "for-us-or-against-us" stance of the Bush administration.
And allow us remind our media friends at "Der Spiegel" of just one fact: The "war" in Iraq has certainly been a difficult and challenging one with many setbacks: But the battle for Iraq isn't over and it hasn't been lost just yet. We know that our good friends at "Der Spiegel" would love defeat for the United States in Iraq to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but if there has been one fatal flaw in the history of the German character, it has been the premature and over-confident assumption that one's opponent is defeated before they have actually been defeated.
And allow us to remind our friends at "Der Spiegel" of something else they may have forgotten: American defeat in Iraq would represent a catastrophe for the millions of people of Iraq and possibly for the wider Middle East, and serve as a major setback for efforts to politically reform (and yes democratize) the region. American defeat in Iraq would almost certainly transform wide swaths of the country into terrorist safe havens and embolden and strengthen Islamic radicals as never before. An American loss in Iraq would leave a nation of millions at the mercy of radical sects and outside governments and would likely end in a civil war that makes today's sectarian strife and car bombings look like a picnic. An American loss in Iraq would leave that nation's vast oil wealth in the hands of unknown groups battling for power, fueling further conflict, bloodshed and terrorist activity. In other words, American defeat in Iraq would be a major loss for the entire civilized world, including Germany and Europe and would make the world significantly less safe.
But to SPIEGEL, none of that matters. Short-term defeat and humiliation for Bush and America trump any long-term humanitarian and geopolitical considerations. The massive humanitarian disaster that followed American defeat and withdrawal in southeast Asia - with millions of deaths and millions more refugees - was of little interest to "Der Spiegel" and other media elites. The same has been and would be true in Iraq. Saddam's atrocities have received only a tiny fraction of the coverage that Abu-Ghraib and Guantanamo have received. The chaos, death and suffering that would follow an American defeat in Iraq on a massive scale would also be of little interest to the high minded humanitarians at publications like "Der Spiegel."
Right now, SPIEGEL reporters are busily rehabilitating and canonizing Bob Woodward for returning to the fold. They honestly seem to believe they can influence the upcoming US mid-term elections. They know they can sell more magazines with spectacular covers. And any hope of constructive transatlantic dialog and understanding between Germans and Americans continues to dwindle as the media's innuendo, cynicism and sensationalism continue: Bush lied and people died!
According to SPIEGEL's print edition of March 20, 2006 (p. 17), due to tough U.S. resistance, Germany will get only limited access to the UN Security Council talks on Iran's nuclear program. Der Spiegel wrote the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, refused entry to his German counterpart Günter Pleuger to the so-called P5 talks at the UN, and he continues to persistently call EU-3 proposals "British-French proposals".
Mr. Pleuger indeed is hard to imagine as participant in any talks with the U.S. at the UN. I vividly remember his sneering, arrogant tone during the UNSC talks pre the Iraq invasion. .
I gather Mr. Bolton felt he could do without this guy's advice.
Just when you thought you were safe. SPIEGEL has just released another one of its famous hate-America covers. They really can't help themselves. There is an enormous demand for anti-American innuendo in Germany that is simply too lucrative to pass up. The latest edition is a cynical masterpiece:
"America's Shame: Torture in the Name of Freedom"
Torture in the name of freedom? Since when has America advocated torture as a means of promoting freedom? When someone is tortured or abused in a German jail in violation of established standards, does that mean the German government is torturing in the name of democracy as well? When illegal immigrants suffocate or commit suicide in German custody is that also in the name of democracy? It is as if the United States had never addressed the issue. It is as if the McCain bill torture ban had never been passed by Congress and signed by the President.
This is a dangerously cynical equation of two concepts. Particularly in a Europe where the general public is already so jaded that many no longer believe in the concept of freedom. Why? Because instead of reporting on the systematic violation of human rights in nations like North Korea and Iran the German media finds it necessary to exploit two year old photos of Abu Ghraib for profit (again and again). Never mind that Saddam's Abu Ghraib was a thousand times worse or that hundreds of thousands are starving to death in Kim Jong Il's gulags. There is no need for context in the world of asymmetric journalism.
