The journalistic betrayal

The past few months have shown what it looks like when politics and the media suffocate the democratic public. The worst crisis of the 21st century is going without public discussion. What some perceive as “discussion” is not worthy of democracy. Occasional critical speeches contrast with a reality constructed by the media and politics as non-negotiable.

“The most important thing in advance is that we will defeat the virus. But what kind of society we will live in and in what kind of world depends on how we act today.” These words come from President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who he expressed in an interview published by the Internet portal T-Online on 16 March.

The statement is similar to what the chairman of the World Economic Forum says in his recent book on the Corona crisis. “Many people are wondering,” says Klaus Schwab, “when things will return to normal. The short answer is: never. Nothing will ever be the same again.” And Schwab finds other very clear words: “The world as we knew it in the first months of 2020 no longer exists, it has dissolved in the context of the pandemic. We are facing such radical changes that some experts are already talking about the time “before Corona” (BC) and “after Corona” (AC).

What motivates two people in contemporary history, both known as notorious end-time preachers and panic-makers, to make such drastic assessments? How do they come to pronounce sentences that could come directly from the pen of an author working on the ultimate dystopia? Due to their position, both Steinmeier and Schwab have far-reaching insights into the control centres of political policy choices. Schwab alone is as far connected to the world of elites and power elites as few actors on this planet are.

Anyone who has followed the events of the last few months must note that something has indeed been honed in in our society, which can be described as the ‘new normal’. A climate of fear and serious, permanent interference with fundamental rights shape politics and social life. It is true that, if one follows the logic of a pandemic, certain reactions and measures can be understood, but even then the question arises: Why such an apocalyptic tenor?

If Covid-19 is a normal pandemic, then it can be assumed that after a certain period of time, even if it should take a little longer, the situation will return to normal. In addition, according to all that is known so far about the virus, the immune system of the vast majority of people with the virus is obviously well understood – 1,053,869 cases are “only” 16,248 deaths. But what societies are less well off doing is chronically ill health systems, which come under pressure faster than most Covid-19 people in the event of spikes in treatment. Nor do they get along with the fact that an entire country, indeed an entire planet, is being taken hostage because of the danger to some. Measure and goal should be the motto – not the destruction of entire industries and livelihoods, the traumatization of large sections of the population, a gigantic build-up of debt, and the torpedoing of the economy. So why should a virus, which is dangerous for a part of the population, lead to apparently incomprehensibly radical changes coming to humanity?

That would be an issue that would be worth discussing. Public. So, for example, on those platforms that play a key role in the political discussion: Illner, Plasberg, Will, Maischberger. But where was that part of the actors who are concerned about our society, our political system and freedom? How many of those who take to the streets and demonstrate against the harshest restrictions on fundamental rights since the beginning of the Federal Republic sat there and set out their view of things? How many journalists of alternative media who hold a different view than large parts of the mainstream have been in the ARD press club so far? But also asked in broad terms: Where is the pluralism of opinion in our media? Where are voices from the middle of the major editorial offices who do not support the government’s policy in principle and position themselves accordingly in editorials, cover stories and comments with the necessary clarity?

“Now it’s getting bleak

On the most serious crisis of the 21st century, there is virtually no discussion, demonstrably and verifiably. From the very beginning of the pandemic, the media and politics have created a reality that is almost contemptuating the principles of democracy. There are some critical articles, voices of a few journalists, such as Heribert Prantl of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, but they are juxtaposed with a flood of articles and articles, all of which go in one direction: citizens, surrender your freedoms, in no way question the statements of the experts, which we consider to be serious. Above all, however, follow what politics decides.

A stable and functioning democracy means that it upholds its own principles, especially in a serious crisis. This also includes not only enduring and enabling, but also making it possible to endure abrupt political debates in politics, the media and society. Such debates are like the lubricating oil in the wheel of democracy. But these drives of our state have not been lubricated for a long time. To understand what that means, you don’t have to be a mechanic. In the end, the machine flies around our ears.

What media critics have long emphasized is now becoming even more visible: many journalists see themselves as “state-supporting” in a completely perverted way (which can be explained by their socialization and origin) and try to support political choices wherever they can. In many cases, they no longer act as political inspectors, but as supporters. The serious extent of this is evident in the current crisis.

On 20 November, the following lines were to be read in the live ticker for the demonstration in Berlin’s Tagesspiegel:

“The police only rained the demonstrators with water cannons at first. The wet clothes make it uncomfortable for them. It is a harmless tactic of the police to disperse the masses with little force. Water throwing is regarded in the professional world as the so-called milder means, for example, as opposed to batons.”

