Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Americanization of "Der Spiegel": Case of the Compassionate Pastor's Daughter

The German news magazine Der Spiegel has a reputation of being something like the New York Times of German journalism.

Unfortunately, the Age of Merkel has found much of the German "quality press," imitating the worst habits of the Times, which have long since become chronic in the wake of their first Whitewater report from Jeff Gerth in 1992.

The cover of the latest Spiegel (39:2015) kind of screams "in the tank."

Obviously this is Angela Merkel, the scourge of Greece and other "periphery" countries of the eurozone, who Spiegel Online columnist Roland Nelles calls the "compassionate pastor's daughter" (mitfühlende Pastorentochter), depicted by Spiegel as Mother Teresa. Or, rather, "Mother Angela." The subtitle says, "Merkels Politik entzweit Europa" ("Merkel's policy divides Europe"). Which implies on its face in the current political context that the great heart of the Mitfühlende Pastorentochter is what is causing this division because the lesser nations of the EU can't live up to her compassionate wonderfulness.

For Greece and millions of the other victims of the economic policies of the Mitfühlende Pastorentochter, this depiction from Greek cartoonist Yannis Ioannou of 04/15/2013 is a more realistic image, showing the Com passionate Pastor's Daughter and her Finance Minister delivering their compassion to the people of Greece:

The Spiegel's lead article by Peter Müller ("Der alte Kontinent") concludes with a quotation from Second Generation Frankfurt School philosopher Jürgen Habermas:

„Zur Herausbildung einer europäischen Identität gibt es nur eine Alternative“, schreibt Jürgen Habermas. „Der alte Kontinent verschwindet von der weltpolitischen Bühne.“ Der Philosoph hat recht. Aber die Flüchtlingskrise zeigt, wie weit der Weg noch ist.

[There is only only alternative to constructing a European identity," writes Jürgen Habermas. "The Old Continent will disappear from the world-political stage." The philosopher is right. But the refugee crisis shows how long the way remains.]
But Habermas takes anything but an EU Über Alles approach to European politics. He has been a severe critic of the Mitfühlende Pastorentochter's brutal neoliberal economic policy, especially toward Greece, and of her nationalist-leaning domination of the eurozone and of the EU more generally. I don't think you'll find anywhere Habermas calling Mother Merkel a Mitfühlende Pastorentochter.

Müller does state the a practical reality:

Europa verabschiedet sich von seinen Regeln, mit jedem Stück Zaun, das in den Himmel wächst, zerbricht die Union ein Stück mehr. In der Krise suchen die Mitgliedstaaten Zuflucht bei den althergebrachten Mitteln nationaler Souveränität: Stacheldraht, Wasserwerfern und Passkontrollen. Willkommen im Europa des Spätsommers 2015.

[Europe is bidding farewell to its rules, with every piece of barbed wire that is growing into the heavens the Union breaks apart a little more. In the {refugee} crisis, the member states seek refuge in the usual old means of national sovereignty: barbed wire, water cannons and passport controls. Welcome to the Europe of late summer 2015.]
That's true. But he proceeds to recite the irrational fears and legitimate apprehensions of Eastern European governments.

And he doesn't provide the essential context, which is that the Mitfühlende Pastorentochter has very deliberately pursued policies to minimize the integration of the EU and the development of European policies and processes to deal with the ongoing crises that have persisted for years: the euro crisis; the devastation wreaked on the whole eurozone but especially the periphery by her own dogmatically neoliberal austerity policies; the continuing and escalating demands of Britain for special treatment and exemption from basic European obligations; the authoritarian turn in Hungary away from the democratic brand of government that is supposed to be a key purpose of the EU to defend; a refugee crisis that began long before it hit the recent headlines in the US; the lack of a common foreign policy that has seen Britain and France intervening militarily in the Middle East and exacerbating the refugee crisis there without accomplishing much of anything visibly constructive and has produced a near-incoherent Ukraine policy.

The Mitfühlende Pastorentochter has been the chief leader of the EU since she became Chancellor in 2005. Heckuva job, Angie, heckuva job!

Prior to the cover article, Spiegel has a brief interview ("„Die Gewalt nimmt zu'") with Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who also states plainly and accurately, "Die europäische Politik ist darauf ausgerichtet, Flüchtlinge abzuschrecken. Das ist falsch." ("European policy is directed toward scaring away refugees. That is wrong.")

But the cover article is a shameless kiss-up that might even embarrass Politico. Titled, "Lady of the Heart" ("Herzsdame"), it reminds me of Michael Gordon's articles for the New York Times on military affairs, which usually leave me wondering: did he just take a Pentagon press office document and put his name on it? Or did he reword a line or two here and there out of some semblance of shame?