Germany's Shame: Standing By While Dictators Murder Millions
Germany opposed toppling Saddam and his regime of mass graves. It was not Germany or the UN but the United States that ended the killing in the Balkans. And while SPIEGEL lectures us on "America's Disgrace," the German government is out actively promoting business ties and trade fairs with the Sudanese government as the slaughter in Darfur continues. Ex-Chancellor Schroeder favored lifting the EU arms embargo on China, perhaps the world's most prolific violator of human rights. German efforts to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions have proven to be more of the same impotent diplomatic dupery that too many Europeans support at all costs. In the meantime the Iranians have taken advantage of the stalling to advance their insane ambitions to destroy Israel and threaten the world.
The most disgraceful aspect is that Germany has repeatedly coddled, condoned and even assisted regimes of dictatorship and mass murder despite its own disgraceful national history. And then, in an effort to relativize its own shameful history and diplomatic impotency, German media publications like SPIEGEL pump the numb, jaded audience full of the vile America hate to which so many have become emotionally addicted. The irony of it all is that publications like SPIEGEL would not even have the freedom to print this exploitative trash had it not been for the massive sacrifice in lives, blood and toil of American soldiers to liberate Germany from Fascism and defend it from Communism.
"The regulars here know that I consider what happened at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere torture. Spiegel’s latest has nothing to do with opposing torture. How could it? It plays into the hands of the torturers, and pulls the rug out from under those who genuinely oppose torture, and want to stop it once and for all. It is really just so much red meat thrown out to the hordes of pathetic, bitter, envious America-haters who are Spiegel’s “core constituency.” The editors know that anti-Americanism is synonymous with big bucks in Germany. It pays. They’ve been a little reserved in expressing it lately, though, because they know they’re being watched. They don’t want to sacrifice respectability entirely in the pursuit of profit. For that reason, the “new” Abu Ghraib” pictures seemed like a godsend to them. They could strike the all usual phony poses with all the usual fake pathos from the increasingly shaky high ground, and convince themselves no one would call them on it, because, after all, they were “opposing torture.” Their imbecile readers will swallow the bait as usual. Problem is, nobody with a brain is buying it this time around. It’s just to easy to see the money trail leading up to the “moral high ground.” (emphasis ours)
"The images from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib will endure, and they will haunt America for decades to come. A global power can make mistakes and give in to folly, but when its moral foundation begins to crumble, it is constantly forced to deal with the images of its own humiliation and disgrace."
That is what it is really about for SPIEGEL: Long-term humiliation and disgrace for the United States. Abu-Ghraib as the new Mai Lai.This is not about thoughtful, constructive criticism. This is not about genuine, collegial interest in seeing America right its wrongs. This is not about transatlantic dialog and understanding.
This is about a harmful, vindictive rush to the moral high ground at America's expense. Americans should recognize this shameless bashing for what it is and become extremely wary of any and all criticism they hear blaring from across the Atlantic. Americans must begin to tune-out and turn-off the hateful voices that seek only to profit from their misfortune.
By the way, don't ever expect SPIEGEL to dedicate a cover to this story (no it doesn't matter that it's actually current and not over two years old): America's Pride.
Another highlight of Germany's #1 investigative journalism magazine: the current edition of left-wing, fiercly anti-American SPIEGEL presents an article on "THE EMPIRE OF SHADOW - The worldwide operations of the U.S. Secret Intelligence Service", and the picture on the cover shows ... members of the Canadian military!
Caption under left picture: THE EMPIRE OF SHADOW The worldwide operations of the U.S. Secret Intelligence Service (Source)
Caption under right picture: Members of Canada 's shadowy anti-terrorism unit Joint Task Force Two, escort three detainees Jan. 21, 2002 as they arrive at the airport in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Source)
Remember the German media's reaction to a power outage in the U.S. in September 2003? SPIEGEL TV was clearly taking pleasure in the misfortunes of Americans:
"BLACKOUT IN AMERICA - The dazed world power was plunged into chaos by the largest blackout in the super power's history: Cities in the dark, planes on the ground, and a nation marching single-file like geese through the darkness. The land of limitless opportunity was shut off by a couple of exploded fuses. A world power between perception and reality - SPIEGEL TV with observations from a country whose lights have gone out."
