Udo Ulfkotte’s book Bought Journalists (Gekaufte Journalisten) was scheduled for publication in English in May 2017 under the title “Journalists for Hire”. However it seems the publication was delayed and then cancelled and to date no copies of the book are available in English. OffG is publishing a number of “summaries” of the contents made for us by ChrisG. Part 1 covered the Introduction. Below is Chapter 1, Simulated Press Freedom – experiences with publishers which comprise approximately 25% of the whole text
Truth – only for journos?
The first chapter takes up about a quarter of the complete text.
UU wonders at media support for the EU and Euro, even while publics across Europe are critical. He quotes J-C Juncker:
We decide something, put it out there, and wait a while to see what happens. If there is no great outcry and no pushback, because most have no clue what the decision was, we go ahead – step by step, until there is no going back. Juncker 1999, on deepening the EU1
- Why do our media applaud such politicos instead of challenging them? – Because they make common cause with the elites.
- Why do leading media around the world demand ever more foreign military adventures, in the teeth of strong public opinion? – Because our alpha-journalists are the long arm of the NATO Press Office.
- Why do our media praise unlimited migration from all sorts of places as ‘enriching’, while the populace would like certain restrictions imposed, the sooner the better? – Because industrial and financial elites want plenty of cheap labour.
Many more such incisive questions could be posed, he says. The most important question lurks in the background: Who really rules Europe? – not the citizens, for sure. Democracy hardly comes into the picture, only an illusion of democracy, a cleverly concocted phantasm.
Could there be an ‘opinion cartel’ – a group of the richest most influential heavyweights from industry, finance and politics, pulling strings behind the scenes and steering our thoughts via the media? Is that ‘conspiracy theory’? Well, respected media organs have carried astonishing statements to this effect. E.g. the Frankfurter Rundschau (FR) reports how the Euro was devised by a secret elite network – a former chairman of Bilderberg [Belgian businessman Etienne Davignon] has said so.
A Munich research student has contrasted the adjectives applied to Putin and Obama from 2000 to 2012 in 80 FAZ articles. These show Putin always BAD, Obama always GOOD. So a once respected organ is no longer non-partisan or objective. Perhaps because it is too close to the elites?
An ARD TV documentary titled Strippenzieher und Hinterzimmer (‘String-pullers and Back Rooms’) – showed journalists, ministers and party functionaries consorting in a conspiratorial world of jiggery-pokery away from the public eye [on Youtube; UU’s ARD link gives a 404 ‘not found’]. The journalists featured there considered it normal behaviour, but took offence when challenged. One responded (in an NDR report):
We deal in secrets. And we have to understand politics, and the viewer or listener or reader must not find out. He must only understand what he is told by us.
What happens is our trade secret. The same goes for lobbyists. No lobbyist speaks publicly about who he talks to, what documents he receives or where he pushes them or what the result is. It’s the same with us.
The value lies in our ability to learn the truth and then – however bitter it may be for some – to withhold it from broadcast or publication.
UU comments: so truth is only for journalists? His book will strip away illusions of a free and honest press.
UU then discusses the ‘Kuwait incubator babies’, a lie devised by the PR firm Hill & Knowlton to boost support for the first Gulf War, at a fee of $12 million. At the time UU was editor of a newspaper, and saw at firsthand how totally fabricated propaganda was given traction by the German press to swing German opinion in favour of war against Saddam – who up until then had been a “good leader” in German eyes.
He contrasts this with a personal experience from some months earlier, when at the Iran-Iraq war front he witnessed where Saddam’s troops had attacked Iranian forces with German-supplied poison gas, at Zubaidat in July 1988. He was appalled at the effects of the gas; but there was no wave of disgust in Germany: the media remained silent about this real event, in stark contrast to their enthusiastic coverage of the fabricated ‘incubator’ lie.
At this point, UU mentions his planned sequels to this book: one on the tricks the German media use to con buyers of advertising, and a third exposing journalists whose names appear on internal lists of the PR industry. [NB: UU died on 13 January 2017, aged 57, before he could complete this plan.]
