In the long history of U.S. intelligence fiascos, few have been as minutely examined as the "Curveball" episode – the source whose fraudulent claims were largely responsible for the pre-Iraq War view that Saddam Hussein possessed biological weapons. So it's worth noting what a new, remarkable report from the German magazine Der Spiegel tells us about the spy who lied.
According to media legend, Curveball was a creation of Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi politician who headed the exiled Iraqi National Congress before Saddam's overthrow. That notion was destroyed in 2005 with the bipartisan Robb-Silberman report on intelligence. But the myth persists in many circles that, through Curveball, Mr. Chalabi had conned his neocon friends, who in turn had conned President Bush, who in turn had pressured a reluctant but spineless CIA into giving him the "intelligence" he needed to make the case for war.
But Curveball was nobody's stooge. On the contrary, he is Rafid Ahmed Alwan, an opportunistic Iraqi asylum-seeker who came to Germany in 1999. His claims to having inside knowledge of Saddam's illicit weapons program quickly made him a prized asset of Germany's intelligence service, the BND. So convinced were the Germans of the reliability of his information that in the fall of 2001 they purchased 35 million doses of smallpox vaccine for fear of what Saddam might be cooking up.
More remarkable is that even after September 11 – when then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder promised "infinite solidarity" with the U.S. – the German government refused to allow the CIA to interview Curveball in person. Often, the Germans resorted to dishonest pretexts for their lack of cooperation, such as that Curveball didn't speak English, when in fact he spoke it fluently (and as if nobody in the CIA spoke German or Arabic). "It was a blockade that made
To mark the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War, SPIEGEL ONLINE has spewed forth a flurry of articles as predictable as they are shrill. The most recent installment is a piece complete with a 50-photo picture gallery entitled: "The Pictures of the Iraq Catastrophe: Panorama of the Perverse".
What makes this gallery truly perverse is its total omission of Saddam Hussein's twenty-four year reign of war and terror - a period that could - in fact - accurately be labelled "Iraq's Catastrophe." This conspicuous omission - the fact that German media elites once again fail to remind German readers of the horror of modern-day dictatorship while bashing ideological enemies in the United States - reminds us that they have learned far less about confronting despotism than they would have us all believe.
SPIEGEL ONLINE Again Speaks with Two Tongues
Interestingly enough, there is a similar photo gallery on the SPIEGEL ONLINE English site that does show Saddam's victims. It also shows more about Saddam's capture and fewer Rambo-style images of US troops. Why the different presentation in German versus English? Why won't SPIEGEL ONLINE acknowledge Saddam's victims to its German readers? Why are US troops presented more negatively in German?
Finally - there is almost never any historic perspective when it comes to US military losses. Every loss is one too many, but there were single days in the Second World War in which the United States lost more men that it loses on average in a year of war in Iraq (roughly 800 to 900). And yet - the far left media continues to insist that America can't sustain such losses - and far too seldom is their credibility called into question for doing so.
Endnote: Somehow there is not nearly the level enthusiasm at SPIEGEL ONLINE when it comes to reporting how another greedy European conglomerate admitted its guilt in greasing the bloody palms of the Saddam regime for a little profit in the UN Oil-for-Food scandal. Of course - there's nothing terribly perverse about that...right?
Let's face it: Media tend to over-report the most vile and extreme aspects of our society. "If it bleeds - it leads" is much more than a cliche - it is a journalistic fact of life. The danger with the daily sensationalism is that it skews the viewer's perception of reality. In other words, a viewer is apt to believe that the world around him is a much more rotten than it actually is.
Interesting thought experiment: What if you were a foreign correspondent...?
Imagine you are an American correspondent in Germany. You are encouraged by your editors to report only the most extreme, outrageous, strange and dark sides of German society. Your publication chooses to ignore the 97% of issues that bring Germans and Americans together and instead focus on the 3% that most divide the two nations - such as attitudes towards prostitution, social welfare, guns, etc. This seedy sensationalism sells - and that is exactly what your editors are after. For that reason, they also strongly encourage you to write whatever you can on Neo-Nazi violence - not because the issue is genuinely troubling - (and it is) - but because it brings good ratings and reaffirms your readership's dark stereotypes of the Vaterland.