Last week the lights literally had gone out in parts of Germany, with hundreds of thousands of Germans without electricity for days. And SPIEGEL's reporting - and that of the rest of the German media - was full of sympathy with the poor folks who had to sit in the dark and the cold.
Well, how about some unbiased SPIEGEL TV reporting on the German power outage? Could read like this:
"BLACKOUT IN GERMANY - The dazed European power was plunged into chaos by the largest blackout in the economic super power's recent history: Cities in the dark, planes on the ground, and a nation marching single-file like geese through the darkness. The land of social justice was shut off by a couple of inches of snow. A European power between perception and reality - SPIEGEL TV with observations from a country whose lights have gone out."
How would you expect the German media to react if two weeks of violent rioting broke-out in the United States and President George W. Bush failed to respond to the crisis for the first ten days?
Certainly, one could expect numerous articles pointing to the "social decay" of the American system and the dangers of too little "state" and too great a reliance on "free markets" and "capitalism" as was the case during the Katrina tragedy. And, without a doubt, one could absolutely expect to see the cover pages of magazines like "Der Spiegel" and "Stern" filled with the usual images of condescending Schadenfreude, accompanied by headlines such as, "America in Flames" or "Riots: The Forgotten Americans" or "Chaos in America: Social Injustice Explodes".
One could also expect, with a high degree of certainty, that the riots would be interpreted as evidence that George W. Bush is under further "massive pressure" and on the brink of failure and impeachment. The media would scream ceaselessly about the fact that Bush did not react immediately and wonder over and over and over again: "Where was the cavalry?!" Bush would again be portrayed as the purveyor of a cold, heartless and unjust political vision founded upon neo-conservative, capitalist principles that have supposedly left America devoid of "social justice". The media would further point the finger at the Bush administration and accuse it of complacency despite "having known" conditions were rife for social unrest.
But none of that happened. Why? Because the riots took place in France and the president was Jacques Chirac. Here are the cover pages from "Der Spiegel" and "Stern" during the riots:
German Magazine Covers during the French Riots: Only one cover (bottom-right) even mentioned France in a small subheadline...
Even more "conservative" magazines like "Focus" also took little if any note of the riots on their cover-pages. Why might that be? Why are the French treated with such discretion while the Americans are attacked, impugned and abused at every opportunity? Why are the same German media that so diligently seek-out scandal and disorder in the United States so content to downplay and even ignore such issues in France?
The answer to these questions is simple: Ideology. The French elites have grown to be the greatest intellectual allies of the German elites. They stand for the same model of "social democracy" and resistance to what is perceived to be "American-style" global capitalism. To criticize the failings of the French would be to criticize ones' own failings. To expose the many flaws of the French "social" system would be to expose the many flaws of the German "social" system. To overemphasize the failure of the French to integrate minorities and end discrimination in housing and the workforce would be to overemphasize the same failings in Germany. To question the viability and stability of French multiculturalism in the face of a rapidly increasing Muslim minority would be to question the same in Germany. To scrutinize the impacts of mass unemployment in Paris would be much like scrutinizing the impacts of mass unemployment in Berlin.
And so German media don't criticize, expose, overemphasize, question or scrutinize the French as they would the Americans.
And when people come to this site and ask us what we mean by "bias" in the German media, we can point to no better example than the recent lack of salacious, drooling coverage of the French riots that one could have expected with absolute certainty had they taken place in New York or Los Angeles. One need only look at the cynical, Schadenfreude-filled reaction to Katrina in the German media to erase any doubt about that.
In a recent article on the Vietnam War and the 1964 Tonkin Gulf incident entitled "The Torpedo Attack that never was",
SPIEGEL ONLINE draws some sinister historical parallels to modern day
Iraq. That should not come as a big surprise, of course, since
deep-down the magazine and its anti-American readership would
desperately like to see the Iraq War develop into another humiliating
defeat for the United States.
