The beginning of the end of the media

The beginning of the end of the media

On 11 September 2001, the decline of the media world began.

by Wolf Reiser

For a long time now, the German media have been saying goodbye to their fundamental function in our society and have been rid of their raison d’être. Anyone who has been able to follow the work of the public broadcasters and that of the leading daily newspapers and magazines over a longer period of time can see that with 9/11 not only a few business towers turned to rubble, but also the mission and meaning of journalism evaporated in ground zero.

People who put aside their once beloved Süddeutsche Zeitung in my Schwabing coffee house after a few minutes of trying to read it shake their heads and ask me more and more frequently, since they know that I worked for many decades for almost all print organs worth mentioning, what actually happened to us journalists, when it all began with the moral decay and whether the industry will ever recover from this implosion, a fact by which they do not mean the collapse at the newsstands.

When I’m in the mood for a story, I’ll chat a little or recommend that some of you read what Sebastian Haffner had to say about Goebbels and his dealings with the media:

“Goebbels did not try to convert the entire German people to National Socialist ideas, but rather he shifted his efforts to presenting the citizens with an ideal world through the media. He did not ban the bourgeois newspapers and one cannot even say that he nazified them. Most of the old editors of the big bourgeois newspapers wrote as they had always written and that is exactly how they were supposed to write. There was certainly a kind of press diversity in the Third Reich. The newspaper reader had the choice to see things presented as he wished and to continue to be served according to his mood.”

Gosh, my guests say, they would have imagined it quite differently, with Stürmer and Völkischer Beobachter and all the noble feathers of the inner emigration out in Dachau knocking stones or memorising “Mein Kampf”.

But what do Haffner’s chilly remarks have to do with the present, with the new Germany of 2018 and its neoliberal-central-populist broadband front of Zeit, Welt, Süddeutsche (SZ), Spiegel, taz, Frankfurter Allgemeine (FAZ), Tagesspiegel and the pitiful broadcasting mast debris of ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio?

After that legendary ZDF-Anstalt’s broadcast in 2014, when Max Uthoff and Claus von Wagner threw the moral depravity of many embedded alpha-authors and well-informed capital city journalists against the wall with a few strokes of the pen, highlighting above all their NATO propaganda, a few colleagues in Germany finally began to wake up from their deep sleep and investigate against the grain.

Soon they came across quite openly printed contractual “rules of the game” on the internet, which apply to permanent employees of the Springer publishing house. Since then, the management of the publishing house has been fiddling around and modifying them, claiming that they are only vague operating instructions, orientation aids for young employees, and really trifles that are not worth mentioning. However, the points listed have been part of the “deal” of almost all large publishing houses and broadcasters with their employees for quite some time. This means in consequence: anyone who wants to earn money as a “serious” journalist in this country and intends to make something like a career must serve the following requirements:

  • The unconditional advocacy of the free constitutional state, of Germany as a member of the Western community of states and of the promotion of the unification efforts of the peoples of Europe.
  • Bringing about reconciliation between Jews and Germans and supporting the vital rights of the Israeli people.
  • Supporting the transatlantic alliance and solidarity in the community of free values with the United States of America.
  • The rejection of any kind of political totalitarianism and the defence of the free social market economy.
  • The support of the EU, its policies and institutions.

Given this rather constricting professional formatting, it also explains why today colleagues such as the amateur activist Dunja Hayali, the doped-up Russia expert Hajo Seppelt or the pool-investigator Georg Mascolo are celebrated as walking assault guns of the Enlightenment.

It is part of the complete failure of the left that it let the dumbasses of Pegida take the matter of the lying press out of its hands and since then has had to preface every criticism of its own media with an awkward and undignified distancing from the AfD. Since the fight was lost without a sound bite, the current retreat of true journalism is lost in the parcelled world empire of the off-media and the social media magazines, blogs and forums. On the one hand, however, we authors fill out the seamless files for future Gestapo hearings there day after day and digitally nicely prepared. On the other hand, the semi-privatised censorship watchdogs of the Ministry of the Interior and the Bertelsmann octopus are also coming after us here under the pretext of hate speech.