Beyond that - your editors oblige you to bring stories only on a narrow band of pet issues that they have predetermined are of "interest" to the readership. (In fact, you may have been specially selected for your job because you have an ideological propensity to dislike Germany and favor stories that make Germany look bad.) When you arrive in Berlin, you discover that Germany isn't quite the awful place you expected and - because you are a free spirit - the urge is great to report on the many complex aspects of German society. Predictably, however, your editors discourage any independent ideas that might shed a different (you might say balanced) light on things.
The pet issues and big politics are all they want. In particular, the editors want to demonstrate that Germany is a nation infatuated with pornography, cursed by extreme alcoholism and blighted by racist attitudes towards non-Germans. Every other week - if things are slow - the boss pressures you to bring a story on another hopeless unemployed wretch in East-Berlin desperate to get out of the country. He just won't publish your more "upbeat" stories or even critical stories that fall outside the narrow band of pet issues.
The editors supplement your work by sprinkling-in stories cut-and-pasted from news wires on Germans behaving badly worldwide. You eventually realize that intellectual honesty takes a distant backseat to the pet-issue template devised by your editors. Making Germans and Germany look bad at all costs - to reaffirm the stereotypes and political leanings of readers - is no longer something you can question without risking your job.
One week - your publication runs a cover depicting a giant spider drapped in a German flag and wearing lederhosen sucking the blood of a lifeless blue collar American trapped in its web. You realize that this crude reference to recent lay-offs of American automobile workers by a large German multinational is appalling and unfair. The cover sparks a slew of hateful and irrational letters-to-the-editor by readers. You want to speak out against what you now believe is hate-mongering for profit - but again - you fear for your job.
Not surprisingly, the most "self-critical" Germans - those with a particular talent for shamelessly bashing their own nation and people - are held up as heroic dissenters and showered with awards by your publication and others like it.
Finally - because quite a few other publications share the same general ideology of your own and follow the same pattern of reporting - it is not beyond the pale for your editors to proclaim that you represent the "mainstream" of American media and that you are largely fair and unbiased in reporting on Germany.
Turn the mirror around...
Now let us turn this script around. The above is a reflection of how certain influential segments of German media have operated for years now. The latest Amerika-Korrespondent for Stern magazine - Jan Christoph Wiechmann - offers an excellent example. One of his more recent articles is entitled: "Weapons Trade in the USA: An AR-15 with your Coffee?" The opening paragraph reads:
"In Europe one usually receives a cookie with their coffee. In the USA it is an assault rifle: In the Texan solitude, waitresses with highly teased hair offer the things for sale in weapon shops camouflaged as cafes. Normal daily life in Bush-Country."
The article paints a picture of daily life in the USA that is neither typical nor normal. Yet the author intentionally presents the extreme as the ordinary - not because it represents an accurate reflection of typical daily life in the United States - but because it is sure to sell and re-affirm the deeply-held stereotypes of "Stern" readers. Further, Wiechmann cleverly selects a subject - or perhaps his editors selected it for him - that has long been a favorite pet issue of left-leaning German media for years.
Another recent example is an article, entitled "US Tourist Collapses During Sex - Dead," that appeared in SPIEGEL ONLINE on an American who died after overdosing on a potency drug while engaging in sex tourism in Thailand. Certainly - had the tourist in question been Dutch, Brazilian, Russian or German - this article probably would not have made it onto the SPON website. Fellow blogger Joerg of Atlantic Review - who brought this article to my attention - hit the nail on the head:
"If it had been a German tourist, it might not have made news on Spiegel. Or maybe it would have been, if at least the pills were American."
Why is this piece newsworthy at all? The answer is simple: It offers SPIEGEL readers another choice opportunity to look down on Americans.
Looking at the larger picture...
The long-standing media patterns described above - when combined with the sort of ugly and exploitative political opportunism that marked the Schroeder re-election campaign of 2002 - serve to transform the fault lines that represent honest German-American differences of opinion (on questions such as Iraq, trade, the role of the state, etc.) into gaping chasms of misunderstanding and mutual abuse. This leads to the sort of self-reinforcing media-political feeding frenzy that we saw from 2002 to 2005, a period that produced some of the most ugly and irrational manifestations of anti-Americanism in the history of democratic Germany.
