FALTER, SPIEGEL and Nord Stream 2 – what about the quality of Western “quality media”?

Up to the present day, no authority exists that we could call upon to define once and for all the quality of quality media. It is possible, however, to make comparisons among existing media. One of my more peculiar habits is the almost daily consumption of news and talk shows intended for Chinese and Russians (CCTV-4 and Первый канал may now be received only via the Internet, satellite reception was cut off after the invasion of Ukraine). While the English-language broadcasts on RT or China News are tuned to a Western audience – too obvious misinformation being carefully avoided – such timidity is absent in broadcasts for domestic audiences. This applies to the Chinese television as well. It is merely a little bit more polished than its Russian counterpart. One is there only in the form more chosen, less brutal than in the Russian. If watching the program Большаяигра (The Great Game), which is intended for a predominantly middle-class, intellectual audience, you have to be very hard-boiled indeed not to be seized with disgust. A round of leading intellectuals of the Russian state get together to talk, mostly in a joking tone, about the war and the inconceivable stupidity of the West, which does not want to understand that the Russians are in the right – morally and in every other respect. Insane slogans like the one recently spread by Medvedev, the former president and worst warmonger of all, according to which it is Russia’s urgent task to advance (as a first step?) to the border of Poland, are part of the usual rabble-rousing within the Russian „elite“. No word of dissent is tolerated against this madness.

Seen in this light, even Germany’s tabloid Bild and Austria’s Kronenzeitung may serve as splendid examples of objective reporting. All our russo- und sinophiles, who so readily assume the role of morally superior pacifists, should be prescribed lessons in Russian and Chinese, so that they finally know what they are talking about when they declare their sympathies for the Russian and Chinese autocracies and thereby voluntarily make themselves instruments of Xi Jinping and Wladimir Putin. That is, of course, exactly what the latter hope for. They are doing their best to sow internal dissent within the Western camp. Above all, this dissent concerns the supply of weapons to Ukraine. Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister, got to the heart of the truth. The very moment the Russians lay down their arms, there will be peace. Nobody either in Ukraine or in the West thinks of invading Russia. If, on the other hand, Ukraine lays down its arms or is no longer supplied with them by the West, then the war will stop as well, but the Ukrainian state will cease to exist, because the Russians are on the lurk to annex the whole country – with twenty percent of Ukrainian territory they have already partially reached this goal. Annexing all of Ukraine up to the Polish border is openly proclaimed not only by Medvedev but in every broadcast of Bolshaya Igra. A comparatively civilized tone can only be heard in addresses to an international (Western) audience. Vladimir Putin has been an unsurpassable master of such duplicity from the beginning, but press spokespersons Maria Zakharova and Dmitry Peskov are now equally adept at eating up so much chalk before each public appearance that their statements seem almost reasonable to Western ears. But they never leave any doubt that for the Russian side peace is only conceivable if Ukraine capitulates. In this respect, the Chinese peace plan perfectly agrees with Russian intentions – and was therefore immediately approved in Russia. The Chinese are demanding an end to arms deliveries by the West; but do not demand any sacrifices from Russia. The dishonesty of German pacifists is shown in their largely uncritical appraisal of the Russian and Chinese positions. Even smart people like Sahra Wagenknecht and Alice Schwarzer are guilty of shameful ignorance. Without this ignorance of Russian motives, it would be difficult to explain, why this kind of misguided pacifism is as much at home with the far left as with the German AfD. Is no one surprised that extremists from both camps, i.e. those who usually like to call for violence, suddenly pose as angels of peace?

But what do Western quality media like the Austrian Falter and the German Spiegel have to do with truth being trampled on in Russian and Chinese media? Shouldn’t we be pleased that the quality of their reporting far exceeds that of corresponding organs of dictatorial regimes? Yes, of course. No informed observer would deny the fundamental difference. And yet there is cause for concern, and a very concrete one at that. It concerns the way these media reported on the blowing up of Nord Stream 2. In Austrian newspaper Falter, journalist Tessa Szyszkowitz regularly comments on current events. So she did with regard to the attack on the pipeline in question (under the title Die Amis waren es! Oder doch nicht? = The Americans did it – or didn’t they?, Falter 8/23). The author concludes that the investigations by Seymour Hersh, who holds the American president personally responsible for the attack, must be considered a foolish fall conspiracy theory.

