Martin Lichtmesz, 9/11 Truthers, and the “Horseshoe Theory”

Martin Lichtmesz is one of the more readable writers for the German New Right, a loose grouping of nationalist-conservative/reactionary/white supremacist (pick your term) writers and publicists who, according to their own self-image, are not at right-wing extremists at all, merely patriots trying to recover a wholesome and natural sense of identity, tradition, and pride among German-speaking peoples. To this end, they oppose immigration, the EU, innovations in gender ideology, and what they call the “cult of guilt” in Germany concerning the Holocaust. Their opponents — who are legion — consider their ideas little more than watered-down, repackaged National Socialism. The “German New Right” is considered too radioactive to be treated normally by German mainstream media — they get plenty of attention, but it’s always wrapped in a package of editorial disapproval.

Their brand is an updated form of Spenglerian cultural pessimism, tricked out with signals of culture and distinction, such as Greek tags and references to Cicero. They want you to know that they have nothing in common with knuckle-dragging skinheads, although they generally decline to distance themselves from the more vomit-drenched precincts of the German right-wing scene. For example, the main organ of the New Right, the publishing house Antaios, publishes (g) the Der Stürmer-esque diatribes of Akif Pirinçci, a German novelist of Turkish heritage who began his career with books about crime-solving cats (admit it, the idea is a work of genius) before turning to book-length attacks on — to use the sort of language you’ll find in his writings — limp-wristed faggots, hairy-legged lesbians, and shiftless, filthy immigrants who should all be shipped back where they came from.

Lichtmesz, an Austrian, is not in that grimy basement league. He avoids open racism, sexism or anti-Semitism, and I have no direct, conclusive evidence that he endorses any of those positions. Name-calling isn’t what I’m all about. It also helps that Lichtmesz has interests other than reactionary tub-thumping, such as film reviewing and more general cultural critiques. He avoids the white-knuckle tone typical of the far right (and, of course, the far left). Most of his tweets are harmless, some thought-provoking, and his prose is often nicely-drawn. Lichtmesz also has a keen eye for the self-delusions, double standards, and lack of self-awareness which you often find within the filter bubble of the European urban center-left. A book he co-authored in 2017, Mit Linken Leben (Living with the Left) (g) even attracted some cautious praise from mainstream critics. Especially during the 2015 wave of migration to Germany, Lichtmesz and his cohort often sounded quite a bit more reasonable than mainstream journalists, who — as many of them have ruefully conceded (g) — jumped onto the bandwagon of the centrist German ruling elite and propagandized openly for open borders (or something very much like it). The German New Right also makes legitimate arguments against excessive delegations of sovereign authority to the European Union. These are legitimate complaints, shared by many conservatives and even others. Yet Lichtmesz is still considered persona non grata in mainstream circles. Why? He surely doesn’t consider himself an extremist, only a man who’s not afraid to stare reality manfully in the face and report what he sees.

But then sometimes the mask slips; you see the glitch in the matrix. The first glitch is Lichtmesz’ ties to white supremacists. Lichtmesz is a close ally of Martin Sellner, the head of the Austrian branch of the “Identitarian Movement“, a white-supremacist organization whose American offshoot was present in full force at the notorious 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” March, during which participants chanted “Jews will not Replace Us“. Sellner himself was formerly an open neo-Nazi, and was sentenced in 2006 for putting a Swastika sticker on a synagogue. He claims he’s reformed since, but then again, he would, wouldn’t he? He is also engaged to Brittany Pettibone, a US conspiracy nutcase who considers herself a foremost expert on the insane “pizzagate” conspiracy theory:

Until recently, Brittany Pettibone was best known as one of the “leading authorities” on Pizzagate — the debunked conspiracy theory that went viral in 2016 claiming that high-profile Democrats were running a satanic child sex trafficking ring out of — yes — a pizzeria in Washington, D.C.