Bought truths – of elite networks and the secret services
Looking back, says UU, “I was myself an actor, corrupt, manipulative, spreading disinformation.” He too enjoyed special rebates, free accommodation in 5-star hotels, chummy trips with leading politicians; he too, with the support of his employers, was appointed to positions in foundations, and gave talks to organisations close to the secret services. He too, as a journalist with FAZ, was bought to provide positive reports. He let it happen. His employers expected no less.
He says times have changed: now paid-for reporting is the norm. The EU pays ‘independent’ journalists to write ‘independent’ reports that polish the EU’s image. It works in reverse: two British reporters managed to bribe MEPs to make changes in legislation. Swiss journalists are given SFR500 cash in an envelope when they attend a ‘press conference’. One Swiss media company offers politicians a beautiful portrait in return for a paid advertisement. A famous TV current affairs presenter made a 20 minute puff piece for Amway, attracting no criticism. Researchers have identified supposedly serious reporting that reads just like advertising copy.
UU quotes a 2003 lecture by peacereseaercher Dr Heinz Loquai, detailing how media ‘soften up’ the public for war:
From the Washington correspondent of the FAZ we learn among other things that Bush studies the Bible every day, prays regularly, and directs his actions in accordance with the question ‘What would Jesus do?’ The president is ‘the epitome of modesty and folksiness’; though there may be an ‘arrogant streak in Bush’s character’, still he is ‘a man of love.’ His ‘share of missionary zeal’ is held in check by his ‘statesmanlike deliberation’; the ‘decisions of this natural political talent gain expression’ through ‘patient waiting’. Of course Bush knows he is no intellectual, but he can depend on ‘his political instinct, his cleverness and his mother wit’. Thus instructed, we too can rely henceforth on the objectivity and judicious verdicts of the Washington correspondents of Germany’s leading weeklies and dailies! Embedded in Allied forces, embedded in the policy-media network in Washington – where’s the difference?
That encomium of Bush was penned by one Matthias Rüb, who a year later was awarded (for another article) the Arthur F Burns Prize, for which the German Foreign Ministry selects candidates. The jury includes such figures as Sabine Christiansen [criticised by many for her softball interviews of politicians] and Stefan Kornelius of Süddeutsche Zeitung [targeted by the satirical TV program “Der Anstalt” for his heavy involvement in Atlanticist think tanks]. These two will feature often in the book.
Many business journalists, UU says, also write under pseudonyms for PR publications of firms they are supposed to report on. Editors accept payments to ensure their journalists don’t treat politicians too harshly. TV financial programme presenters accept well-paid gigs at banking conferences. UU calls Germany a bought – a sold-out – republic, deluged every hour with purchased truths, in particular on politics and economics.
Journalists learn how to form or strengthen public opinion through certain networks: UU knows from his own career. German media are comfortable giving ‘authorisation’ rights to those politicians they interview. A Spiegel blog from 2012 records:
Sometimes when a German journalist is facing an interviewee from the US and at the end offers him the possibility of reviewing his quotes, the interviewee stares at him as if he’s an alien in Jihadi costume: you’re giving me control? In Germany, ‘authorisation’ has been the norm for decades. Der Spiegel, true, did not invent it in the 1950s (amusingly, we’re supposed to have snitched it from US News & World Report). But we’ve cultivated it so strongly it’s become standard practice in the profession.
Thus do journalists put themselves in the hands of the powerful, UU remarks. They are courtiers. Leading journalists are enveloped in elite networks inaccessible to ordinary citizens. They say it’s to facilitate hardnosed digging, to put the powerful on the spot; after all, the media are the ‘Fourth Estate’. But even a newsreader for ZDF, Claus Kleber, once likened Germany’s TV news to North Korea’s. And Kai Diekmann, chief editor of the ‘independent’ tabloid Bild am Sonntag, is a member of the controversial Atlantic Bridge. Josef Joffe, publisher of the weekly Die Zeit (and, says UU, a “censorious wet blanket”), is a member of the Aspen Institute, a think tank reputedly close to the CIA. Joffe justifies it thus:
Most Germans are not very friendly towards the USA. I write against that majority.
Does Joffe not know, asks UU, that the premises of the Berlin Aspen Institute are suspected of hosting officers of the US secret agencies?