Ms. Szyszkowitz not only makes things too easy for herself, she endangers the quality of a magazine, for which its editor-in-chief, the well-known investigative journalist Florian Klenk, had until then earned great respect among the critical intelligentsia of Austria. What is at stake? Let me take a short look backwards. Gas supplies through Nordstream 1 had already been stopped by the Russian side before the start of the war, but last July Vladimir Putin had held out the prospect of their resumption through Nordstream 2. „We still have a functioning route – this is Nord Stream 2.“ This announcement was in line with the interest of German industry and a growing number of German politicians. The latter observation is important. From the American point of view, it was only a matter of time before Russian gas supplies reached Germany again – in this case via Nord Stream 2. As we know, its destruction took place two months later, at the end of September. Since then, the world has been puzzling over who ordered it.

Why is there any guesswork at all? Shortly before the war began, at a joint press conference with the German chancellor, known to be one of the United States‘ closest allies, President Biden had issued an undisguised threat, astonishingly undiplomatic in its directness – and he did so in full public view. „If Russia invades Ukraine”, Biden said, “then there will no longer be a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.“ When a reporter asked how that was to be possible, given that the project was under German control, Biden added. „I promise you, we’ll be able to do it.“ According to all diplomatic etiquette, the threat could not have been more explicit – and it was addressed directly to the German chancellor standing next to him. In its cover story (22/40), DER SPIEGEL quoted Biden’s words verbatim. That, after all! But it did so rather casually at the end of a rather long article depriving the president’s words of all meaning. Literally the quotation was belittled as an excerpt from an „older video snippet“. Let’s now go back to the Austrian Falter. Ms. Szyszkowitz goes even further than the Spiegel, as she does not even mention, perhaps does not even know, the American president’s public statement. Or does she know it, but believes the words coming from the mouth of an American president are nothing better than empty jokes?

Both would be a violation of the most elementary journalistic ethos. Florian Klenk, the responsible editor-in-chief and doctor of law, will certainly agree that a thief can be convicted even if the physical evidence for his deed is missing or insufficient. An indisputable circumstantial evidence, such as the announcement of this very act on his cell phone, is sufficient. Why are the statements of an American president not considered as circumstantial evidence, not even when they are additionally corroborated by investigations of a well-known investigative journalist like Seymour Hersh?

We know the reason. Not only for the Russian and Chinese propaganda the attack on Nordstream 2 is a ready-made catch, on which they eagerly pounced. Parts of the war-weary and inflation-stricken Western public are also just waiting for a halfway plausible reason to discredit any further aid to Ukraine. Both Russia and China hope that Biden’s reputation will be irreparably damaged if he can be irrefutably proven to have carried out the attack. Anti-Americanism widespread in Europe on both the extreme left and the extreme right fringes could, furthermore, receive a strong boost. Europe could, as Seymour Hersh blatantly propagates, leave the Western camp and NATO. This fear explains why no European state, least of all Germany, is interested in clarifying the attack. And this too makes us understand why journalist Tessa Szyszkowitz was allowed to publish her article in Falter without the editor-in-chief and legal expert Florian Klenk objecting to it, and why the Spiegel editors were able to dismiss the words of the American president as meaningless.

This constitutes a lethal danger for the quality of “quality media”, but neither the FALTER nor the SPIEGEL seem to be aware of it. They crossed a threshold that leads them straight in the direction of censored media. Nor does it help when Eliot Higgins, the up to now respected founder of Bellingcat in response to a question from the Falter, describes Hersh’s investigation as „crap based on questionable sources“. Was Higgins also unaware of Biden’s public warning? Or does he consider the words of an American president to be a questionable source? Both Der Falter and Der Spiegel could have simply remained silent on the subject, this does not detract from their credibility. But when they do take a stand, then their credibility is challenged by any deviation from the evidence. For one thing should always be kept in mind. Not lies are really dangerous but the truth. After the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian channel RT was not banned because of its blatant distortion of facts – propagandistic lies are relatively easy to expose. RT was to be feared because the Russians sometimes do tell the truth, and sometimes these are even painful truths. Western politics also spreads lies.

Not obvious lies but half-truths are the most dangerous weapons of propaganda. If Russians or Chinese indisputably adhere to proven or probable facts on some points, then many people in the West are ready to doubt the moral superiority of their own point of view. In Germany, Sahra Wagenknecht and Alice Schwarzer are among the russophile figureheads of half-truth. This is well known. But when media like Der Falter and Der Spiegel cover up the evidence out of opportunism (or self-imposed censorship?), they forfeit their status as quality media. Then they are guilty of the same one-sidedness as Wagenknecht or Schwarzer, albeit from opposite motives.