“I’ve become known for [being] one of the many people investigating Pizzagate,” Pettibone, then 24, told an alt-right podcast host in late 2016. “Many people have a reason to believe that [the pizza shop] is potentially a front for a child trafficking pedophile ring.”

“High-profile Democrats running a satanic child sex trafficking ring out of a pizzeria in Washington, D.C.” Just let that sink in.

Now of course you could call this all guilt by association, which it is. But still, some associations are more damning than others. So let’s go to Lichtmesz in his own words, giving a speech to the American Renaissance Conference, a white-nationalist organization:

What sort of publication is American Renaissance? I think its tag cloud taken directly from its website should give you a pretty good idea:

chrome_QgG5vooftC

Spicy stuff! American Renaissance and the New Century Foundation are run by Jared Taylor, author of a book called “White Identity: Racial Consciousness in the 21st Century“, who believes this, in his own words: “The ultimate goal is to have at least a portion of the United States where whites are the recognized majority and in which their culture is recognized as the dominant culture and where they can live free from the embrace of people unlike themselves.” He claims he wants all of this to happen without coercion. Quite the humanitarian. In any event, American Renaissance and all its works and deeds are considered absolutely, 100% off-limits in the USA, even by absolute rock-solid nationalist conservatives and right-wingers. They’re permitted to spread their message, which is right and proper as a matter of free speech. But the only people who voluntarily associate with them on a deep and sustained basis are obsessives driven by racial resentment.

And Lichtmesz not only retweets AmRen posts, he’s also written an entire book (in German) called “Racism: The American Nightmare“, which draws heavily on American Renaissance stories and statistics. The theme of the book, in the words of the publisher Antaios, is as follows: “Lichtmesz is certain: We will be made into racists to the extent that we deny [racial] differences.” Well, that’s certainly…interesting. But let’s take a charitable view of Lichtmesz. The stiff corset of political correctness and woke ideology is a problem, and American race relations do indeed leave much to be desired. European and German immigration policy is a disaster, as I have argued here and elsewhere (g). Perhaps Lichtmesz is just delivering a much blunter version of these arguments. Sure, he sometimes crosses the line into irrationality and resentment, but perhaps he’s still worthy of being taken seriously. Although his English is good, perhaps he doesn’t quite understand what American Renaissance is all about, or perhaps he believes in speaking to groups whose ideas he disagrees with.

Maybe, just maybe. Until you learn that Lichtmesz is a 9/11 truther! Yes, you read that right, 9/11 truthing is apparently still a Thing, 19 years after the fact. I learned this when I saw Lichtmesz retweet from the Swiss conspiracy theorist Daniele Ganser:

chrome_xjf2fsbqjP

Ganser notes with pride that his new book, Empire USA, is currently #1 on the Swiss bestseller list in, er, “non”-fiction. That says a lot about Switzerland, none of it good. Ganser is also a 9/11 truther who travels all over the German-speaking world giving speeches (at €27 a pop (g)) to largely extreme-left audiences in which he claims the American government intentionally destroyed the World Trade Center complex. At least I think that’s his version, perhaps he’s just a LIHOP man, who knows, who cares? As soon as uncle Jimmy (who was dropped on his head as a child) says 6 million Jews weren’t killed in the Holocaust, do you really care what his preferred estimate is?

Ganser’s main bugaboo is the old chestnut that WTC7 was destroyed by a “controlled demolition“, a claim he recycles (g) in Empire USA. But once again, let’s be charitable towards Lichtmesz. Perhaps he simply agrees with Ganser’s scathing critique of US foreign policy, some of which is doubtless on-point. And Lichtmesz’ Twitter bio contains the standard disclaimer “Retweets aren’t endorsements”. So does Lichtmesz buy into 9/11 truthing?

