Now this is what I call news. A man from Liechtenstein, the tiny tax haven whose bank-secrecy laws are the scourge of Northern Europe, sold the Bundesnachrichtendienst or BND (the German intelligence agency) a CD with the names and detailed account information of potentially hundreds of Germans who have, allegedly, opened accounts in Liechtenstein’s banks to hide wealth from the tax man. The BND, we read, paid 4.2 million Euro for the data.
The information is supposedly detailed and reliable; dozens of alleged tax evaders and some accountants have reportedly already confessed. And now we read in the German media (g) that the Wall Street Journal has revealed the name of the man at the center of the affair. You can also find his name, if you wish, by accessing the WSJ’s Europe-edition website.
My question is this: why do we have to read his name in an English-language news source? There would seem to be only two explanations. First, German journalists were scooped (that is, another newspaper beat them to the story). Among Anglo-American journalists, getting scooped by another newspaper is a deep humiliation — especially if it’s a foreign newspaper that scoops you in your own backyard, so to speak.
The second possibility is that German journalists knew his name, but declined to publish it on privacy grounds. German newspapers usually don’t publish the full names of people who are involved in embarrassing scandals.
If this is a scoop, then it’s yet another data-point in favor of the thesis that German journalists spend far too much time:
(1) sharing with us their personal opinion on various topics ("Executives make too much money!" "The smoking ban is puritanism!" "Obama is wonderful!" "Butterflies are pretty!") ; and
(2) acting as stenographers for the rich and powerful ("politician A said she was ‘outraged’ by politician B’s comment that he was ‘disgusted’ by the ‘irresponsible’ statements politician C made about the Weimar Republic during his hotly-contested re-election campaign!")
and too little time:
(1) building a network of contacts of reliable informants in government and private industry;
(2) leaving their comfy offices to go to various parts of Germany to interview people who are willing to talk; and
(3) fearlessly publishing information that may embarrass the powerful, reveal corruption, show the failure of government policies, and/or spur reform.
Note that I’m not tarring all German reporters here, some of them, like the ones who wrote this revealing book (g) are doing what journalists should do — calling the powerful to account. But far too many are, frankly, just chuntering on inconsequentially, and apparently missing big stories right under their noses.