The Spiegel piece lists ten authors. But how many stenographers does it take to repeat the Chancellor's preferred framing that the only problem with the Mitfühlende Pastorentochter's refugee policies is that it may just be too Christian and open-hearted for practical politics because the Mitfühlende Pastorentochter must interact with mortals of less exalted moral status:

Nur Zustände zu beschreiben und Gefühle, das reiche nicht, sagt Angela Merkel. „Wer in Regierungsverantwortung ist wie wir, der hat eine andere Rolle. Wir müssen den Leuten Antworten und Lösungen bieten.“

Es klingt beherzt, aber auch ein bisschen gespenstisch: Ist ein Bericht aus der Realität jetzt schon ein Anschlag auf die Regierungslinie? Darf die Wahrheit nicht ausgesprochen werden, weil sie nicht zu Merkels unverwüstlichem Optimismus passt? Bis zu eine Million Flüchtlinge werden dieses Jahr nach Deutschland kommen. Schaffen wir das?

Merkel sagt Ja, natürlich. Die Kanzlerin hat vor drei Wochen erklärt, dass Deutschland ein freundliches Land sei, das Menschen willkommen heiße, die vor Krieg und politischer Verfolgung fliehen. Es waren Sätze, wie man sie von ihr nicht kannte, frei von Taktik und Berechnung.

[It is not sufficient to describe feelings and situations, says Angela Merkel. "Whoever has responsibility in government like we do has another role. We must offer the people answers and solutions."

It sounds strong-hearted, but also a bit spectral: Is a report on the reality now even an blow against the government line? Can the reality not be expressed, because it doesn't fit into Merkel's irrepressible optimism? Up to a million refugees will come to Germany this year? Can we handle that?

Merkel says, yes, of course. The Chancellor declared three weeks ago that Germany is a friendly country that welcomes people who are fleeing from war and political persecution. Those were sentences that one has never known from her before, free from tactics and calculation.]
Those three paragraphs would be a very useful model for a class on How To Do Kiss-Up Journalism.

That's the whole framing of the article. As is often the case even with sloppy and in-the-tank reporting, a careful reader can dig out some elements of the article that aren't entirely consistent with a polemic position favoring the Mitfühlende Pastorentochter. It's certainly the case that accommodating and integrating refugees is a specialized policy that requires qualified personnel and adequate facilities. Aside from xenophobic and religious prejudice that cheerfully uses real difficulties as excuses, the absorption of a million refugees a year into even a country of the size and economic resources of Germany requires a serious commitment of resources.

And the immediate humanitarian response is only one part of a larger context of refugee issues. The continuing failure of EU policy, including allowing Hungary to remain a member in good standing of the EU while xenophobic authoritarianism gained ascendancy over democratic institutions there, is a proximate cause of the current acute phase of the crisis. The continuing wars in the Middle East are another. The Ukraine crisis is also relevant, both because of its potential to generate new war refugees and also because tension with Russia over Ukraine complicates any efforts to cooperate with Russia to bring peace to the Middle East.

But neither the real demands of absorbing refugees nor the medium-range foreign policy challenges should be an excuse for leaving the refugees into Europe in the lurch to starve or to die in high-risk human smuggling operations.

And PR operations by the Mitfühlende Pastorentochter and her media sycophants about the alleged moral superiority of the Germans in the matter should not hide the reckless irresponsibility of her EU policies over the last ten years and their direct and indirect effects on the current acute phase of the refugee crisis.

But it's worth stressing that the Spiegel cover story is only nominally critical of the Mitfühlende Pastorentochter for her alleged impracticality. The entire framing of the story is about her superior moral position. For instance: "Merkel versucht, Deutschland zu einer moralischen Führungsmacht in Europa zu machen. Darin steckt auch ein Hauch von Hybris." ("Merkel is trying to make Germany into a leading moral power in Europe. There is a touch of hubris hidden there.")

Because, you see, in the Spiegel article's view, the inferior European partners can't quite rise to the high moral plateau on which the Mitfühlende Pastorentochter operates. "Europa will dem deutschen Verständnis von Humanität nicht folgen." ("Europe will not follow the German understanding of humanity.") If only the rest of Europe were on the high moral level of the Mitfühlende Pastorentochter!

At the very end of the piece it's pointed out that even Israel could learn from the superior morals of the Mitfühlende Pastorentochter's Germany. As if they hadn't laid it on thickly enough already.

And somehow, the cover story never gets around to being specific about the particular European political goal of the lofty moral stance of the Mitfühlende Pastorentochter: to use nationalistic pressure (unilateral German decision-making on absorbing refugees and reinstalling border passport controls) to force Germany's EU partners to knuckle under to the demands of the Mitfühlende Pastorentochter. A continuation of the extend-and-pretend approach that she has applied not only to the euro crisis but to the years-long refugee crisis, as well.

And all this fawning over the Christian virtues of the Mitfühlende Pastorentochter weren't enough, Spiegel tosses in a love note - the subtitle even calls it a "declaration of love" (Liebeserklärung) - from columnist Cordt Schnibben, "Abschwellender Bocksgesang," that asks, "isn't it nice to have a Chancellor that some people criticize for having acted in too human a manner?" ("ist es nicht schön, eine Kanzlerin zu haben, der einige vorwerfen, zu menschlich gehandelt zu haben?") Schnibben even refers to her, without apparent irony, as "holy Angela" ("heilige Angela"). Seriously. If Spiegel doesn't get generous access to more planted stories from the Mitfühlende Pastorentochter's office from this issue, it could give crass pandering a bad name!

With journalism like that from the alleged "quality press," it really is hard to see how the EU can survive, much less thrive.

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