Diego Velázquez The Spinners 1655-60
Dirk Kurbjuweit, deputy editor-in-chief of Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine for the past 4 years, unwittingly put his foot a mile deep in his mouth this week when he reacted to a letter written by US Ambassador to Berlin Richard Grenell. His reaction presents perhaps the most perfect example of the downfall of news, journalism, the media in general, that we’ve seen so far. Most perfect among very stiff competition.
After Der Spiegel itself this week ‘outed’ its award-winning star reporter, Claas Relotius, as someone who had made up many of his lauded articles from scratch, Grenell suggested the magazine, and especially its editorial staff, shouldn’t think they can get away with putting all the blame on just this one guy. He tweeted:
We value policy criticism. We love a free press. But @Spiegel literally fabricated stories saying people (Americans) were racist & xenophobic. They made up events, details, & lies – and no editor checked the stories. Every real journalist should be outraged by this.
And he wrote a letter to Der Spiegel, albeit addressed at the ‘wrong’ editor, Steffen Klussman, who won’t be in the post until after Jan. 1:
The recent revelations of completely fabricated stories, completely fictional people and fraudulent details in Spiegel over the last seven years are very troubling to the US Embassy. These fake news stories largely focused on US policies and certain segments of the American people. It is clear we were targeted by institutional bias and we are troubled by the atmosphere that encouraged this recklessness.
While Spiegel’s anti-American narratives have expanded over the last years, the anti-American bias at the magazine has exploded since the election of President Trump. We are concerned that these narratives are pushed by Spiegel’s senior leadership and reporters are responding to what the leadership wants.
This is where Dirk Kurbjuweit’s foot enters his mouth, stage left, and starts its long journey down:
It is true that one of our reporters in large part fabricated articles, including reports from the United States. We apologize to all American citizens who were insulted or denigrated by these articles. We are very sorry. This never should have happened. In this case, our safeguarding and verification processes failed. We are working hard to clarify these issues and improve our procedures and standards.
I would, however, like to counter you on one point. When we criticize the American president, this does not amount to anti-American bias – it is criticism of the policies of the man currently in office in the White House. Anti-Americanism is deeply alien to me and I am absolutely aware of what Germany has the U.S to thank for: a whole lot. DER SPIEGEL harbors no institutional bias against the United States.
Of course, first of all, Grenell is right, if you let someone write fake stories for 7 years and your editors, which included Kurbjuweit himself, don’t catch one single lie, it looks like you’re letting the fabrications ‘slip through’ on purpose. As Grenell implies, it looks like the entire magazine is/was trying to fabricate the news, not report on it.
But that’s not where Kurbjuweit’s foot is in his mouth. That comes in the second paragraph . Where he effectively says that criticizing America and Americans, including through fully fabricated stories, does not constitute an anti-American bias. Instead, he says, Der Spiegel simply suffers from Trump Derangement Syndrome. In other words, not an anti-American bias, but an anti-Trump bias.
And that, in his view, is apparently fine. And though it is of course not, certainly for an editor of a magazine that has (make that had) a reputation to uphold, who can really blame him? In the American press, all he sees is Trump Derangement Syndrome all the time, in at least 90% of the media. So how can anyone blame a German editor for doing what the New York Times and CNN do 24/7?
The problem with all of this obviously is that all these news outlets are supposed to report the news, and none of them do anymore. They ‘report’ the opinions of their editors and ‘journalists’, and if these people don’t like whoever it is the American people elect as their president, it’s open season.
American media has made it acceptable for foreign media to write fake articles about the US president, which means ridicule of the Office of the President is fine too, and thereby the process by which he was elected. Re-read Kurbjuweit’s statement, that is what he says.
This is a sort of new normal that may well be the main legacy of 2018. It’s where the surge of social media and the internet in general have led us. In the process, they’ve swallowed the truth whole, and we may never see it again.
The truth is not a winning proposition. Fabricating stories and narratives and using them to string readers and viewers along like a modern version of the Pied Piper is a much bigger winner than the truth, and they’re all waking up to this new reality.
Der Spiegel’s response to being exposed as liars is to pretend to be open about it, but only by blaming one individual, while sparing the editors who let him roam free for 7 years.
The Guardian, which ran a fabricated story about meetings between Paul Manafort and Julian Assange in London’s Ecuadorian embassy a few weeks ago and was also exposed, has chosen a different approach: they attempt to smother the truth in silence. Both the writers of the story and editor-in-chief Kathy Viner, responsible for publishing blatant lies and fabrications are still on the payroll, there’s been no retraction and no apologies.
But there’s a flipside to this kind of thing. If you try to get away with murdering the truth the way Der Spiegel and the Guardian have done in these two instances, who’s going to read you next time around if they want to know what really happens, and take your words as true? No-one in their sound mind. So it’s necessarily a short term strategy.
Still, while it lasts, it’s profitable. And it’s mighty contagious too. If and when the foreign press no longer feels any qualms about admitting they suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome, that is because US media have paved that road for them. Before the internet fueled its (dis-)information explosion, this would have been impossible.
It makes you wonder where this will go in 2019. What’s already evident is that you can’t believe your trusted news sources anymore. And it’s not a matter of some articles being true and some not; nothing published by Der Spiegel and the Guardian can be taken for granted as true from here on in, both are done as reliable news sources. Because they’ve been exposed as having lied on purpose, and only once is enough.
Same goes for many of the formerly trusted US MSM. And that should really, really make you wonder where this will take us in 2019. Truth is eroding faster than you can keep up with, and it’s your once trusted voices that lead the erosion. Where are you going to get your news? What and who can you trust?
Here’s a thought: follow the Automatic Earth. And good thing is, you don’t have to like Trump to not like where this is going. We don’t particularly like him either. We just dislike lies and fake news a whole lot more.