UU doubts that even a very pleasant and open-minded colleague like Stefan Kornelius of SZ can really report independently on political matters when he is enmeshed in so many political lobby groups. The SZ itself was horrified when a correspondent of ZDF sang at a birthday bash for Mrs Merkel, saying:
“Journalists do not do that. They are observers, not participants. Anyone too close to particular politicians should no longer report on them or their concerns, otherwise credibility and independence have gone overboard.”
When news of US spying on Germans broke, a change of tone became evident in Kornelius:
Kornelius’ recent editorials give the impression of an insulted stenographer who realises he has perhaps been riding the wrong horse. With diplomatic tensions growing between Germany and the USA, not only will cocktail receptions and prize ceremonies across the Atlantic become less frequent; they are now also less esteemed by Germany’s elites.
UU names other leading media people ‘riding the wrong horse’:
- Roland Tichy, chief editor of Wirtschaftswoche (Economics weekly) who chairs the CDU-linked Ludwig Erhard Foundation, is a board member of the Johanna Quandt Foundation [she was the richest woman in Germany; her Foundation supports training for business journalists], and of the Friedrich August von Hayek Foundation.
- Holger Steltzner, economics editor of the once respected FAZ, is also a board member of the same market-radical and anti-democratic Hayek Foundation. His official FAZ profile does not mention this.
Transatlantic organisations with offices in Germany were able in 2014 – according to the Washington Post and the US Embassy – to bid for US funds if they could influence Germans to promote US interests, e.g. regarding free trade agreements. Successful manipulation of German opinion leaders was worth between $5000 and $20000. The German Embassy website, at the time of writing, had an application form on its website inviting bids, and boasted about the number of bids received. Did our alpha-journalists, asks UU, not know of this?
Inside Germany, the main political parties operate their own Journalism Academies. How can their graduates remain party-independent? UU’s own experience shows they can’t. While working at the ‘independent’ FAZ he also sat on the planning committee of the CDU-linked Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
Looking back, says UU, he was a lobbyist, influencing public opinion, including on behalf of German secret agencies. FAZ management encouraged closer contacts with western intelligence agencies, and were happy to see his byline on reports largely drafted by them. He gives an example from 16 March 1993: “European firms help Libya build a second poison gas factory” which, like many such reports, spread around the world. It was drafted in his presence by two BND officers in a reception room at FAZ HQ. These officers were employed to write articles for famous German media titles, with full knowledge of the owners. The BND maintained a small well-hidden office above a shop two blocks from the FAZ building, where classified material was kept.
Having been ‘played in’ with this first stage, says UU, the journalist is then taken to the next stage of ‘co-operation’, receiving stacks of secret materials to be used at the journalist’s discretion. A steel safe had to be acquired to hold these.
UU says he had no idea at that time of the contempt with which the secret services spoke of journalists: ‘cheaper than a good whore, all for a few hundred a month,’ as Philip Graham of the Washington Post quoted a CIA agent. UU says he never received payment for such activity, he along with the many colleagues in a similar situation simply felt great working for the secret agencies.
And not just BND. British intelligence paid for him to attend conferences at Wilton Park (set up after WW2 to re-educate Germans). In summer 2005, as chief correspondent of the glossy Park Avenue, he had an hour-long phone conversation from his office with former CIA director James Woolsey, whose wife was active in the German Marshall Fund, a transatlantic propaganda organisation. The topic was industrial espionage. Woolsey wanted the magazine’s publishers to help spread the idea that US secret agencies never engaged in such activity in Germany. After the call, the publishers sent a thank-you bouquet to Woolsey’s secretary.
UU notes that FAZ comes top of the reading list for 88% of lobbyists – worth a closer look, he says.
How I was bribed by an oil company
On his many foreign trips, says UU, he was provided with ‘background reading’ by the BND. Although the accuracy of the information could not be checked, his editors encouraged him to spread it, with the attribution ‘according to intelligence circles’. Refusal, it was made clear to him, could lead to dismissal, as happened to a pilot [an Iraqi refugee in Germany for 14 years] who did not want to fly undercover for BND and was sacked for ‘endangering state security.’ He notes that in addition to its 6000 employees, BND has around 17000 ‘informal’ colleagues, including many of Germany’s foreign correspondents.