Alas, yes. After I shot an arrow of snark at Ganser’s new book, Lichtmesz replied “How sweet! There are still a few Internet hillbillies who still believe the official 9/11 story.”

chrome_qepwEWGZ2r

And then we were off, on the good old debate. Reminded me of old times, in the mid-2000s, in which seemingly half the Germans I met believed in some version of a 9/11 conspiracy theory. I was already very well-informed about 9/11 just because I’m me, but I decided to sit down and read all the official reports and the critiques carefully, just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I wasn’t; there’s nothing there.

9/11 skeptics operate the same way that Holocaust deniers and JFK nuts do:

  1. Ignore the colossal juggernaut of evidence supporting the “official” version.
  2. Start the “anomaly hunt”: look for the kinds of open questions and inconsistencies that inevitably crop up in any complex investigation.
  3. Once you’ve found a few anomalies, confidently proclaim the official version “discredited”.
  4. Now you have a choice. Either you can:
    1. Embrace your own conspiracy theory (the ballsy move); or
    2. Sagely proclaim (the non-ballsy move) that you don’t know what happened, but it certainly wasn’t the (obligatory scare quotes) “official” version. And (stroking chin) who can ever know for sure? Who can say they have all the answers? How can we know anything about anything? What is reality?

People who can think straight instantly notice the missing step. You can’t simply claim you’ve destroyed the colossal juggernaut of evidence just because you found a few gaps or inconsistencies, just as you can’t destroy a building by knocking out a few windows (see what I did there?). The only way you can refute a colossal juggernaut of evidence is by showing that all of it, or nearly all of it, is fundamentally unsound. No 9/11 truther has ever come close, which is why nobody really pays attention to them anymore.

The other flaw of this type of conspiracy theory which people who can think straight immediately recognize is: How was a conspiracy involving thousands, if not tens of thousands of people kept secret? As the National Institute of Standards pointed out in its definitive report on the collapse of WTC 7, to demolish a 47-story building with explosives would have required months of careful preparation:

Preparations for a blast scenario would have been almost impossible to carry out on any floor in the building without detection. Preparations would have included removal of column enclosures or walls, weld torches to cut column sections, and placement of wires for detonation. Occupants, support staff, and visitors would have noticed such activities, particularly since they likely would have occurred around more than one column.

This is just the amount of obvious preparation, involving hundreds of workers, which would have been required to destroy one building. Now multiply that by a factor of 10 to account for the “planned demolition” of the other, much larger towers, and the Pentagon attack, plus arranging for the plane crashes as a decoy, sending out warning calls or emails to insiders, falsifying evidence, paying bribes, etc.

Overall, thousands of people — welders, engineers, demolition experts, air-traffic controllers, software programmers, security guards, police, truck drivers, and people from dozens of other professions — would have been needed to arrange the planned demolition of the Twin Towers and WTC7 and the fake (or decoy) plane crashes. Every one of these people would have had to know they were involved in extremely suspicious activity which they either knew was intended to murder thousands of innocent people, or could easily suspect was intended to accomplish this goal. And afterward, these thousands of conspirators would have watched their own handiwork result in the death of almost 3,000 innocent people. Even if Steve the welder didn’t know before the attacks why he installed that mysterious box next to a support column in WTC7, he certainly would know afterwards. And he’s just one of 50? 100? 200? 2000? welders on the wrecking crews in New York and Washington, D.C.

And since then, according to all 9/11 truthers including Lichtmesz, all of these people have remained silent. Not a single one has come forward in almost 20 years, despite this incident receiving more press coverage and attention than almost any other event in the recent history of the human race. Not a single one of these thousands of conspirators has ever been proven to have said anything to anyone about their role, not even to their wives or close friends. Not one. As any rational observer immediately recognizes, that is simply impossible. There’s no evidence that any conspiracy that massive has ever gone undetected in human history, and no such evidence will ever come into existence. This is the crucial flaw behind all allegations of massive conspiracies.