The article, written by Joachim Hoelzgen, starts off with the following:
Vietnam War divided the USA in the seventies - and the nation is still
dealing with it. American historians have now found out that tricks and
cover-ups already played a big role at the beginning - a parallel to
the Iraq war."
There is absolutely no
attempt to hide the intent of the article: America is still supposedly
haunted by Vietnam and the war's "beginning" is parallel to that of the
current Iraq conflict.
Never mind that the Vietnam conflict hardly began in 1964. Never
mind that US involvement in Vietnam stretched back well into the 1950s.
Never mind that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was hardly the only factor that drew America into Vietnam.
The piece then goes into historians' work on the Gulf of Tonkin
incident and discusses findings that the naval encounter that was
reported to have occurred between the USS Maddox and North Vietnamese
patrol boats never actually happened. It is at this point that the
dubious comparisons to Iraq begin:
"Now parallels to
the Iraq War are being drawn that suddenly make the happenings in the
Gulf of Tonkin interesting again. Because in both cases the claims of
the intelligence services played a role that collapsed like a house of
cards, but were still used to justify a war.
In the USA a debate is swirling about the responsibility of the
President. George W. Bush sees himself accused of lying, since no
weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq. At the same time
an old trauma has returned to the populace: The Vietnam War."
course. Hoelzgen wants desperately for us to believe that an "old
trauma" is returning to the United States. And for SPIEGEL ONLINE
readers that translates into one simple thing: Iraq = Bush's Vietnam.
Nothing could be more pleasant to the ears of SPIEGEL ONLINE readers
than the wishful thinking of author Joachim Hoelzgen, who naturally
never informs them that another side to the debate exists. Hoelzgen
never mentions the view, held by many, that there is no good evidence
that Bush lied or covered-up anything related to going to war. In fact,
many Germans simply assume that Bush lied because they rarely - if ever
- hear the "other side" of the story and simply believe what their media is telling them.
The result is a transatlantic canyon of misunderstanding marked by
conversations that take place on completely different wavelengths.
But let's be honest. We know the German media by now. Why would Mr.
Hoelzgen want to challenge himself or his readers by mentioning the
other side or bringing up differing viewpoints? It would ruin the
wonderful premise of his piece that his readers so crave: Iraq = Bush's Vietnam.
And besides, predicting American doom is a tried and tested formula for
selling books and magazines in old Europe, so why disturb the lucrative
status quo and rock the boat for a little thing like the truth?
The Revisionist View of Vietnam
And just as with Iraq, SPIEGEL ONLINE primarily focuses on American
wrongdoing and defeat when discussing Vietnam. The article continues:
like John F. Kennedy, Johnson and Richard Nixon initially, McNamara
clung to the belief that Vietnam was a cornerstone of the free world
which, if it came loose, would mean the Communists would take over all
of Southeast Asia as a result. They didn't realize that the main goal
of Ho Chi Minh and his generals was in no way the conquest of
neighboring countries, but instead the reunification of Vietnam."
pious historic ignorance. So what, exactly, were the objectives of the
Soviet leaders in Moscow were who were bankrolling Ho Chi Minh and
supplying his armies with billions in weapons and aid Mr. Hoelzgen? I'm
sure that they were only interested in the peaceful "reunification" of
Vietnam as well and had no further ambitions, just as they were only
interested in bringing "peace" and "unity" to Afghanistan not long
And of course Mr. Hoelzgen forgets to mention how entire North
Vietnamese divisions occupied swaths of Cambodia and Laos during the
war while so-called peace demonstrators in the West screamed about
every American incursion into those supposedly "neutral" areas. Mr.
Hoelzgen conveniently forgets to mention the massacres, torture and
terror implemented on a mass scale by "Ho Chi Minh and his generals"
during and after the war. Mr. Hoelzgen never mentions the incredibly
brutal occupation of Cambodia by Communist forces and the mass murder
of 2 million of that nation's 7 million inhabitants, something that
would have never happened had US troops remained in Southeast Asia. Mr.