Fortunately, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have made it evident that it is possible to disagree with the United States without tapping into the overflowing keg of anti-American sentiment - fueled by the media tendencies outlined above - in their respective nations. As a result of the political changes at the very top, the level of media vitriol has ebbed over the past year or two. It is important to remember - however - that the group of people calling the shots in the German media in 2002 and 2003 are essentially still running the show today. Given the right political conditions and the media's tendency to follow larger political patterns, they would gladly return to the high-pitched anti-American hysteria that flooded German media only a few years ago.
Endnote: Allow us to offer that there is certainly some of what we describe above in American media as relates to Germany - though on a much smaller scale. It is true that some Americans still associate Germany primarily with Nazism, beer or lederhosen. If anything, however, the American media pays far too little attention to foreign issues - and it is the lack of attention to Germany and Europe that is far more troubling.
Here's a question for you: Do you remember seeing an extreme cover like this at Der Spiegel when the Euro was weak just a few years back?
Dollar Nosedive: The Downfall of the US Currency and the Dangers for the World Economy
Not only did Der Spiegel not run a derisive cover on the Euro currency in its weaker days - it virtually gushed-over with propaganda-like enthusiasm at its introduction:
Der Spiegel in 2002: Euroland The New Money Power
Viewed in isolation - the Dollar cover might not be considered anti-American. Given the larger body of work of Der Spiegel over the past decade - however - it is difficult to characterize the "Dollar Nosedive" cover as anything but a further manifestation of the festering Hate-America bias that plagues the magazine.
Euro-Nationalism as Substitute for Forbidden German Nationalism
At the same time, Der Spiegel has repeatedly avoided heaping the same sort of scorn or using the same extreme tone in highlighting the various troubles of the European economy, power grid and infrastructure despite relatively similar conditions (a weak Euro not too long ago) and incidents (power outages, train crashes, faulty infrastructure). Instead - when publishing covers on Europe - they've repeatedly engaged in overt cheerleading - (just comparethesecovers to these covers). Let's not forget SPIEGEL ONLINE's primative excitement when a Eurofighter apparently defeated two F-15s in a mock battle. This thinly veiled Euro-Nationalism is desirable and useful - in part - as an acceptable alternate outlet (along with large sporting events) for forbidden German feelings of national pride. Unfortunately, the Euro-Nationalism of publications such as Der Spiegel almost always counts anti-Americanism as one of its key ingredients.
Perhaps Der Spiegel could - just once - run a story on
America's remarkably low unemployment rate (and the jobs it has created
for millions of legal and illegal immigrants) despite record high oil
prices. But let's not forget - that would call into question the carefully crafted ideological caricature of the United States as hopeless social wasteland and home to predatory global capitalism.
Of course one can never underestimate the bipolar inconsistency inevitably on display at Der Spiegel. (Eventually what is reported must - in some way - conform with reality - after all.) In 1999, one cover asking if Europe was a new superpower was followed only weeks later by another cover asking whether Europe could still be salvaged. The extreme contradiction can only be explained by the magazine's habitual use of the extreme to sell magazines combined with the publication's utter lack of intellectual consistency. This is nothing new - and we have seen the same sort of journalistic manic-depression on Iraq in recent weeks and months - with reporting swinging like a pendulum between utter doom and gloom - including a cover declaring the Iraq war "lost" - and reports detailing progress in Iraq and the alleged comeback of the Bush Presidency.
Der Spiegel in a Journalistic Nosedive?
The record lows experienced by the Dollar are unquestionably significant for the world economy. Unfortunately, a factual analysis of the economic advantages and disadvantages of a weaker Dollar has been obscured by the blinding light of media hyperbole and anti-American sentiment at Der Spiegel. This potent combination has worked to sell millions of magazines in the past - and there is no doubt that it will continue to sell millions of magazines in the future - as a significant segment of the German population continues to indulge its voracious appetite for virtually anything that casts the United States in a negative light.