But back to the topic: How did this actually begin? At what point was truthful journalism hijacked and Trojanised? And how do we 1968ers and never-again sloganeers explain to our children why we didn’t see it coming and why we didn’t fight back, then, now and tomorrow, with 1985 already being almost too late?

The year 1985 was – whether in terms of circulation, sales or grandeur of content and form – the record year for the German print media. As a freelance author writing for Stern, Playboy, Süddeutsche or Geo and Vogue, you could earn really good fees, travel with the Carte Blanche of the respective publishing house and enjoy a real reputation everywhere with this press card. Today, people only giggle when they hold up the silly plastic card. Meanwhile, all those involved in this course were riding on far too high a horse to hear the crack that Scott Fitzgerald describes, that almost inaudible first crack in an old china plate that gradually becomes a crack and ends up leaving broken pieces. And so it was with this gently cooling love between publishers and freelancers, editors and authors, publishers and department heads. But it was there and continues to grow today, this creeping alienation, the irritation, the growing unease in doing and feeling and, as a result, an emptiness and clumsy attempts to smile over the edge of the breach.

In the same year, Chancellor Kohl welcomed the private infotainers from RTL and Sat. 1 and almost all my colleagues in print and radio let themselves be lulled by the chatter of a new, snappy, colourful media future. Since then, the infantile Tutti Frutti has been running riot and the Berlusconisation of the Republic is happening daily. Then the Berlin Wall fell and the iron process was torn apart and all the lifestyle flooded into the country from Austria, speed, Viennese, the liberation from Jesus sandals and pangs of conscience. Suddenly it was all about Tuscan wines, hand-sewn leather shoes, boutique hotels, design trips. Almost all the serious magazines licked Markus Peichl’s feet and immediately made course corrections: away with the misery of the world, the eternal negativity, the Apo-Opa-muff. Techno, dull rave and ecstasy displaced stoner and hippie ideals. The dot-com decade that began shortly afterwards made neoliberalism acceptable at all levels. Musty rubbish like Focus-Money made Telekom and Infineon shares palatable to German philistines or listed the 50 best dentists in Bavaria. Ranking moved into the German press house and the fancy PR agencies gradually dictated the content until almost all editorial offices had turned into end buyers of product advertising and news fakery.

Operation “All along the Watchtower”: On 11 September 2001, several towers imploded in New York. Today, anyone with a spare brain can name the three secret services involved. Only he doesn’t, especially if he is a journalist and hasn’t yet paid off the mortgages on his old flat. How much the USA was and is interested in clarification is proven by the fact that ten times more was spent on the Lewinsky enquiry committee than on the exact investigation of that Taliban blitzkrieg. Red-Green – the ink and blood of Belgrade had not yet dried – stood firmly by. Unbreakable loyalty was sworn, transatlantic unity, minutes of silence, years of silence, dog years, in which SPD comrades and the editorial writers of the big magazines sang the praises of freedom in the Hindu Kush. Before Colin Powell’s PowerPoint lecture, only a few old men like Stockhausen, Grass, Theodorakis or Scholl-Latour dared to object. They recalled such comical parallels to events such as the Gulf of Tonkin, Pearl Harbor, Kosovo, the Kennedy assassinations, Kissinger’s Chile tricks and similar inconsistencies in the essence of Anglo-Saxon pyromania. I myself was reading Balzac’s foolhardy tales for recreation at the time and came across a trouvaille thrown in there:

“There are two kinds of history: one is the official, embellished one, the one that is taught, a history ad usum delphini; and then there is the other, secret history, which conceals the true causes of events, a shameful history.”

In Moscow, Yeltsin threw up all over the Duma, while the Baltic countries, the Poles or the Czechs, freed from Stalinism, excelled in offering elegantly outsourced Guantánamos to the flawless democrats from Washington and London.

We free people, provided we still felt a spark of dignity and remnants of a conscience, were told without further explanation which way the winds would blow from now on. All of a sudden, it was necessary to discover the beauty of Germany and to cultivate a recollection of “constructive issues”. This also meant cutting back on fees, because edifying and nice things are like a second currency and good for the nerves.