Hoelzgen never mentions the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who
fled, drowned, were imprisoned, tortured, starved and murdered by "Ho
Chi Minh and his generals" during and after the war, (a process that
continues to this day, largely ignored by the European Left.) Mr.
Hoelzgen never mentions that the US lost not the war but the peace in
Vietnam by failing to aid the South Vietnamese on a level proportionate
to the aid the North received from the Soviets after withdrawing in
Instead, readers are presented with the usual one-sided view of
Vietnam and again fed the fallacious comparison to Iraq, not because
the comparison is true or particularly accurate, but because it
represents the magazine's desired outcome: Defeat for the United
And, as a finishing touch on this revisionist hack job, SPIEGEL ONLINE includes a series of 9 images
to further reinforce the left's own revisionist stereotypes of Vietnam,
Iraq and the USA.
Above: The Photo Series Link as Displayed on SPIEGEL ONLINE
Below is a selection of some of those images. And,
for every SPIEGEL ONLINE image, we have included an additional
image forgotten by the German media establishment and the Angry Left:
This is an image SPIEGEL ONLINE wants its readers to see:
Terrified Vietnamese Children with GI's in Background
This is an image SPIEGEL ONLINE does not want its readers to see:
The Remains of Vietnamese Civilians after they were
massacred by the thousands by North Vietnamese forces at Hue during the
1968 Tet Offensive
This is an image SPIEGEL ONLINE wants its readers to see:
An American Bomber over Vietnam
This is an image SPIEGEL ONLINE does not want its readers to see:
The Cambodian Killing Fields of the 1970s: Millions Shared their Fate after the US Withdrew from the Region
This is an image SPIEGEL ONLINE wants its readers to see:
George W. Bush: "Ready for War"
This is an image SPIEGEL ONLINE does not want its readers to see:
An Iraqi Man Holds All that Remains of his Relative from one of Saddam's Mass Graves: Hundreds of Thousands Died While Most European "Leaders" and Media Looked the Other Way...
In closing, we at Davids Medienkritik would like to suggest a new
title for this latest SPIEGEL ONLINE article on Vietnam that more
accurately reflects its cynical revisionist view: "Vietnam: The
Communist Atrocities that never were."
And, in a very real sense, the magazine's willful decision to
gloss-over Communist atrocities in Southeast Asia is remarkably similar
to its willful decision to largely gloss-over Saddam Hussein's repeated
campaigns of mass murder and invasion.
So clearly: When one objectively tallies the number of articles the
magazine has published on real and alleged American transgressions in
Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq and then compares that total to the number
of articles the magazine has published on Communist genocide in
Southeast Asia or Baathist atrocities in Iraq, the proportion will reveal a staggering revisionism completely out of whack with historic
reality but entirely in sync with the political leanings of the
magazine's readership. Sadly enough, SPIEGEL ONLINE is largely
representative of most German media in this respect.
This phenomenon is not unlike the German peace movement's keen hatred of President Bush and remarkable tolerance for Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao. Ignorance of history and hypocrisy go hand-in-hand...
Endnote: In related news, SPIEGEL ONLINE is
currently celebrating "Europe's Peaceful Revolutionaries" as the
inheritors of Che Guevara and Gandhi on its most recent magazine cover.
"The Inheritors of Gandhi and Guevara: Europe's Peaceful Revolutionaries"
Rumsfeld: (...) Everyone wants to have the Iranians as part of the world community, but they aren't yet. Therefore there's less predictability and more danger.
SPIEGEL: The US is trying to make the case in the United Nations Security Council.
Rumsfeld: I would not say that. I thought France, Germany and the UK were working on that problem.
SPIEGEL: What kind of sanctions are we talking about?
Rumsfeld: I'm not talking about sanctions. I thought you, and the U.K. and France were.
SPIEGEL: You aren't?