Lichtmesz’s 9/11 truthing, without any other evidence, already shows he isn’t capable of recognizing glaring logical errors. It shows that his resentments and obsessions (anti-Americanism) can trump even the most basic fact-checking mechanisms built into the human mind. Which means no argument he makes can be trusted. Would you allow a surgeon who believed in the four humors theory of the body to operate on you? Would you hire a lawyer who believed the moon landing was faked? Would you get into an Uber driven by a driver who tells you traffic signals are a conspiracy targeted against her to reduce her wages? Sure, there’s a chance these people might be able to function well occasionally — even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while — but you sure as hell won’t hire them. Let other people play that game of Russian roulette. It’s the same with Lichtmesz and so many on the far-right. We now know that he’s incapable of thinking straight on at least one major issue. How many others are there?

Which finally brings us to the “horseshoe” theory (g). This is the theory, discussed actively in recent months in Germany, that the extreme right and extreme left come together on many issues, like the two ends of a horseshoe. 9/11 is a perfect example. The European far-left hates America because it’s the homeland of “hypercapitalist” oppression and maintains a global profit-driven empire based on violence and the threat of violence. The European far-right hates America for those reasons too (usually), plus the fact that the USA is a artificial, deracinated construct inhabited by racial mongrels who are constantly at each other’s throats. In the place of true (that is, European) culture, the USA substitutes a cheap, cynical worship of money, most of which is controlled by you-know-who. Ganser himself is an anti-American obsessive who has fans both on the far left (the majority of his lecture audiences, according to this article (g) entitled “The Audience Was Even Worse”) and the far-right.

How do we know he has fans on the far right? Here he is discussing his ideas with the German right-wing extremist Jürgen Elsässer (who was formerly a left-wing extremist, see horseshoe theory) and the most notorious neo-Nazi in Germany, Karl-Heinz Hoffmann:

Hoffmann founded the notorious “fascist terrorist gangWehrsportgruppe Hoffmann (Military Sports Group Hoffmann), a now-banned paramilitary organization whose members committed numerous crimes, including the assassination of Jewish publisher Shlomo Lewin and his partner in Erlangen in 1980. Lewin had gained international renown, and the everlasting hatred of the Hoffmann group, for publishing articles critical of them.

Wait, but surely you can’t blame Hoffmann for the deranged actions of one of the members of his fascist terror gang, can you? Well, the killer, Uwe Behrendt, wasn’t just a member of the Hoffmann gang. He was its vice-president (g), and lived in Hoffmann’s house, from where he departed to murder Lewin, who lived nearby. Then he returned to Hoffman’s house and reported: “Boss, I also did it for you.” Behrendt then admitted he’d screwed up by leaving Hoffmann’s girlfriend’s sunglasses at the murder scene. Hoffmann then burned Behrendt’s clothing, helped dispose of the murder weapon (which had a silencer Hoffmann admitted to helping build), and arranged for the killer to flee to Lebanon, where the Hoffmann group had ties to the Fatah organization.

Hoffmann soon followed him. Behrendt then (apparently) committed suicide in Lebanon, preventing his trial for Lewin’s murder in Germany. Quite convenient for Hoffmann, who, of course, denied any advance knowledge of Behrendt’s plan. Crocodile tears streaming down his face, Hoffmann bemoaned the “senseless murder of innocent people”. Hoffmann himself was tried but not convicted for ordering Lewin’s murder. Hoffmann was also implicated, but never charged, in the 1980 Oktoberfest bombing (g) which — surprise surprise! — was also committed by a Hoffman group member, who died in the blast. Hoffman himself was convicted of aggravated assault, kidnapping, forgery, and weapons offenses in 1984 and sentenced to nine years in prison. Ganser is happy to share the stage with this man, and uses the interview with Hoffman to push one of his other favorite theories, that the bombing was conducted by members of a Gladio stay-behind “secret army”. Hoffman is of course happy to join in Ganser’s musings, which cast suspicion away from him.