UU, with his editor’s approval, was active in the Federal Academy for Security Policy. He was released for six weeks in summer 1993 to work for the German Marshall Fund, where among other assignments he accompanied New York police on night shift, leading to laudatory articles. In New York he met the Shah’s son, Reza Cyrus Pahlavi, who was eager for media exposure in support of his CIA-backed ambition to regain the Persian throne.
The German Marshall Fund, says UU, was founded by Guido Goldmann, son of Nahum Goldmann, founder of the World Jewish Congress. Its goal: ‘to promote leaders who will engage in the sphere of transatlantic relations.’ Innocent enough, but it really means: promote pro-American lobbyists. Hence UU’s ‘honorary citizen of Oklahoma’ award in 1993, arranged by the Marshall Fund behind his back to cement the pro-US stance in his reports. After this, he says, he broke off all contact with the Fund (unlike his colleague Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger, chief foreign policy editor of FAZ).
His editors, says UU, were happy for him to accept foreign trips from companies such as Shell, and report favourably on them. When in 1997 a journalist accused UU of corruption (‘bribed by Shell’), FAZ supported a libel suit for him. And lost. And it wasn’t even as if that trip had been a 5-star jaunt: the journalists had been threatened by half-crazed men in military gear wielding machine pistols10.
FAZ: A corrupt head lurks behind it
UU tells how in 2012 a FAZ colleague was given a cost-free 5-star trip to China by the firm Thyssen-Krupp. His resulting puff pieces made no mention of this funding, although the German Press Council requires such transparency. FAZ later conceded that the trip was ‘not normal and not acceptable.’
Laughable, says UU, who then describes his own all-expenses-paid trips to Oman: not just the flight, but the ever-attentive 24-hour services of the Sultan’s staff, who managed to prevent unmonitored contact with local people. The German Embassy, too, was anxious to forestall adverse comments about Oman in FAZ. We were nothing but the Sultan’s lackeys, says UU, but felt ourselves to be not just extras, but main players in a powerful network. We cold-bloodedly supported a brutal dictator, never reporting on the many human rights abuses in Oman. And it still goes on at FAZ. But Spiegel journalists consider it a point of honour never to accept such freebies.
“Oman”, UU says, can stand for any industrial concern or any other country – a shorthand for corruption and purchased reporting. In return for its largesse the client receives not paid advertising copy but apparently authentic reportage – usually a whole series of positive reports. Good value for money! And the paper is able to fill its columns with exotic copy that cost it nothing.
He goes into such detail, says UU, because his former colleague Frankenberger now signs off on such foreign trips for younger journalists. And because even though FAZ’s financial position is now so bad, it should forego invited foreign trips that result in deception of its readers. And a new scandal awaits if we should learn how many of these journalists were able to take along wives, lovers, families, all expenses paid.
How journalists finance their villas in Tuscany
Frequent flyer miles converted to resalable items; tax free daily subsistence rates claimed even though the whole luxurious trip cost the journalist nothing… The German taxpayer ends up supporting this media misbehaviour.
One journalist claimed for ‘exclusive’ photos that had actually been provided free. His editor found out and he was fired. He then claimed his firing was because he was “too critical of the US”, and he is now a famous “undercover reporter”, gives lectures on “good journalism” and fact-checks reports on behalf of PR agencies. In short, the epitome of “serious journalism” in Germany today.
And the presents! For example, the many journalists who attended the annual Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in the slow-news days just before Christmas were not fleeing the turkeys and booze. No, whoever made it through the boring speeches to the end and managed to write favourable reports received a valuable gift: a gold Rolex, a gold pen, valuable coins… The gift was usually left discreetly in the hotel room: UU never knew a colleague who left it there. Remember this the next time you read, watch or hear a report on the GCC: it’s just paid-for PR that fills space at no cost to the media concern. But at what cost to the reader and the taxpayer.