Rumsfeld: I'm not talking about sanctions. You've got the lead. Well, lead! (emphasis added)
This will send chills through the spines of Germany's diplomats! Lead - does that mean we have to ask uncomfortable questions to our beloved business partners? Like about that unique approach to solve Iran's stock market problems ("Iranian Economics 101: 'Hang two or three people'")?
We'd rather follow a more nuanced, more cooperative course of inaction. After all, our outgoing foreign minister Joschka Fischer had successfully convinced Iran that "nuclear energy will be used only for civilian purposes." (Schroeder on Oct. 23, 2003: "The results of their (the three EU foreign minister's ) trip demonstrate the success of a strategy of cooperation".)
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.
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.
Quite an unlikely place to make a commitment to the policy of the current U.S. administration: the French philosopher Andre Glucksmann, in an interview with Germany's left-wing weekly SPIEGEL, defends America against accusations of imperialism:
The mythology of American superiority is used to make the US responsible for everything and to make it guilty for everything. (...) The world has been multipolar for quite a while, the US cannot dictate everything. Putin is more imperial than the US, and modern China resembles ancient Egypt of the Pharoahs, with the modern technology married with the modern equivalent of mass slave labor.
Glucksmann rejects the notion that poverty is one of the causes for terrorism:
Throughout history people have been repressed, tyrannized, occupied, have experienced deliberate famines and exploitation without resorting to the kind of hateful terrorism that you see today. For Glucksmann, true heros are those who under such circumstances do not resort to mass murder and terror. Terror has poisoned all modern liberation movements, from Algeria to Vietnam; when the means become horrible, they destroy the ends, regardless of how noble they might be.
And modern terrorism based on hate isn't a function of poverty, but is also at home in the palaces of the rich.
This hate is centered on three objects: Jews, Americans and Women. (emphasis added)
John F. Opie has translated much of the interview (the excerpt above is taken from his posting.)
Recently one of Germany's larger media firms announced that it planned to purchase a majority stake in ProSiebenSat1, Germany's second largest broadcasting corporation. So what? No big deal, just another corporate merger, right...?
Wrong. This isn't just any media firm: It's Axel Springer. And Axel Springer is the sort of company that touches a very raw nerve with certain groups of Germans. For starters, it is a firm that values a strong transatlantic partnership, supports the Israeli peoples' right to existence and is dedicated to fighting totalitarianism. But that is just the half of it. The firm, which owns newspapers like "Die Welt" and the best-selling tabloid "Bild," is also perceived as conservative. And to top it all off, the Chairman of Axel Springer is one Mathias Doepfner, a man who has mercilesslycriticized the resurgentanti-American, anti-capitalist, pro-appeasement tendencies in German society.
So when Springer announced it wanted to expand its reach, a shrill cry went up from the ranks of the German left that democracy itself was being threatened by over-concentration of media. Particularly loud, fearful objections were registered at Stern and Der SPIEGEL. The SPD's Vice-Chairman for its parliamentary fraction, Ludwig Stiegler commented openly that, "This is a very alarming concentration of media power in a conservative publishing house." Stiegler added, "Springer shouldn't celebrate too soon. I am certain that the anti-trust authorities will take a very close look at the merger."
Germany's Real Media Hegemon: Bertelsmann
As is so often the case, the outcry was a highly selective one motivated in part by personal interests and political fears. Remember that Stern is Germany's most widely read weekly with 8 million
readers and Der SPIEGEL is more or less tied for second-place with
FOCUS with around 5 million. And it just so happens that Bertelsmann,
far and away Germany's largest and most powerful media corporation(and
Axel Springer's major competitor), owns a majority share in Stern and a 25.5% stake in Der SPIEGEL through its subsidiary Gruner & Jahr.
And let's just compare Germany's two largest media firms for a moment: Bertelsmann has a turnover of 17 billion Euros, a presence in 63 nations and a workforce of over 76,000 employees. Axel Springer has a turnover of 2.5 billion Euros, a presence in 27 countries and a workforce of 10,700. Should its merger succeed, Springer would still be much smaller than Bertelsmann. Yet we are supposed to be worried about the over-concentration of media power at Axel Springer? Is there something wrong with this picture?