In the editorial offices, the strangely disgruntled colleagues scratched their heads at political topics and, on the other hand, raved about soft subjects like everything to do with leisure time, baking cakes, yoga, travelling around at the agency’s expense, something human, like Klinsi’s summer fairy tale, we’ll beat the Poles or something along the lines of Landlustgartenlaubenmuff. Gratefully and rosy-cheeked, the freelance authors accepted the crumbs, because with every day that passed, the situation became clear – in purely economic terms, too – that there was no alternative.

Once upon a time, freelancers provided more than half of the content. We were naturally a little fresher, more flexible and less bound by instructions than our permanent colleagues. But now we were free to shoot down and look for faults in ourselves, as befits a dependent subject. Only a few of those affected realised that the invisible separation of permanent and non-permanent workers obeyed a cleverly orchestrated and highly superordinate system, and most still don’t get it today. Between 1985 and 2001, the great sanitising had begun and the agents subtly and perfidiously implemented the annual Bilderberg precepts.

They destroyed the communication between inside and outside, they fragmented the once common know-how into hierarchical particles of knowledge and thus created the first basis for distrust and envy. The ideas of those of us who were free were ignored, belittled or outright stolen. Those who threatened then had done themselves in. Even in editorial offices with a once good reputation, such as the Süddeutsche (SZ), Zeit or Frankfurter Allgemeine (FAZ), any further dialogue was stifled. A leaden silence reigned at the centre of the communications industry. At the same time, fees were halved and shredded even further with the advent of online journalism. Today, a freelance journalist cannot lead a decent life if that life depends solely on his or her work. Among the estimated 30,000 colleagues, frustration, anger, resignation and self-doubt spread, and above all there was this fear, this all-encompassing fear, which is currently leading to no show of solidarity at the SZ following the recent dismissal of the cartoonist Dieter Hanitzsch. Fear eats up the soul.

And even the great Fritz Raddatz had to realise shortly before his death that he was suddenly superfluous, special waste, an old man of yesterday. He wrote:

“All life has its limit. All experience too. To whom the sounds of his presence are no more than noises, the colours blots, the words ringing bells: Where would be his legitimation for loud lamentation (or, very rarely, quiet praise)? I deny it to myself, henceforth. Too many poems are no more than half-baked plinker to me, too many praised novels no more than cheap gravel. He who no longer loves, do not reason. Emptiness of love is not a quality. Especially not for an art judge. So I hereby end my newspaper work, which I began at the age of 21: (…) I turned 83 three weeks ago. Time to say goodbye. Goodbye.”

My point, mind you, is only to explain to outsiders, from my own experience, how the decline of journalism happened in stages and how Fitzgerald’s crack became a shambles. After 9/11, of course, a few friendships still withstood the schism, and so freelancers and festivals met privately, at beer and sausage parties or the dismal awards ceremonies of shabbily manipulated journalism prizes. In almost all cases, as I recall, the economically almost ruined freelancer was preemptively filled up with the misery of the unfree: Overwork, pressure from all sides, flattening of content, mobbing, intrigue, fear of losing their job, outsourcing, spying, greed for profit, yada yada. The increasingly rare short visits to the publishing houses also offered unpleasant insights: adults stare at monitors and their tired eyes search for the framed colour photo on which the life partner and, if necessary, even small people smile silently. Soon it will be Friday. Then there will be a barbecue. If I inquired about the whereabouts of this or that colleague at a normal volume, the person addressed would flinch, put his finger over his mouth or point to an imaginary figure somewhere behind a wall. It was a mood like in the transit inns of the GDR or probably at Goebbels’ wedding.

My brief flashes of social envy about salary, pensions and Christmas bonuses quickly dissipated and gave way to the realisation that we are all, and each of us individually, in a leaky boat adrift on a stuffy broth. The Taylorism of the locust publishers has just swept away first us freelancers and then the armchair stoolers. Badly perfumed McKinsey snoopers and business psychopaths sifted through the employment contracts and then told the CEOs about the lowest possible severance pay.