That’s the kind of company Daniele Ganser keeps. And Lichtmesz, along with most of the German hard left and hard right, endorses Ganser’s 9/11 conspiracy theories.

So there you have it: Right wing nutjobs and left-wing nutjobs dancing together in peace and harmony around a maypole of bullshit.

The History of Maypole Dancing – Active Arts

I’d call that pretty strong confirmation of the horseshoe theory.

A Fake Quote from Peter Handke in the New York Times and Everywhere Else

Peter Handke has questionable political judgment, which is something he shares with most artists and writers. This post isn’t meant to defend his stance on the Balkan wars of the 1990s, although, as a German reader, I can state that it is much more nuanced than is being reported in the English-language press.

But one of the most-repeated and most-tweeted charges in the indictment against Handke is false. The charge is that, when confronted about Serb atrocities in Bosnia, Handke said: “You can shove your corpses up your ass.” Even the New York Times published this false quotation.

German-language outlets have established this quote is fake. As far as I know, no English-language source has yet done so. So let me be the first.

Here is what Handke actually said, live and in-person:

This was a recording of a talk Handke gave at the Akademietheater in Vienna in 1996. A member of the audience asks Handke why he never visited Bosnia, only Serbia. Handke says everyone else was already visiting Bosnia, and he wanted to be on the “wrong” side. This comment is obviously meant ironically, and the audience laughs.

The questioner then asks whether “journalists who were trapped in Sarajevo” might have been more “affected” (betroffen) by the war than Handke.

Handke then interrupts and says “‘Betroffenheit’ — das kann ich schon überhaupt nicht hören…” — “I can’t stand this word ‘Betroffenheit’. Go home with your ‘Betroffenheit’, stick it up your ass.”

To understand what Handke was saying, we need to unpack this word Betroffenheit. The verb betroffen means to be affected by something. Betroffen has a standard, neutral meaning in the sense of being literally affected: i.e., this law does not apply to you, you are not betroffen by it; they changed the test, but I graduated before that, so I was not betroffen by the change.

But betroffen also has an emotional meaning: something has affected your emotions, has touched you, has caused you anguish, etc. Usually it’s used in response to negative events: I was betroffen to hear of your mother’s death; he was betroffen by images of starving children on the television.

Betroffenheit is simply the noun version of the adjective betroffen — it means the state of being emotionally affected by something. Whenever a disaster or terrorist attack hits Germany, politicians always tweet about their Betroffenheit: they want to say they are deeply affected by whatever happened.

It’s kind of like the secular German equivalent of an American politicians saying their “thoughts and prayers” are with the victims after a mass shooting. And this analogy is spot-on. Just as “thoughts and prayers” is a cliché in English, Betroffenheit is a cliché in German. It’s mocked as an platitude which politicians trot out just so they won’t be called insensitive, and which doesn’t require them to take a stand. In German-speaking media, people of all political stripes mock politicians for calling attention to their Betroffenheit all the time.

This is the point Handke is making. As someone who lives by language, he finds the words “betroffen” and “Betroffenheit” offensively unoriginal. And on another level, he is calling expressions of sympathy and concern by Western journalists and commentators are hypocritical, because these commentators focus exclusively on the suffering of Bosniaks and Muslims, while downplaying or ignoring the suffering of Serbs.

So he’s not saying “shove the corpses up your ass”. He is saying “shove your Betroffenheit [one-sided and hypocritical expressions of dismay] up your ass”.

Again, I am not here to defend all of Handke’s views. But this is a major error which, to my knowledge, has yet to be corrected and acknowledged in the English-speaking press.

What the BBC Gets Right, and German Public Broadcasters Get Wrong

German conservatives accuse the publicly-funded German TV networks ARD and ZDF (and radio stations) of liberal bias. Which is a problem, since the mandate of these license-fee funded networks is to provide a fair and balanced representation (g) of the spectrum of opinion in Germany. The public has no choice but to support these networks — the most expensive public-broadcasting system in Europe — so they should represent the entire spectrum of mainstream public opinion.

