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Monday, July 25

Medienkritik vs Der Quackenspiegel

"Pundita, Re your Schroeder essay: Actually I believe the German public is quite well informed about al Qaeda/Iran linkages. The German popular press, surprisingly including Der Spiegel (which has an English language web site, very helpful), has done extensive reporting on this.

And remember that Zarqawi's name first surfaced in the German and Italian press, as his couriers/associates/fellow terrorists were convicted in German and Italian courts.
Michael in USA"

Dear Michael:
If the German and Italian press beat John Batchelor to the punch about Zarqawi I'd doubt whether it was by many hours. But we're always happy to hear of an instance that suggests the European media are not preserved in formaldehyde.

The question is whether we can apply this bit of happy news to Der Spiegel or their online English version, and whether we can infer that the German public is well informed about al Qaeda's link to Tehran.

I have been aware of Spiegel Online since its launch. I don't closely follow the site but I could not recall seeing an article that addressed links between al Qaeda and Iran. This is not saying much; the site hasn't been around long and their search engine is in German, a language Pundita does not know. The few archived English language articles the search presented, after I typed in different spellings of al Qaeda and expanded to include Osama bin Laden, did not turn up a reference to Tehran's support of al Qaeda. Perhaps if I'd stuck at it another hour I might have had success but a 15 minute search at Google for Der Spiegel articles on the topic came up dry.

As for other German media, the acid test for good coverage of Tehran's doings is the Ten Days of Dawn terror confab in Tehran in 2004; if the announcement of the intended conference was carried in the European media, either my search at Google was too brief or the language barrier prevented my finding it.

This said, I wouldn't doubt that various media outlets in Germany have mentioned reports about links between al Qaeda and the Iranian government. However, I venture that to the extent the German public is aware of links, this mirrors the American public's awareness of the same.

The mainstream media in this country has tended to fall in line with the 9/11 Commission's decision about links between al Qaeda and Tehran, which Rachel Ehrenfeld summarized in a July 2004 article for Front Page Magazine titled Iran's growing threat:
According to the just-released 9/11 Commission Report, Iran’s support of al-Qaeda dates back to 1991, when operatives from both sides met in Sudan and agreed “to cooperate in providing support -- even if only training -- for actions carried out primarily against Israel and the United States.”

By 1993, “al-Qaeda received advice and training from Hezbollah” in intelligence, security and explosives, especially in “how to use truck bombs.” The training took place in the Bekaa Valley, Hezbollah’s stronghold in Lebanon.

The commission further reports that “at least 8 to 10 of the 14 Saudi ‘muscle’ operatives traveled into and out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001,” and that Iran facilitated “the travel of al-Qaeda members through Iran on their way to and from Afghanistan.” Yet in an ostrich-like move, the commission refrained from accusing Iran of supporting al-Qaeda.

This is how the commission phrased it: “There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9-11 hijackers…however, we cannot rule out the possibility of a remarkable coincidence...[and] we found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack.”
I'd say the general publics on both sides of the Pond are aware that there are reports claiming links between Tehran and al Qaeda. But I think that only the most dedicated news followers are reasonably convinced that at least since 2003 there is more than a link between al Qaeda's top command and the Iranian military. There is a partnership or -- if you want to run the entire nine yards with intelligence mosaics -- a contractor/subcontractor relationship.

I haven't made a foray into Germany but from my Tourist Season walkabouts in Washington, DC, during which I randomly ask tourists to hold forth on their opinions, I have not encountered a German who is well informed about GWOT to include the Tehran connection.

I know this observation does not apply to all Germans. I have German readers and I periodically send my readers to good sources on GWOT, and I know there are German blogs that do a good job of reporting on the war.

I'm also aware that the popular David's Medienkritik blog follows the German media and pays close attention to German media reports on the war. The blog's opinion of Spiegel mirrors in part of my opinion about the online English version:
For over two years -- virtually without end -- the German media have been almost exclusively negative on Iraq, repeatedly calling the war a disaster, a debacle and a quagmire. Iraq has been compared to Vietnam so many times that one could easily lose count.

Just in SPIEGEL publications alone, the words "debacle", "disaster", "quagmire" and "Vietnam" have already been used scores of times to describe the conflict. But by what standards is Iraq a debacle? To date the United States has lost nearly 1800 soldiers in the Iraq conflict. The Battle of the Bulge alone cost the lives of ten times as many Americans. Does that make the Battle of the Bulge a debacle times ten? During the course of World War II, tens of millions of civilians died or were killed. Does that make the liberation of Germany and Japan in 1945 a debacle times a thousand and beyond?

And positive developments in Iraq, such as the reconstruction of schools, hospitals and power plants, dramatic improvements in women's rights and the strengthening economy have been almost totally ignored in Germany

Even when reporting on good news that is impossible to ignore, like the January elections, major sectors of the German media were so negative that a respected media research institute concluded that Arab networks like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia provided more upbeat coverage.