In the case of Der Spiegel's journalistic standards - it would be quite tempting to characterize them as being in a "nosedive." That would not - however - do the magazine justice. One must, after all, attain an altitude slightly above gutter-level to first make such a drop-off possible.
Of course for our friends at SPIEGEL, no social program is unworthy and nothing Bush does could ever be right. So the natural spin is Bush is out to get poor children and deprive them of social benefits - allegedly because they are "too expensive."
"I believe in private medicine, not the federal government running the health care system. I do want Republicans and Democrats to come together to support a bill that focuses on the poorer children," the president said, adding the government's policy should be to help people find private insurance."
Instead of delving into both sides of the debate and analyzing the issue in all its complexity - Bush is assigned the usual role of unfeeling villain and enemy of all that is good, right and "social" in the world. The mandatory smear photo ist auch dabei...
Bush Sneering - A Common Photo Motif at SPIEGEL ONLINE
In fact, as David Harnasch correctly points out in this excellent German language post, Bush argues that the bill in question unnecessarily extends a government program to provide benefits to middle class children - many of whom already have insurance - in effect creating an entitlement for the middle class and furthering the creep towards socialized medicine. Instead, Bush argues that a bill should be passed to focus on helping families in need find private insurance for their children. In other words - there is a fundamental debate about the role of government and whether the public or private sector should be relied on more to deliver health care to the children in question.
Unfortunately, SPIEGEL ONLINE bypasses the debate and goes for the ideologically satisfying oversimplification: Bush is Bad.
In other words, the publication fundamentally fails to acknowledge that both sides of the debate genuinely want to help children in need with health care - yet fundamentally disagree on the role of government in finding the best solution. Instead, SPIEGEL ONLINE clearly implies that one side is essentially out to harm children by stopping them from getting care. Sadly, this reinforcement of existing ideological bias is par for the course in their reporting on the United States.
"The US military is more successful in Iraq than the world wants to believe."
This all stems from last week's Der SPIEGEL magazine cover feature article by Ullrich Fichtner: An enormous, fascinating and remarkably honest report on the complex situation in Iraq. (The first link above in bolded-italics leads to the English translation of that report.) SPIEGEL ONLINE is also publishing Fichtner's report that US troops are in a remarkably good mood and have high morale. That also flies directly in the face of past SPIEGEL reporting that consistently depicted US troops as demoralized, depressed, defeated, prone to suicide and suffering from low morale.
As a long-time observer of the publication, my first reaction to reading this on SPIEGEL ONLINE was: Are they on drugs?! - this directly contradicts everything they've reported for the past four years! My second reaction was: Have they finally gotten off the drugs?! Maybe reality is finally starting to sink in!
Keep in mind that less than a year ago, Der SPIEGEL published a magazine cover (depicted below) declaring Iraq a "Lost War".
Is this abrupt about-face cynical hedging - or a genuine (and extremely sudden) change of heart? We would speculate that SPIEGEL editors have finally reached the realization that the version of reality they have painstakingly crafted for the German public since the conflict began - one of failure, disaster, debacle and quagmire for the Americans in Iraq - is no longer tenable when compared to the facts on the ground and will ultimately collapse on their heads like a flimsy house of cards. But with many American Democrats still in full irrational disaster-mode on Iraq (despite obvious recent improvement with the surge) this seems a somewhat unusual and perhaps premature move. Only time will tell...
This much we can say: For once - SPIEGEL has truly done something unpredictable in terms of its USA and Iraq coverage.
UPDATE: Victor Davis Hanson offers outstanding analysis that may - at least in part - explain what is going on at SPIEGEL. Excerpt:
"Yet the universal human desire to be associated in the here and now with the assumed winning side — and to shun perceived defeat — trumps them all. Throughout this war, that natural urge explains most of the volatile and shifting views of our politicians, pundits and media as they scramble to readjust to the up-and-down daily news from Iraq.
And so it is with the latest positioning about the surge that to a variety of observers seems successful — at least for now."
It wasn't entirely unpredictable. When the bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, we at Medienkritik realized it was only a matter of time before members of the German media would attempt to interpret the tragedy much as they interpreted the New York power outage several years ago: As a sign that America is in a state of total collapse and decay.