Pay attention to the phrases: “only rained”, “unpleasant”, “harmless tactics”, “the masses” , “milder means”.

In the meantime, the statement has been reworded, but that does not make it any better. A basic attitude that raises many questions has come to light. How would the editor who made the remarks have written about the use of water cannons at a demonstration in Russia? Just as trivialising, appeasing?

The fact that the live ticker of the Tagesspiegel at the end of the “reporting” still says: “The final word has the head of the police” may be dismissed as a small matter, after all: Someone must have the final word. But it’s not that simple. All these seemingly innocuous examples, which show a proximity to the state in journalism, together with other corresponding missteps in the reporting, combine to form a frightening overall picture.

In journalism, it smells like betrayal of democracy. That sounds tough, for sure. But, when one observes the contempt with which journalists confront citizens who demonstrate for their freedoms even in this difficult situation, who also call for other experts to speak, to take a more nuanced view of the pandemic; when we see how journalists take, of course, serious violations of fundamental rights, but still defend them, what are we to talk about? Of a stellar hour of democratic consciousness?

Time and again, the media publishes articles in which it is said at first that one does not want to speak of the conditions in an authoritarian regime, but hardly said, a comma and an but is pushed behind.

The Time journalist Vanessa Vu writes in an article of the ostensibly so “liberal” weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT:

“So what’s wrong with us having almost 700 times the number of infections? Is it our government, with its half-hearted actions and chaotic communication – or is it the people who, perhaps for historical reasons, may have a problem with state authority and are reluctant to say anything from above? Probably both.”

Vu continued: “You don’t have to imitate Vietnam. Concerns about data protection, appeals for personal responsibility and the federal system are justified. But there are also middle ways” and then the TIME journalist refers to the “democracies” in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.

What follows is basically a plea for more consistent action by the state. The dispute between the federal government and the Länder is seen as negative (and the lines of conflict that hide behind the dispute and have their justification seem to be annoying), the willingness of the populations in states such as Taiwan and South Korea to accept and “follow” the measures the government has planned, the author presents as an act of reason. The author ignores important questions, such as the prevailing understanding of democracy, the understanding of freedom and in general: the trained mental structures that produce this supposedly so laudable behavior.

The article is basically marked by the desire that a strong state finally “cracks through”, “protects” the population. The entire tension between the state, civil liberties and individual desire for freedom and the sense of freedom is hidden in an almost grotesquely naive way:

“The noodle soup seller in Vietnam or the factory workers in Taiwan don’t have it easy either. Nevertheless, they are pulling together and playing their part in keeping the community healthy and the pandemic short.”

The lines sound as if they were taken from a communist party newspaper that ideologically glorifies the value of the collective accordingly.

While the media have spoken out about decades of personal responsibility and preached the neoliberal idea of the withdrawal of the state up and down, the same media are now demanding the strong state. The same media, which have also brutally divided society through their support for the Hartz reforms, now want citizens to act in solidarity as a collective. With these roles back and forward, it may get dizzy for some, but the behavior is only superficially contradictory.

Those who have not yet understood it: many journalists act primarily as representatives of their own stratum.

When distributional issues were on the agenda, which concerned the levies of their strata, the state could not be pushed far enough away from its responsibility to the weak. But now that a virus is circulating that does not stop at class affiliation, that is, now that journalists themselves feel that they are in danger, the state can hardly go far enough with its power to act.

Journalists, it should not be forgotten, are masters at selling their worldviews and interests as a common good under the guise of apparent objectivity. The fact that, in Orwellian mania, one once spoke forcefully against hatred while spreading it himself at the same time is no longer surprising. Anyone who verbally tackles “those up there” is verbally too hard to say, who “suggests” that so-called “corona sceptics” forsever their right to an intensive place, will be given an exclusive room in a large newspaper. However, the #aufschrei, which would have to follow if the discourse guards acted as they would otherwise do, did not.

If then also

then it becomes clear from which direction the wind blows.

Liberalism, pluralism and tolerance should not be ideologically tactical. Corona’s “reporting” increasingly shows a penchant for authoritarianism. “If necessary, even by force,” one could overwrite the basic tenor.

What is certain is that, on this basis, there can be no public discussion worthy of democracy on important issues, such as vaccinations or freedom of travel, which will take centre stage in the coming weeks and months.