Well bribed: the sleazy background to journalism prizes
Another reward for such reporting comes through journalism prizes. This sleazy system can be likened to the ‘badging’ of German food products: the gold, silver or bronze quality marks awarded by the food industry after ‘tests’ on around 27,000 items for appearance, smell and taste. Chemical or microbiological tests are rarely done, so the tests and awards tell us little about ingredients and real quality. The consumer learns the worth of such badges, awarded by industry lobbyists to its paid-up members, only when a scandal arises, e.g. when mouse droppings were found in ‘badged’ bread products. The consumer has no input at all to the ‘badging’ process.
Is it any different, UU asks, when media figures receive a prize, often with thousands of Euros attached? No! Such prizes are awarded by media businesses to ‘badge’ journalists. Media figures who deliver average products in a politically reliable way as courtiers to the elites are nominated, as a thank-you. It’s the purest deception on the consumer. Media businesses boast about their employees’ awards, even though most have been financed and judged by those same businesses.
A well-oiled system; yet the public still believe in the ‘independence’ of journalism. In truth, when German-American think tanks and foundations award prizes for supposedly outstanding journalism, they are really marking out those who have reported positively (from their point of view) to the unsuspecting masses. Our alpha-journalists are happy to accept. UU himself has judged many such awards, and will reveal what really should not become publicly known.
Take the once-respected Hanns-Joachim-Friedrichs Prize, says UU. It’s now a prize for propagandists, called by one observer 11 ‘the Oscar for Manipulators’. Prizewinners are selected by a jury of Board members; all prizewinners eventually become Board members. The award of the 2014 prize to Iranian-born TV journalist Gulineh Atai aroused strong criticism in the anti-war left, since her allegedly brave and honest reporting from Ukraine and the Middle East is actually characterised by dishonest NATO talking points.
Take the prize funded by tobacco giant Reemtsma: the ‘Liberty Award’ for ‘courageous journalism that gives a voice to daily struggles for freedom.’ A purveyor of addiction funding a prize for freedom: what contempt for the victims of tobacco. (UU reminds us that tobacco advertising is now outlawed throughout the EU. But funding a prize does not fall within the legal ban.) One journalist refused to be nominated; others have consented, including ARD’s Thomas Roth and FAZ’s Konrad Schuller. One of the judges is Die Zeit’s Theo Sommer, a convicted tax evader also associated with Atlantic Bridge, Bilderberg, the Trilateral Commission and the German Association for Foreign Policy.
In 2001, UU relates, Sommer, formerly chief editor of Die Zeit, was appointed by the SPD defence minister to lead a review of accusations that NATO was using depleted uranium munitions in the Balkans war. The review found it ‘unthinkable’ that such munitions could have been deployed. And Sommer received the Cross of Honour of the Bundeswehr [German Army].
Alas for Sommer, three members of the Bundestag then compiled a report which included a 1999 document in which the Defence Ministry warned the Army to avoid contact in Kosovo with uranium-contaminated dust. Even after the whitewashing by Sommer’s commission, in 2003 another internal official warning against uranium poisoning was issued. [UU provides a copy of page 25 of this confidential document: ‘1.3.3 Harm from DU-munitions’] So, in the light of Sommer’s whitewash, troops cannot hope to be compensated for any harm they incur; but at the same time the Army is warning about harmful effects. How absurd.
In the UK, meanwhile, a court found in 2004 that an army veteran could pursue a claim for harm derived from depleted uranium munitions. [No link given.]
Soft-touch interviews, PR trips and tax fraud
Some of UU’s warzone trips were financed by one or other side – or their financial backers. Some could not have been made otherwise, for visa or security reasons. They were pure PR for a belligerent, solicited via the media owners to the editorial suite, which would sign off on the trip. The proximity to powers over life and death was somehow fascinating, says UU.
He lost count of the soft-touch interviews given him by African heads of state and ministers, but he knows that two thirds of what they said was a pack of lies, but lies the local German Embassy and representatives of German commercial interest wanted to hear. And FAZ lapped them up. For example: in Sudan, Mossad had set up a ‘dairy farm’ next door to land occupied by Bin Laden’s group. UU was able to report on happy German cows supplying fresh milk to the local elite, but nothing about Mossad or Bin Laden.