So anyone who today, in the early summer of 2018, so casually as justifiably accuses the top writers of our leading media of having sold their souls and serving the powers called NATO, Monsanto or the CIA should at least know that the definitive death of journalism began around the events of 9/11. Those who openly distrusted the official conspiracy were out of a job in the foreseeable future. Those who did not pass the acid test of the split-off identity could end their careers as permanent as well as freelance journalists. Anyone who did not whimper along with the degenerate-traumatised leading wolves was finished. After 12 September 2001, questions were no longer asked. The taboo began to devour its onlookers.

In March 2007, ex-NATO commander Wesley Clark recalled plans from the office of Messrs Wolfowitz and Brezinski that had been ordered to be implemented before 9/11. This involved invading seven countries and specifically they were Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Lebanon, Somalia and Sudan. This is just for the superstructure and perhaps also to explain the current situation in the Near and Middle East.

In order to accompany all these more or less humourless regime changes in the media, the lords of the global Fake News have interfered step by step in the daily journalistic business and initiated the great brainwashing via the Atlantic Bridge, the Aspen Institutes, the Trilateral Commission, the German Marshall Fund, the Bilderbergers, various think tanks and rainbow-coloured NGOs of charitable billionaires. Highly paid noble trolls disguise themselves as historians, scientists and “experts” and prescribe the recipe of silence, marginalisation and disinformation to the paralysed republic.

One of the weapons constantly used in this global clear-cut is antisemitism. It is always mentioned when new preventive measures against dark forces are on the horizon in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A few years ago, a colleague, the musician and novelist Assaf Gavron, described the state of his homeland thus:

“Israeli society is more militant, intolerant and intransigent than ever before. There seems to be only one voice left, orchestrated by the government and army spokesmen, carried by a clan of loyal mass media such as the major TV news channels, the high-circulation newspapers and websites, echoing in every corner of the country. Only this one voice is heard. Attempts to articulate dissent, to ask questions, to protest, to bring in a colour other than that of consensus, are at best ridiculed or patronised. In other cases, dissenters become the target of threats, slander and attacks. People who do not ‘support our troops’ are considered traitors. Newspapers questioning the army’s actions are accused of undermining morale.” But that is another story.

By 2010 at the latest, the corridors had been cleared. In the editorial offices of most of the papers, the formatted gentlemen were now firmly in the saddle, ensuring that spirit, courage, imagination and dignity were eliminated. The editorial offices were briefed and the Juste Milieu between taz and FAZ, 3Sat and BR, NATO-affine Greens and socially liberalised CDU and CSU was programmed. The women’s trio Merkel, Mohn and Springer had cleared the ground on which occasionally narcissistically lurching political actors like Özdemir, Spahn, Heil, Lindner, Dobrinth cavort in petty trench warfare and keep their voters happy with time-delayed firing mechanisms and outrage curves.

A murky mush of neo-Biedermeier has settled over city, country, river and paralyses politics and media, cinema and theatre, fashion and sport, minds, the street scene, everything and everyone. Night after night, the talking heads from the 65-person casting list of official populism gather in the truth cathedrals of lies. They form the arms of a neoliberal Groko squid and, depending on the focus, are supplemented by eloquent emissaries from various foundations, preferably Bertelsmann, institutes for any kind of relations, such as peace and security, and other hot-air experts from London and New York.

Occasionally, a poor sausage is thrown to the dogs – a pirate hacker, an IS candidate with a burka, someone from Pegida or the Rote Flora and, if necessary, Mr Lüders or Mr Todenhöfer. Instead of arguing in the service and spirit of dialectics – it doesn’t have to be about Hegel, Bloch and Adorno – and reading each other the riot act, the debates get bogged down in the pusillanimous singsong of sermonised consensus masses. The couch squatters reel off their language regulations, taboos and neo-feudal moral codes in an endless loop. With zealot-like doggedness, these ever-same infotainers make every topic their own: Rent control, nervous markets, education, social affairs, zero interest rate risk, barrel bombs, Hellenic clientele drama and, logically, yes, again, education, bureaucracy reduction, Maidan, tolls, middle-income relief, NSU, NSA, refugees, video evidence, biodiesel, Cum-Ex, nursing emergencies, Nowitschok, Hitler’s bag rats and disconnected Schlecker women.