After the New York Power Outage, SPIEGEL Published this cover: World Power Without Power: Appearances and Reality in the USA (2003) - The Reaction to the Bridge Collapse has been Predictably Similar...
Not only is this headline beyond constructive criticism - it is more of the same cynical bashing that we have grown accustomed to in German media. It is nothing more than the usual - cheap and arrogant - hatred that German media consumers keep slurping down and sucking up. Deep down people like Marc Pitzke want to prove to themselves - at a highly visceral, ideological level - that the American system of capitalism is inherently inferior to their own statist, socialist model. So any opportunity to claim that America is in a state of total decay and collapse is taken with great relish. (No - this has nothing to do with just reporting the plain facts.)
Little context and little desire to engage in constructive criticism have become the rule and not the exception in much of the German media coverage of the United States. Disgusting but true...
SPIEGEL magazine covers - 1997 to 2006. Representative of the magazine's "objective" coverage of the United States over the past decade...
Endnote: Ironically, Minnesota - the state responsible for maintaining the bridge - is (along with Vermont and Massachusetts) perhaps the most ideologically in tune with Europe in terms of favoring left-leaning social, political and economic policies. Nonetheless - the German media will certainly find some way to drum up the usual charge: This is all Bush's fault.
There has been a small uproar of late among German media and political elites about plans of the United States to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, Israel and others to counter-balance the influence of Iran. Just yesterday, SPIEGEL ONLINE reported criticism coming from Germany's Social-Democrat (SPD) Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier. The day before, the same publication reported that the SPD's Karsten Voigt, the German government's "Coordinator for German-American Cooperation" was outraged by the proposed arms deal.
Just more constructive criticism coming from America's concerned allies and friends?
So what - other than the fact that it is politically profitable to bash the United States and Bush - could be driving the Social Democrat's sudden barrage of vocal criticism? Could this have anything to do with the fact that they are tanking in the polls and need something - anything - to grasp onto and rally the base?
UPDATE: As our readers correctly note, SPIEGEL ONLINE fails to mention two key facts about Lantos: He is a Democrat and a Holocaust survivor. Had he been a Republican - they would have highlighted it in caps along with his ultra-tight best-cowboy-buddies relationship to President Bush. Instead, he is referred to as a "US representative", a "US politician", and "Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee." But hey - let's be fair - SPIEGEL ONLINE did mention one key personal detail about Lantos to the German audience: He is originally from eastern Europe (you know - that region so many Germans love and respect) - Hungary to be exact. Bottom line: SPIEGEL ONLINE omits the two facts that give Lantos moral authority with their readers (Democrat - Holocaust survivor) and emphasizes the fact that he is from the "US."
Let's put it this way - had Lantos been a Republican - this would have
been a front-page headline throughout
German media. The reaction would have been far more
violent and outraged. Furthermore, the blame would have quickly been associated with Bush.
Main article: After hearing California Representative Tom Lantos' recent comments on former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, it is rather obvious that Schroeder, now a well-compensated employee at Gazprom, is fervently disliked on both sides of the American political aisle. These comments, as reported here, speak for themselves:
"Speaking at the dedication ceremony for a
victims of communism memorial in Washington, Lantos said their
departure from the European scene heralded a closer relationship in the
Atlantic alliance, which was badly splintered over Washington's
decision to launch the invasion of Iraq without strong European
Lantos' remarks reflected the lingering bitterness
over French and German opposition to the war, as he recalled how the US
saved Europe from fascism and protected it from communism for
generations. He said the two leaders had turned their backs to the US
and its fight against the next wave of tyranny, Islamic fascism.
The congressman then provoked gasps of amusement and surprise in the
crowd of several hundred when he said he would like to call Schroeder
'a political prostitute, now that he's taking big cheques from (Russian
President Vladimir) Putin. But the sex workers in my district
During his final weeks in office in 2005,
Schroeder signed an agreement between Germany and Russia to build a
pipeline under the Baltic Sea to supply gas directly to Germany.
After leaving office, he became chairman of the North European Gas
Pipeline, which is 51-per-cent owned by Russian state natural gas
company Gazprom - a move that provoked outrage in Germany.