The German Embassy in Teheran, UU says, desperate to increase German-Iranian trade, arranged soft-touch interviews with ministers and ayatollahs, and if they liked the resulting reports, FAZ would be reimbursed the cost of the trip. Similarly throughout Africa and the Middle East.
In Baghdad he came across terrible animal cruelty: a neighbouring embassy kept dogs for food, dismembering them alive amid dreadful howling. The diplomats urged him not to report anything that would damage relations.
Trips with German politicians were supplied with talking points on every conceivable topic. All the journalist had to do was insert some local colour into these pre-digested quotes. Those who did it best, of course, were in line for prizes.
In all the many media organisations where he worked, UU says, the view was that only others are corrupt. Hopefully, younger journalists will now be alert to the ethical risks.
Official trips with ministers provide journalists with opportunities to import luxury goods duty free. Many benefit to the tune of thousands of tax-free Euros. The politicians tolerated this: it made the media more compliant. He quotes a blogger12 on how easily journalists accompanying the German Chancellor to Peru obtained valuable goods robbed from Inca graves, which they could import without Customs checks.
Leading politicians ‘instrumentalise’ their relationship to journalists: those ‘for us’ are exploited to the full, those ‘against us’ are shut out.
The corruption is not exclusive to the political staff of a paper, UU says. The supplements also indulge, e.g. with all-expenses paid luxury trips to distant destinations for the Travel pages, the sponsorship usually going unmentioned.
For his outspoken views on Islam, the German police classified him as ‘liable to be assaulted’. He was allowed to carry a concealed firearm, and BMW provided him for many months with an armoured luxury limousine, at no cost. FAZ management was happy not to pay the mileage.
Scurrilous drinking pals: glimpses of journalistic grunt-work
UU recalls the exact moment he had had enough of it: when a famous CDU politician, in front of witnesses, asked him to spy on a senior SPD figure, offering a bribe of 5000 Euros initially to dig up dirt on the victim’s wife. The CDU man already had details of the victim’s bank account; how deep did he believe UU would allow himself to sink? UU instead called a lawyer friend for advice.
UU had long enjoyed access to the CDU-owned retreat on Lake Como, formerly the residence of Konrad Adenauer, where CDU politicians wined and dined and misbehaved. He became disgusted enough to quit when one night a blind drunk regional political leader burst in on UU and his wife and vomited over the bed. UU no longer cared about the consequences of quitting.
And just across Lake Como, a few minutes ferry ride away, lay Bellagio, where the Rockefeller Foundation hosted seminars and briefings for the elite, including top media people.
Nice racket: how advertising buyers are cheated
Advertising client s pay horrendous prices for space in newspapers – and are cheated, UU asserts. Prices are related to circulation; but figures are manipulated. Advertisers are charged for copy that never appears. The story stays buried, as every media business is in on the game. UU does not name names here, as he is working on another book focused on this topic.
Spiral of silence: what does not appear in the papers
It took a quarter-century for the truth to emerge, says UU; but in June 2014 his professional colleagues received official confirmation that he, as an official war reporter for FAZ, was a victim of poison gas; probably the last western witness of the mass gassing which in July 1988 killed several hundred people using German-manufactured gas. CIA documents released in 2014 referred to the attack. A typical example of how politics and media in Germany function. The only mention of the attack in Germany: a single article in FAZ, with a small photo. Nothing more. UU’s many colour photos of the victims have never been published.
In fact, should never be published, apart from a small handful. FAZ told him to show the photos to the Chemical Industry Association – some of whose members had supplied the precursors for the mustard gas (Lost, Tabun, Sarin) under the heading ‘plant protection products’ – and refused to let the photos be acquired by other media outlets (Stern had shown interest). The grenade casings too were made with machine tools supplied by Germany.
UU suffered health effects from the sight, the stink and the heat, but still managed to phone in a long detailed report, of which almost nothing appeared in FAZ. His editor Frankenberger removed all ghastly details. Not until two years later, in autumn 1990, were German collaborators in Iraqi poison gas production arrested. In 2013 UU wrote to the long-retired FAZ publisher Fack enquiring what had happened. He received no reply. The whole episode was covered up by the media. How so, when German leaders regularly apologise for the Holocaust?