The Wall Street Journal: "Axel Springer's Enemies"
No one has given a better account of the ongoing hypocrisy in German media and politics vis-a-vis Springer than the Wall Street Journal. Here are excerpts from an outstanding August 11 editorial that hit the nail right on the head:
"German democracy is under attack. At least that is what a flock
of the media elite has been claiming since Axel Springer, Germany's largest
newspaper publisher, said Friday it would buy ProSiebenSat.1, the country's
second-largest broadcasting group. This "cannot be in the interest of
democracy," said Michael Konken, the chairman of Germany's journalist association.
Frank Werneke, a trade union leader, called for "the containment of media
power across sectors."
These concerns would sound more sincere if they also had been
voiced four years ago when Bertelsmann, the world's fourth-largest media
company, took control of RTL Group, Germany's largest broadcaster. But back
then, there were no such warnings about democracy's imminent decline.
Bertelsmann's outlets are more to the liking of the German left.
Let's look at some of the facts. Although the acquisition will
nearly double Springer's sales to about €4.2 billion, Bertelsmann still dwarfs
its competitor, with global sales more than four times higher. Bertelsmann's
German business alone still outpaces its rival with about €5 billion in sales.
RTL is slightly more popular than ProSiebenSat.1 but neither broadcaster
reaches 25% of the German audience -- the ceiling regulators have set for
combined print and television companies. (...)
The principles Springer journalists are expected to support are
freedom and democracy in Germany and efforts to bring the peoples of Europe
closer together; reconciliation between Jews and Germans, which includes
support for Israel's right to exist; the trans-Atlantic alliance and the
liberal value community with the U.S.; the rejection of totalitarianism and the
defense of Germany's free, social-market economy.
What sounds like a manifesto that any reasonable democrat in
Germany should be able to sign is now being called a threat to the country's
democracy. Without doubt, the company's commitment to the trans-Atlantic
relationship is what irks its opponents the most. Springer publications often
criticize U.S. policies but its readers will not find the kind of hysterical
anti-Americanism now so prevalent in much of Germany's media.
Consider the two weeklies Stern and Der Spiegel, both with
circulations of over a million and links to Bertelsmann. Der Spiegel in
particular is considered Germany's most high-brow and influential political
magazine. To give a flavor of the kind of image these two publications spread
of the U.S. and the Bush administration, one only has to look at some of their
Last fall, when General Motors was considering layoffs at its
German Opel unit (which in the end did not happen), Stern's front page showed a
giant cowboy boot with the American flag on it about to step on a group of
people grouped together to form the Opel logo. The headline was "The
Wild-West Method." Another front page in March 2004 showed President
George W. Bush in front of an American flag above what looks like a Middle
Eastern city from which smoke is rising up. Headline: "How America lied to
the world." The story was about the Iraq war, of course.
Before the U.S. election last November, Der Spiegel showed a
caricature of President Bush dressed as a cowboy ready to shoot his opponent.
The headline here was "Will America become democratic again?" Another
front page in 2003 showed the American flag with little assault rifles and gas
nozzles superimposed on the stars, headlined "Blood for oil. What Iraq is
Television, particularly public broadcasters ARD and ZDF, whose
news shows are still the most trusted, often echoes such themes. According to
Media-Tenor, a media analysis center headquartered in Bonn, their Iraq coverage
was at times even more negative than that of al-Jazeera.
Rather than stifling the political debate, Springer's expansion
to the TV world is likely to introduce the kind of "plurality of
opinions" its opponents claim he threatens. What Springer threatens is not
the diversity of view but the uniformity of view and group think -- and that
can only be healthy for Germany's democracy."
We at Medienkritik would like to think that the above was inspired to some degree by our work. Apparently the Journal's article caught the attention of Springer Chairman Mathias Doepfner, who made reference to it in a recent interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE. We wanted to link to that interview, but for some reason SPIEGEL ONLINE has taken the unusual step of restricting access to the piece with a fee after only two days. So we will work on an English translation for you. Stay tuned for that...