Russia has used its energy reserves as a political chip in its
continuing bid for hegemony in eastern Europe, and has come under
severe criticism for repression of press and other freedoms."
Lantos is also probably quite frustrated at Germany's continuing lack of serious commitment in Afghanistan, where the US, UK and Canada have absorbed around 85% of the fatalities - despite the fact that the operation is a supposedly "multilateral" undertaking.
But consider this - one could argue that Mr. Lantos' words are a bit harsh. They certainly weren't terribly diplomatic. But then, how would the German and US media react if George W. Bush made a billion dollar pipeline deal with - say - a major energy player like Exxon or LukOil towards the end of his second term and then accepted a lucrative position at the same company just three weeks after leaving office? Would the rhetoric be any softer than that of Mr. Lantos?
Think about it...
Endnote: Commenter Helian has this to say:
"So you thought you'd seen the ultimate in hypocrisy? Guess again!! Check out this story.
It seems that Representative Tom Lantos, a Democrat no less, gave vent
to some less than charitable remarks at the expense of booster seat
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at the recent unveiling ceremony of a new
Washington monument dedicated to the victims of Communism. In fine, he
declared that, if not for the fact that he was loathe to so grossly
insult the prostitutes of his district, he would describe the
diminutive anti-American hate exploiter as a "political whore."
But wait! It gets better. It seems that a certain Ulrich Wilhelm,
described as a spokesman for the German government, "clearly and
decisively" rejected the comparison of Schroeder with a whore, a
sentiment with which any self-respecting hooker must certainly concur.
Schoolmarm Wilhelm was, apparently, quite upset about Lantos'
"unmannerly mode of referring to a former Chancellor of the German
Federal Republic." Apparently the "mannerly mode" for referring to
Chancellors prescribed by the current German incarnation of Emily Post
is drastically different from the "mannerly mode" of referring to U.S.
Presidents. Just ask Ms. Wieszorek-Zeul, whom SPON would, no doubt,
describe as an "expert" in such matters.
What can you say? When the hypocrisy gets this thick, you can't
really react with scorn. It's too ludicrous. All you can do is laugh."
And let's not forget this about Gerhard Schroeder: He continues to insist that Vladimir Putin is a "flawless democrat." Now if that isn't political prostitution - what is?
They say there is a kernel of truth in every joke. Looking over the new "satire" section at SPIEGEL ONLINE, it is abundantly evident that the "humor" directed towards the United States is riddled with the same sort of stupid stereotypes and superficial ignorance as the mainstream coverage. Here are two gems - (with the German original and our translation beneath each):
Laura Bush, First-Lady von ihrem Mann, Herrn Bush,
Präsident der USA, will der Schweriner Stadtbibliothek Bücher aus den
USA schenken. Bestimmt so Schwarten wie "USA – We are the
best and greatest country in the world", "Fuck good old
Europe!" oder "Praise the Lord G.W.Bush!" +++
First-Lady of her Husband, Mr. Bush, President of the USA, wants to
donate books from the USA to the Schwerin city library. Certainly such classics
as “USA – We are the best and greatest country in the world", "Fuck
good old Europe!" or "Praise the Lord G.W.Bush!"
Wow - that is really funny. Nothing old, tired or hackneyed about those stereotypes.
Bush = hyper-patriotic, Europe-despising, religious fanatic.
Here's another side-splitter:
Bush denkt um
US-Präsident Bush sich überraschend für die Rettung des Weltklimas entschieden
hat, erntet er in Europa nichts als Kritik. Seine Pläne böten nur Altbekanntes,
alles sei vage und zudem in die ferne Zukunft vertagt. Klimaexperten warnen
jedoch davor, Bushs Kehrtwende pauschal abzulehnen.
Vielmehr müsse man die positiven
Ansätze in den Vordergrund stellen. Auch stimme es nicht, dass Bush keine
konkreten Aussagen treffe. So sei bekannt, dass er ein Dreisäulenprogramm zur
Verringerung der Treibhausgase vorbereite: Die USA übernehmen die Führung beim
Klimaschutz, treiben die Entwicklung rauchärmerer Bomben voran und treten für
das Verbot von Treibhäusern ein.