UU says he was asked to ghost-write the memoirs of the leading Berlin underworld figure Steffan Jacob, who supplied women to many influential personalities and had a filing cabinet full of embarrassing thank-you letters. Jacob’s business was funded by lobbyists for German arms manufacturers: UU saw financial accounts proving this. An informant showed UU a playground where children could be selected for sex parties. An importer of building timber explained how the business was a front for arms smuggling, and named some customers. Frank Warneck, of the Hell’s Angels, asked UU: “Conscience only appears if you have knowledge. Do your readers really want to know? I look forward to seeing if anything actually appears.”
Nothing did appear. The research cost a lot; but reportage fingering Willy Brandt, prostitutes and pedophiles would have caused a political earthquake. So the story vanished into the archives.
The founder of the opinion polling firm Allensbach, Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann, told UU: “What you find in people’s heads is not reality, but a construct shaped by the media.” This communications professional, respected around the world, was despised by many German media people for revealing a forbidden truth: the systematic influencing and guiding of the public by a small minority of journalists. She called it the ‘spiral of silence’: e.g. when TV reports present minority opinions as the views of the majority, and people decide not to challenge it for fear of social exclusion.
Today it’s worse: ‘silence’ has evolved into a powerful and evil demon: active manipulation. UU has worked in many war zones, and has seen how reports are concocted in ways that spare the reporter too many risks while delivering exciting footage. He has seen TV crews travelling with full cans of petrol, so they can be filmed in front of a blazing tank – which had actually been destroyed some time before; the fighting had moved on. Correspondents duck and weave as if under fire – when there’s no danger around at all. The sound of machine gun fire can be added later. Several leading media managers cut their teeth like this. Others, revealed as plagiarists, suffered career setbacks.
In Afghanistan, long before the US/NATO invasion, UU travelled with a Kalashnikov and a full belt of ammo, but could not report this in Germany: the reader would not believe that a foreign infidel was fair game to any Mujahedin. He even underwent a pro forma conversion to Islam, to make himself less of a target. He says that the American journalist Daniel Pearl never understood why UU would never trust any party in a civil war. He gave his full trust, and was beheaded on film. The Swede Nils Horner never went armed, and refused armed protection. He was shot in Kabul. The same with two French reporters in Mali. The media like to present a different picture.
In a bush camp of Jonas Savimbi’s forces in Angola, a German journalist for Quick thought all the grenades lying around were dummies. For a joke he tossed one at UU after removing the pin. UU barely managed to take cover before it exploded. Hence: never trust a foreigner in a war zone.
Up today, down tomorrow: execution by media
Not only facts, but our emotions too are manipulated by the media: by the spreading of rumours serving state interests.
Shortly after leaving FAZ in 2003, UU was giving a lecture in Dresden when he was told police and prosecutors were searching his apartment hundreds of kilometers away, on suspicion of revealing state secrets. He realised then that the BND, whom he had so often served, had cast him loose. It was news across the whole media spectrum, his name included. What had yesterday been demanded by the state – stories based on confidential documents – was suddenly a criminal act. It was a public signal: from now on, keep away from Ulfkotte. But no media have reported that no criminal charges were ever laid. His former employer FAZ has never explained their behaviour in this case.
Several of the documents found in UU’s house bore the signature of Bernd Schmidbauer (CDU), until 1998 coordinator for intelligence affairs in the Chancellor’s Office, and could easily be traced back to him. UU had often sat with him in his office to develop stories based on confidential documents. He prosecutor showed o interest in pursuing this, even though from a legal point of view Schmidbauer was no doubt a traitor. When UU was challenged on a TV talkshow about his access to secret documents, he pulled from his briefcase a bundle of papers with Schmidbauer’s notes clearly visible. This caused uproar in the Chancellery. Surprisingly the Opposition made no fuss: Schmidbauer, a highly decorated functionary, had immunity, while little people are treated like chess pieces at the mercy of the ‘quality’ media. Democracy and the rule of law are a sham.
UU concludes the chapter by recalling his time (from 1999) as lecturer in Security Management at a university in Lüneburg. He was tasked to identify potential BND recruits. But when he asked his students if they would like to join that James Bond world, they all thought it a joke. When the police extended their search to the university, his academic career abruptly ended. Other lecturers are now assessing the students on behalf of the BND.