But do they? A new study offers ammunition to the critics. The Reuters Institute and Oxford University recently conducted a comparative study of public broadcasters in eight European countries. The study was designed to determine who the audience for public broadcasters were, what sorts of programs they watch or listen to, and how the Internet was affecting news consumption. The study found that in almost all European countries, the audience for public service media (PSM) was older and more educated than the audience for competing private channels, which comes as no real surprise.

The study also decided to test whether audiences perceived a political bias in public programming. It found (pdf) that German public broadcasters had a more liberal audience, and were more distrusted by conservatives, than almost all other European public broadcasters:

chrome_kCl1aJcjnx

chrome_EytejIh4yx

Only in Greece was there a bigger left-right gap in trust in public service media. The BBC  gets noticeably better marks across the board.

The study is confirmed by observation: German public television has an evident center-left bias. Nobody who watched it for any significant length of time doubts this. The bias emerges from two factors which interact with each other. First, most journalists travel within an educated urban center-left filter bubble. Second, they are driven by a conception of the journalist’s role as activist for the underdog.

The long hangover from National Socialism has infused every aspect of polite German society with a “never again” morality, which is not a bad thing in many respects. But in journalism, it fosters overt bias and sloppy reporting. Before reporting about controversial issues, the typical center-left German journalist decides who the underdog and who the oppressor is, then structures the story to ensure that even the dullest viewer knows which moral judgments the reporter wants them to make. The underdog’s story is presented without any critical questioning and, as often as not, with a big wet sloppy kiss of sentimentality.

This is why conservative, or even just independent-minded viewers, quickly give up on German public media news reporting on certain issues. It’s not just that the bias is grating, it also makes for dead boring journalism. As soon as you hear “nuclear”, “McDonald’s”, “capitalism”, “refugee”, “EU”, “climate”, “Trump”, “USA”, “death penalty”, “Africa”, “police”, “Saxony” or other trigger-words, you know exactly what’s coming. There are never any surprises. It’s not so much that the reporting is inaccurate — although it often is — or that the bias is morally suspect. It’s just tedious and condescending to the viewer.

Let me provide a concrete example of what German journalism does wrong, and the BBC does right. Recently, two controversial public figures were charged with breaking the law for political reasons. One of them is the German ship captain Carola Rackete, who violated an order from the Italian foreign ministry to keep out of Italian waters, and brought migrants whom she had rescued at sea to the Italian port of Lampedusa. She was charged with numerous crimes for doing so. Rackete, free on bond, went on a German public-television talk show to be interviewed by Dunya Hayali. This was the result:

For those of you not yet German-powered, I’ll summarize. The moderator asks Rackete why she brought the migrants to Italy, why she didn’t choose another port, what the situation was like on board, what she thinks drives people to leave Africa, and how she felt during the crisis. Rackete is permitted to go on and on and on justifying her actions and setting forth her point of view, often to bursts of applause from the audience. The only hint of critical questioning is when the interviewer asks Rackete whether she can understand Europeans who think accepting millions of Africans might be too much, to which Rackete replies: “No, actually not.”

Rackete’s views are extremely left-wing, far to the left of the average German, but she’s allowed to spin them in a crowd-pleasing way, without being asked about the consequences of her favored policies. (The idea that German public media would grant an extreme right figure so much uncontested airtime is unthinkable.) The interview is one softball after another. Seldom has a controversial public figure with extreme political views been given such a sensuous tongue-bath, at least in public.