Although US President Bush surprisingly decided to work towards saving the
world climate, he has harvested nothing but criticism in Europe. His plans are
more of the same, everything is vague and postponed until far in the future.
Climate experts warn, however, that Bush’s change of direction should not be
One has to place the positive aspects in the foreground to a greater extent.
It also isn’t true that Bush made no concrete commitments. It is known that he is
preparing a three pillar program to reducing greenhouse gases: The USA will
take the lead in protecting the climate by pushing for the development of
low-smoke bombs and by pushing for a ban on greenhouses.
Wow - another classic. Low-smoke bombs = stupid war-monger Americans - now that is truly funny. It just doesn't get much better than that. Move over Letterman and Leno.
Oh - and we really don't buy the "Jeder kriegt sein Fett weg" argument (meaning everyone is made fun of in a relatively proportional manner). As with most of the German media - there is an obsessive and hostile over-focus on America and conservative viewpoints.
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?
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
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.
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.
This disgusting excuse for journalism speaks for itself. This story on "psychology" was featured today near the top of the SPIEGEL ONLINE homepage:
Headline: "Psychology: Why some People want to have Sex with Buildings and Machines" (Photo caption depicts women holding models of the World Trade Center)
So much for showing respect to the American friends. It doesn't matter that nearly 3000 people died in those buildings. Now it is apparently OK to exploit them for tasteless stories on people with sexual perversions.
As David sometimes says: "You may throw-up now."
Contact SPIEGEL ONLINE with your thoughts by clicking here. You must enter your Email, Anrede (Herr = Mr., Frau = Ms.) Vorname = First Name, Nachname = Last Name, Ihre Nachricht = Your Message. The other fields are not required.
Predictably, SPON didn’t let the opportunity of the 400th
anniversary of the founding of the Jamestown settlement slip to launch one of
its characteristically distorted propaganda broadsides.
The title of this latest offering, “Battle
over the Murder and Tobacco Settlement,” gives us a broad hint about the level
of “balance” and “objectivity” we are to encounter in the rest of the piece.
The title certainly doesn’t deceive. SPON lays on the propaganda in generous
dollops from beginning to end. With
rare historical insight we are informed that:
“Today historians know exactly who they (the original
settlers) were, and that knowledge is very revealing. A priest, but no farmers, along with carpenters, masons, smiths
and doctors – not the occupations one would expect for a village intended to
provide for itself. Plunder, robbery,
exploitation. That must have been the
idea from the beginning.”
Not really, SPON. The “idea from the beginning” is there in the historical record for
anyone who cares to read it. The
settlers hoped to acquire food by trading with the Indians. Unfortunately, they arrived at a time of
unprecedented drought, and quickly found they would have to provide for
themselves. The idea that they planned
to rely on “plunder, robbery, and exploitation” is a propaganda fairy tale of
the 21st century rather than the reality of the 17th.
SPON informs us ominously that, “The settlers raised tobacco
instead of wheat.” Evidently they never
took the time to read the Surgeon General’s warnings. They imported black slaves to help in the fields, negligently
failing to build a time machine so they could learn that a practice that had
been accepted as normal for countless centuries would be perceived as an evil
200 years later, almost exclusively thanks to the efforts of white Europeans
living mainly in England, the very country that sent out the first settlers to
Evidently the editors of SPON are wringing their hands lest,
in the hoopla surrounding Jamestown’s 400th anniversary, we forget
that “Millenia before the first Europeans arrived there were already people on
this continent, and they represented a highly developed civilization.” They needn’t worry. We hear the same highly embellished legends
of the “original occupants,” of America every Thanksgiving and Columbus Day
like clockwork. The fairy tales we hear
and that are accorded the status of “history” in our children’s school books
are much the same as the SPON version. The Indians were noble stewards of the environment who peaceably went
about creating a high culture and devoting themselves to peerless works of art
until they were rudely pushed aside and gratuitously massacred by the evil
white Europeans. As one of SPON’s
subtitles announces, the whole history of America was nothing but
“Extermination, Genocide, and Cruelty.” A couple of the usual obligatory “Indian chiefs” are dragged in to bitch
about the white man’s wretched treatment of their noble forefathers. SPON conveniently overlooks a few salient
facts in its paeon to the “noble savages.”