But we don’t talk about that.
Some reflections on Ulfkotte and his book
The above summary of Chapter 1 should provide a flavour of the man and his writing. UU is no great stylist; his anecdotes are not always systematically ordered; his frequent mea culpa’s can be a little irritating.
But there seems to be no good reason to doubt the general thrust of his charges against the German media world. They are richly supported by a number of documents and reports by other writers, to which he links. These are of course in German; but I have translated brief passages from some of them in the above summary.
It would be interesting to list the various forms corruption takes in the German media, and search out similar cases in the Anglophone media. To what extent do our media replicate the German experience? To what extent do cultural differences produce different patterns of corruption?
With that in mind, I leave you with this tidbit from the always delightful Mark Doran. (You can check out the previous 7 tory-tory-tory entries yourselves.)
see Part 1 of this series
2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHC3xmL4w-I The uploader comments: “What the media talk about in back rooms with politicians and lobbyists. The video has been deleted from every platform. Not even available in the NDR-Mediathek. For reasons, no doubt.” It has received fewer than 2000 views to date [19 Jan 2018].
3) UU’s link yields a 404–not found. The Friedensforschung [Peace Research] website’s search function no longer works, but the text of the lecture at a July 2003 summer school Medien als Weichensteller zum Krieg (Media as “softener-up” for war) by Heinz Loquai is still there, buried among hundreds of items, at http://ag-friedensforschung.de/themen/Medien/loquai.html. (German Wikipedia notes without further information a “Heinz Loquai, deutscher Soziologe und General a.D.” (German sociologist and retired General).
4) https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabine_Christiansen (The English Wikipedia gives minimal information about her: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabine_Christiansen ); Kornelius is not visible on English Wikipedia; see https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stefan_Kornelius
6) Quoted in Stefan Weichert: Die Alpha-Journalisten, p.191.
7) See Friederike Beck: Das Guttenberg-Dossier: das Wirken transatlantische Netwerke und ihre Einflussnahme auf deutsche Eliten. (Guttenberg Dossier: the activities of Transatlantic networks and their influence on German elites), p.132ff.
9) https://www.heise.de/tp/features/Gefaehrdung-der-Staatssicherheit-3389563.html (The other link given by UU is dead.) The article points to murky aspects of the case, and notes that the notorious ‘Curveball’ used to drum up the Iraq invasion was an Iraqi immigrant and a BND plant.
10) UU includes a long endnote quoting a report on this legal case by the RJB (Union of Female Journalists of the Rhineland): “At the end of 1996 Karl Rössel declared at an event during ‘Ken Saro-Wiwa Week [ref. assassinated Nigerian politician and protester against environmental degradation] that FAZ editor UU had been bribed by Shell to deliver friendly reportage, and FAZ had ‘prostituted itself’ by printing his article. The background: UU and colleagues from WAZ, FR, Welt and SZ had made a trip to Nigeria sponsored by Shell. Following a Shell helicopter ride over Ogoni-land he reported that hardly any environmental pollution could be seen from oil extraction activities. While his colleagues mentioned the Shell sponsorship in their reports, FAZ edutor UU maintained silence, and Shell reprinted his article in its PR material as ‘objective reportage’. In January1997 FAZ and UU filed a defamation suit against Rössel, seeking DM100,000 damages.
To counter this, the RJB together with Media Watch – an initiative for critically reviewing reportage on the Third World –launched an extensive reader on ‘the efforts of Shell to manipulate public opinion in its favour.’ At precisely the time when Shell was in the firing line due to protests by Ogoni against pollution and human rights abuses, and the execution of the writer and civil rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa by the Nigerian military regime in November 1995, the oil company headhunted critics and launched counterpropaganda in the media. In July 1997 the Cologne district court decided that no defamation had occurred, rather an ‘expression of opinion’ which was valid in light of the facts. The verdict was much discussed in the media, but focused more on the boundaries between reporting and PR work.
11) http://Spiegelkabinett-blog.blogspot.de/2014/08/ihr-geschaft-manipulation-und.html?m=1 (apparently a one-man blog.)
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