There would be no room for Scholl-Latour, Frank Schirrmacher, Jean Améry, Balzac, Grass or Goethe in these cosy sleeping labs (“I’m right there with you”). Here sit the duz-friends of the good, Hajali and Seppelt Kleber and Mascolo. The many honest and truthful colleagues are defamed in absentia – as conspiracy theorists, Putin trolls, anti-Europeans and right&left populists. At the feet of the apricot statue of liberty, the echo chamber elite rants about the Western community of values, the open society, liberal pluralism, the development of the gender individual, free markets and the defence of some transatlantic ideals. One can no longer hear or see it and only hope that the Russian and his hackers will finally turn off the power.

Nor can one bear the state’s neglect of language any longer. I will cite just one example, namely the inflationary and casual mention of “people who feel disconnected”. This obviously refers to the little idiots from the street who roam around the country behind the screen and whose individual fates are quantified between job centre, sick leave, corner pub, care hole, discount halls and part-time insanity.

The cynicism of the Christian-liberal bio-moralists consists in denying millions of fellow citizens, deep into the middle class, the right to BE disconnected. With perfidious arrogance, those who are left behind are thrown back on themselves. Missed the connection? Your problem. Achieve more, more ego-shooting, more adaptation to our brave new world of values, just march a bit through the institutions like Joschka on his long way into the lap of his foster mother Madeleine Albright, who said in 1996: ” Yes, I think the half a million children who died because of the US Iraq sanctions were worth the price.” Her rotund foster son, once an opponent of the Vietnam War, then a Balkan warmonger and now a frowning hallucinating NATO stick figure, resides in a darkened villa in Berlin’s posh Dahlem district and receives fees of up to 30,000 euros for short speeches in which he openly drums up support for militarism and dictatorship. Fischer and Schröder are good examples of how parliamentary bustle has turned into a pathetic simulation of democracy. Especially the red-green parts of our truth regime excel in confiscating any free, fresh thinking and concealing real-world clashes of interests and contradictions. This belching consensus juggernaut wants no rich and poor, no top and bottom and no discussion about the grotesque excesses of property and power. But it wants freedom of the press, but only in Russia, Turkey, Syria or Venezuela.

Pathetic and ridiculous and with neo-colonial self-assumption, the reanimated Wilhelminian councilor of studies boots across the globe. He seriously misses the axes of evil, rebukes any rogue state, dictates unsolicited election recommendations and threatens other nations with sanctions and embargoes if they do not do their homework as soon as possible.

Ah yes, journalism. I’m quite sure that in Willy Brandt’s day, the current top writers would have just about made it into the “miscellaneous” section with some effort. If it weren’t so sad, one could smile at this Mascolo-NDR-WDR-SZ and Bäckerblume merger into multimedia investigation pools and research teams that, after years of life-threatening underground investigations, lay out Wulff’s Oktoberfest receipts or a few jammed assault rifles. Meanwhile, Europe is collapsing, the sinister and remote-controlled USA seems determined for internal as well as external Armageddon, over 60 million refugees in the Mediterranean alone are eating rotten rats, while the elite are holed up in their New Zealand or Patagonian nuclear bunkers. “Ich bin ein Berliner,” you hear the smart J F Kennedy say over and over again in Guido Knopp’s canned popular education. But what he said a few weeks later is of course not what we get here. For in this speech he dramatically hints at why it is that no one speaks the truth any more, where the world is drifting and who exactly is responsible for this flotsam:

“We are dealing with a monolithic and nefarious global conspiracy that spreads its influence by covert means: infiltration instead of invasion, subversion instead of elections, intimidation instead of self-determination, guerrilla fighters by night instead of armies by day. It is a system that has built, with enormous human and material resources, a complex and efficient machinery that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations. Its plans are not published but hidden, its failures are buried, not publicised, dissenters are not commended but silenced, no issue is questioned, no rumour is printed, no secret is revealed.”

This article is an english translation of the german version originally published on Rubikon. It’s published under a Creative Commons licence (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International). The article may be distributed and reproduced in accordance with the terms of the licence.

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