The Politics of the German Media

As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice kicks off a European trip in Germany this week, it's a good time to survey the political landscape of the German media, which is largely focused on the continuing uproar over secret CIA counter-terrorism operations in Europe.

Der Spiegel, the popular newsweekly that leans to the political left and specializes in exposés, scored big with its story about the large number of secret CIA flights passing through Germany.

The editors of Die Welt, a conservative newspaper with politics comparable to the Wall Street Journal editorial page, preferred to focus on less on allegations of American wrongdoing than on charges of liberal German hypocrisy. They played up the story of Otto Schily, the former Interior Minister who is now accused of covering up what The Washington Post described on Sunday as "a CIA mistake."

According to The Post, Schily was told in May 2004 that CIA agents held a German citizen in secret captivity for five months before realizing he was not involved in terrorism. Schily served under center-left prime minister Gerhard Schroeder, who was highly critical of the Bush administration. But Schily never revealed the CIA's mistake.

The tabloid Bild, Europe's best-selling newspaper, is reliably right-wing but does not emphasize political coverage. On a day when most other German front pages were dominated by photos of Rice, Bild ran a photo of a couple kissing in front of a Christmas tree.

'See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,' was one German newspaper's reaction to revelations that government officials failed to reveal what they knew about secret CIA actions in Germany.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, often described as Germany's leading newspaper, is classically "liberal" in the European sense, meaning supportive of free markets and skeptical of socialism. Its editorial stance leans towards Germany's Free Democrat party. The FAZ editors did not so much support the U.S.-led war in Iraq as oppose its critics.

Also highly regarded is the more leftist Süddeutsche Zeitung, and the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, which specializes in a high-brow mix of news and analysis from a center-left perspective.

Two other popular national newspaper, both on the left politically, are Der Tagesspiegel and and Die Tageszeitung.

"How are terrorists meant to be treated? Like common criminals, prisoners of war or something else?" Der Tagesspiegel asked. The Berlin newspaper said Europe should weigh the options carefully and reconsider its stance of moral superiority. "Morals are one thing, fighting terrorism another. Is the Geneva Convention our only guideline when attacks are to be prevented? The US government has deserved to be criticized, but to climb the high horse and benefit from these methods is hypocritical."

Unfortunately for linguistically challenged Americans, virtually all of these sites are published in German only. English-only readers interested in news from Germany have to rely on Spiegel Online and the very fine English-language site of Deutsche Welle, the German public broadcast network.

This afternoon: What the European right is saying.

By Jefferson Morley |  December 6, 2005; 9:15 AM ET  | Category:  Europe
Previous: Speigel Online's Scoop on Secret CIA Flights | Next: The Euro-Right Responds


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I think there is a feeling across Europe that a lot of the basic liberties removed from suspected terrorists doesn't actually help make us any safer.

Also, as mentioned on, I believe, Channel 4 news here in the UK there may also be a difference in opinion on what actually constitutes torture. Certain forms of psychological 'persuasion' possibly used is considered torture in Europe.

Whatever the case the level of outrage in Europe is growing. Like most things in the world, if another country is violating basic human rights like the right to a trial and things like that then there is indignation and annoyance. When it's revealed that YOUR country has been helping this foreign nation carry these acts out that boils over into fury.

Posted by: David Patrick, UK | December 6, 2005 10:58 AM

Ach du lieber, how things've gone downhill in Germany! Surely Dr. Rice's current Charm Offensive there will be successful. Perhaps Karen Hughes and Liz Cheney should be sent to provide additional support.

Posted by: A. Terhil, Jr. | December 6, 2005 11:52 AM

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil' ..? for sure..

makes a lot of sense in quite a few other ways, too: first of all, you're looking at *chimps*..

Posted by: skeptic | December 7, 2005 10:04 AM

It is sad that Americans have to go outside their country to find a media that tells the truth, and even sadder that they don't have a stomach for the truth. They would rather nod like toy dogs in the window of a car. Americans have their job cut out for them.
Unless Americans control their government those from other countries will see them as guilty as their government. If you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.
" A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government"
Edward Abbey

Posted by: Gael | December 7, 2005 11:53 AM

It is easy for Condaleeza to lie when she is in Europe, because the definition the U.S. Administration is now touting for torture is, that which causes " an organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." With no one knowing who they are holding it is easy for them to torture to death and hide the body. The American nation is one of psychopaths and murderers, which the people are complicit in. If the leaders are ever put on trial for international war crimes, the people of this nation should be considered as guilty for their complicitness in these crimes. They don't care enough to change things. As long as things are good for them,that's all that matters. The pursuit of consumerism is time consuming, how can we expect them to care as they are doing their work.

Posted by: SpeakupforDemocracy | December 8, 2005 09:10 AM

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