Now let’s turn to another controversial public figure who broke the law for political reasons: Roger Hallam, leader of Extinction Rebellion, the group which goes around blocking streets and chaining themselves to buildings to protest climate change. (Rackete wore an Extinction Rebellion T-Shirt during her interview). Here he is being interviewed for BBC’s Hard Talk by Stephen Sackur:

Now that’s what I call journalism. Hallam is allowed to state his point of view, but is challenged by Sackur at every turn with relevant questions backed by independent research. The result is an informative exploration of the climate crisis, and of circumstances which do and do not justify civil disobedience. It makes the German interview look like a celebrity puff-piece, which it basically was. And a conservative or independent-minded BBC viewer could also enjoy the Hallam interview, because Sackur, unlike the German journalist, actually asks the questions that would immediately occur to viewers who were skeptical of, or disagreed with, Hallam’s political views.

The BBC is far from perfect, but it’s a far sight better than ARD and ZDF. Because it treats its viewers as competent adults who can make up their own minds.

They’re Watching US

In 2000, a bunch of convicts escaped from a Texas prison and murdered a police officer named Aubrey Hawkins during a subsequent robbery. Here’s an odd fact: Wikipedia has an article on the death of Hawkins in German, but in no other language, including English. That means at least one German cared enough about a decades-old killing on the other side of the Atlantic to devote hours to creating a German Wikipedia page about him, even though the case has no discernible relevance to Germany.

People who follow the German media soon notice how obsessed German mainstream news outlets are with the United States of America. Coverage is of hugely varying quality, from intriguing and balanced outsider perspectives to the condescending fictions of Claas Relotius. Much of it shows an all-knowing tone of faux-sophistication, combined with instructions to the reader what they are to think about whatever’s being reported. The undertone is roughly as follows:

This article about America is a cautionary tale about right-wing populism / firearms obsession / religious mania / grotesque income disparities / militarism / racism / a nonexistent welfare state / environmental destruction.

German Reader! Do not let the seductive promises of populists entrance your flimsy and impressionable minds, or you find yourself trapped within in the nightmare world of … (cue ominous string glissandi) American social conditions! (amerikanische Verhältnisse)

Disclaimer: Not that these critiques don’t have a point. American policy leaves a lot to be desired in these areas, and a fair-minded critic should be entitled to point them out. What grates, though, is, first, the fact that German journalistic critics seem to simply assume that Germany has none of the problems which they denounce abroad. (Am deutschen Wesen…). Second, these journalists rarely pen a flattering, or even simply a neutral, article about any aspect of American society.

The typical German journalist is fascinated with America because he or she believes that American poses a unique, and uniquely sinister temptation to which uneducated Germans are primed to succumb. (I know this from umpteen pub / dinner party conversations with actual German journalists). Ordinary beer-swilling German proles have already proven their susceptibility to the seductive promises of populists 80 years ago, a journalist may explain, and nothing has changed since then. Now, the danger is that German plebes will be taken in by American propaganda: perfect white smiles, glamourous Rodeo Drive boutiques, the promise of the open road, the land of unlimited possibilities, fake breasts, fake smiles, cardboard homes, mindless TV pap, all those shiny, happy people holding hands.

This idea of Americana is largely based the biases of sixtysomething journalism professors and bosses, which in turn were largely based on 1980s television shows nobody watches anymore. But these sixtysomethings still control plenty of access and funding, so they matter. For that matter, there is also a counter-tendency of German libertarians to unthinkingly embrace American culture and values simply because it triggers the libs. Never adopt a political position for the primary reason that it annoys people you find smug and tiresome. Even smug and tiresome people are right sometimes.

I think there’s a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, and much of it is due to one man: Claas Relotius. The Relotius scandal (which sounds like a tight airport-bookstore thriller) has forced a great deal of soul-searching. He made up preposterous lies about America which nobody with the slightest knowledge of that country could have believed.* And not only did they make it through Der Spiegel‘s supposedly relentless fact-checking, they earned Relotius several prestigious journalistic prizes. The affair not only highlighted problems with German journalism, it specifically highlighted problems with German journalism about the United States. Will it prompt real changes? We’ll see.

In the meantime, journos and editors, I happily offer my services to read any article about America and point out likely lies and exaggerations. Continue reading “They’re Watching US”