In the first place, it was the Indians, not the settlers,
who were the first to break the peace at Jamestown. In spite of the fact that the first settlement was built on an
island not previously occupied by the Indians, it was violently attacked less
than two weeks after the arrival of the first colonists. This was hardly the last time the Indians
initiated hostilities. They mounted a
surprise attack in 1622 that killed, without distinction, 347 men, women and
children. In the process they destroyed
a fledgling school that had been founded to teach both Indian and white
students. They attacked again in 1644,
butchering another 500. Apparently we
are to believe that, because the colonists defended themselves, they are guilty
of “extermination, genocide and cruelty.”
It’s instructive to look at the reality of “Indian culture,”
rather than the tarted up fairy tale version dished up by SPON. When whites arrived in the new world, they
found the “peaceful native Americans” cheerfully butchering and torturing each
other. The Spanish conquistadors found
temples whose walls and floors were caked inches thick with the blood of
sacrificial victims. Take a close look
at those works of art SPON informs us of so breathlessly. Aztec and Mayan murals and carvings depict
bloody sacrifices and ceremonies, and gruesome torture of the victims. North America was also a scene of mutual
slaughter, torture, and periodic starvation. Far from being the “first occupants” the Indians encountered by the
whites had often annihilated earlier occupants of their territories. Far from being a uniform type, there are
marked genetic differences between the different waves of occupiers. Modern Indians, preferring comforting myths
to historical truth, have fought to suppress research in this area. In one notorious incident, they tried to
claim the “Kennewick man” remains as one of their own and literally bury the
evidence that humans of a type unrelated to them had been earlier occupants of
the land. In a word, SPON would have us
swallow the racist notion that whites were “evil” because they did to the
Indians precisely what the Indians were doing to each other. You see, they didn’t have the proper skin
When the whites arrived, the Indians began treating them
exactly the same way they treated each other. Many of the earliest white occupants of Pennsylvania, not to mention its
colonial governing bodies, were dominated by Quakers who refused to participate
in war, even in self defense. The
result was that hundreds of these unresisting settlers were butchered by the
Indians, and robbed of all that they had, often by “noble savages” who came
hundreds of miles to participate in the slaughter even though they had no claim
to the land whatsoever. From this we
can see quite clearly what would have happened if we had been “fair” to the
poor, innocent Indians in the modern, “progressive” sense. The Indians typically smashed out the brains
of white infants against the nearest trees because they made too much noise on
the trail. Captured whites were
horribly tortured with fire in ordeals that lasted whole days, as long as the
terribly burned victims could be kept alive.
This is the reality of the “high culture” of the Indians
that SPON would regale us with. With
all due respect to Chief Bill Miles of the Pamunkeys and Chief Ken Adams of the
Mattaponi, I don’t mourn the passage of this part of America’s history. If, however, they really think it is such a
tragic loss to humanity, perhaps we can shut down their gambling casinos and
recreate their societies in every detail in that portion of eastern Germany
originally occupied by the Slavs. After
all, surely the editors of SPON wouldn’t dare to be a party to the acts of
“Extermination, Genocide, and Cruelty” that led to the current German
occupation of these lands. What a
fitting act of reparation, not to mention righting of historical wrongs
perpetrated by Europeans, to reestablish the culture of SPON’s beloved Indians
in all its original splendor right in the heart of Europe!
For our bilingual readers: Check out this CNN piece. Then look at this SPIEGEL piece on the same topic. Notice the difference? Note that CNN offers context and qualification - where SPIEGEL makes not attempt at anything but black-white propaganda. SPIEGEL also sets up the article so as to discredit those calling on the media to reportprogress in Iraq (in this case General Michael Walsh) - or anything but the latest bombing for that matter. Just more evidence that SPIEGEL ONLINE is a profoundly biased media outlet.
Anyone willing to translate the SPIEGEL piece into English - please post that in the comments section and we will put up a side-by-side comparison later. (Posted by Ray)