Furthermore, the German media have crassly underreported the suffering of the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein. The mass graves, the use of chemical weapons to murder thousands of innocents in Halabja, the torture, the rape-rooms, the mass exodus of millions out of Iraq, the theft of billions by the Hussein regime from the starving Iraqi people to build palaces.

These topics all seem to be of little interest to the German press. So is it any wonder, with this type of reporting, that most Germans think the Iraq war was, is and will continue to be a total disaster?

Is it any wonder that Joschka Fischer can confidently sit back and talk about how he feels "confirmed" about his worries over Iraq. Of course he feels confirmed! His ideological lapdogs in the German media have provided him all the cover he could ever need with their profoundly biased news coverage over the past several years!

Not surprisingly, SPIEGEL ONLINE has already published a handful of articles, including a recent piece entitled "Uncle Sam wants Merkel", about how absolutely delighted Bush and other American conservatives would supposedly be if Schroeder and Fischer lost the next election.

It is becoming increasingly evident that the editors at SPON are attempting to cheaply exploit readers' dislike of the Bush administration and disdain for the Iraq war to dampen support for the CDU.

Few other German media publications have seized so vehemently and critically on the issue of the CDU's support of closer transatlantic relations than SPIEGEL ONLINE. [...] (1)
I add that David's Medienkritik is such a popular blog, both here and in Europe, that it might have managed to perform a watchdog function with regard to what might be Spiegel's somewhat elastic concept of polling.(2)

None of the above necessarily contradicts your observation that Spiegel is a helpful source. If one thinks in terms of data rather than news, one can mine valuable information from just about any source -- although it's not always worth the time.

However, it's fair to observe that Germans who rely on their mainstream media outlets for news would be hard-pressed to comprehend why Medienkritik invoked the Battle of the Bulge. The German public, as with most publics around the world, was carefully entrained by their mainstream media to view the concept of GWOT as a Bush (and/or Israeli) invention and the Iraq campaign as a war that is quite distinct from the US war on terror.

(Indeed, without the scrappy alternate media outlets in the USA, the American public as a whole would be in virtual lockstep with the German view of the Iraq campaign.)

I think that situation should be kept in mind when attempting to intuit how the German public and most publics view reports about links between Iran and al Qaeda. Many major news outlets, the world over, have been so adroit at suppressing key data about the Iraq campaign and distorting the WMD rationale for invading Iraq that I think publics are weighted to dismiss intelligence suggesting Tehran sponsors "terrorism" as distinct from aiding "Palestinian insurgency" against Israel.

So successful have major media been at shaping the global public's view of the Iraq invasion that I think it could be argued it's the most successful propaganda effort in history.

The question is whether it qualifies as technical propaganda; i.e., state sponsored. From all I've noted about the news media since 2002, I think that outside closed societies it represents in part factions within governments that have used their expertise and access to major media outlets to shape the public's perception.

I don't see this as a conspiracy although I wouldn't be surprised to find coordination between factions during certain news cycles. I got some support for my view last year when John Loftus gave Batchelor's audience a 'Cheat Sheet' on which major news outlets were favored as a channel by which agencies. He went down a list: the DIA favors The Washington Times, the CIA favors The New York Times, State favors the Washington Post, and so on.

Of course one doesn't need to take Loftus' word for it; although it is time consuming, one can figure out which agencies favor which media outlets by noting the number and type of Unnamed Official Sources, Sources Who Did Not Wish to Be Named, and so on.

I also note that Loftus mentioned that reportedly MI6 favors the Guardian as a leak outlet. I passed that gossip to my readers in November 2004 to warn that it's getting tangled up to categorize influential media here and abroad simply as "left" or "right." The (UK) Guardian is left of center in their domestic editorial policy. However their international outlook is best characterized as Natoist. That would be the same for The New York Times.

The factions in the CIA and MI6 that were most bitterly opposed to the Bush preemption doctrine and the Iraq invasion were to their mind defending the Nato alliance. And their view was shared by factions on the Republican right in the US.

This doesn't mean I think all opposition to Bush from serial CIA leakers in the 2002-2004 period excluded Democrats who just wanted to see a Democrat in the White House. Yet I think the serial leaks from factions in the State Department and CIA and from ex-CIA employees signal a new era in propaganda, or mini-propaganda shall we term it.

There are now so many media outlets, and so many government employees (here and abroad) who are trained in using media access that now many factions within governments can use the media to shape public opinion. This has led to balkanization of propaganda. We no longer have only Government leaking to the media. We also have duchies and principalities leaking all over the place.

1)
http://medienkritik.typepad.com/blog/
2005/07/joschka_fischer.html#more

2)
http://medienkritik.typepad.com/
blog/2004/10/spiegel_online__4.html
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