Perhaps the reader is getting impatient at this point. He will ask me if for my part I am now following Russian and Chinese propaganda? Both not only accuse the President of the United States of terrorist intent – quite rightly, since, as we have seen, he has stated it unequivocally in his own words – but also charges him with carrying it out. Other readers may ask, if I subscribe to the position of people like Noam Chomsky, Jeffrey Sachs, Seymour Hersh, Ray McGovern etc. – implacable critics of their own country, which they openly declare to be a rogue state? My answer is a most definite No. Unlike these critics and Russian propaganda, I believe Joe Biden had compelling reasons for his threat and its implementation.

To understand this point, does, however, require the ability to put oneself in the other party’s mind – an ability rarely found among the disseminators of half-truths. Let us assume that the American president meant exactly what he promised to do if the Russians were to invade Ukraine, and that he personally commissioned the execution of his menace. If I were an American, the motive for this action would seem to me rather evident. The U.S. does not accept that it has been defending Europe against Russia for almost three quarters of a century – first against Stalin’s totalitarianism and today against Putin’s revisionist aggression (by his own admission, Putin considers the collapse of the Soviet Union to be the greatest catastrophe of the past century and pursues) while Europe not only contributes little to this defense, but even actively counteracts it. Today, the US spends billions of dollars in support of Ukraine. Europeans have been, and continue to be, all too happy to keep their own defense spending to a minimum, which allows them to increase their prosperity at the expense of Americans under the latter’s protective shield. What is more: instead of expressing gratitude, a stubborn European anti-Americanism was allowed to flourish. We imagined that we were flirting with Venus because of moral superiority, while the United States was in league with warlike Mars (Paul Kagan). The Americans no longer want to accept this arrogant attitude, which I perfectly understand when putting myself in their position. From the American point of view, the readiness to use Nord Stream 2, nurtured by Putin and received with approval by circles of German industry and politics, had to be the final straw in their anger. While the U.S. was supporting Europe with billions of dollars, thereby defending it against Russian aggression, the EU, through its energy imports from Russia, had no qualms about keeping that country’s war machine running with even more billions of dollars (Austria is still doing this, by the way).

In my opinion, it would have done Joe Biden little harm but would on the contrary earned him admiration for his service to truth if he had been brave enough to openly admit to carrying out his threat. Instead, by denying the truth, he has not only given Russia and China a huge head start in propaganda and a welcome template to russophiles like Wagenknecht and Schwarzer, but at the same time he also forced the Western press – serious media like SPIEGEL and FALTER – to cover up the truth – by concealing or – even worse – by distorting it.

It was to be expected what conclusion the Russophiles (very rarely they are Russia experts) would draw from Biden’s capitulation in the face of truth. Since the disastrous invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush, which was falsely justified by Secretary of State Colin Paul with the development of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein, they want to convince the world that there is no real difference between the US and Russia. In the pursuit of their respective goals, so they say, both superpowers do not shrink back from any crime. The russophiles usually even go one step further. Precisely because they know about the high standards of the leading Western power, its transgressions are criticized with particular vehemence, while they are downplayed in the case of the Russians. The main argument for equating the two camps in this way boils down to the contention that wars like the one in Ukraine ultimately degrade the population to victims and puppets of great power interests, especially those of the Americans.

So much seems correct about this argument that there is no longer any real independence for the whole of Europe, including Ukraine. Either we are the servants of the US or the vassals of Russia. After centuries of European states wrestling for supremacy and tearing each other apart in the Thirty Years‘ War of the last century, this wrestling has now gripped the planet as a whole, thanks to technological advances that deliver missiles to any part of the globe in minutes, threatening even the most remote areas with annihilation. Compared to the superpowers U.S., China and Russia, Europe is militarily so insignificant that it now merely plays the part of a nearly powerless observer (even risking to become the next theatre of proxy conflicts as happened to Third World countries during the Cold War). In this struggle, every retreat, every weakening of one superpower amounts to a strengthening of its rivals. Because of its military impotence, the old continent is de facto forced to place itself under the protection of one superpower or the other, otherwise it will be torn between the two, like Ukraine. And as to pacifism, it certainly did not help this country that in 1994 it was forced by the Americans under Clinton to give up its own nuclear arsenal (the third largest in the world at the time). The Russians would never have dared to invade a nuclear power.

Seymour Hersh believes he knows that some European Union countries will leave NATO as soon as he convinces them that the Biden administration arranged for Nord Stream 2 to be blown up. That is certainly wrong, because Olaf Scholz, Emmanuel Macron and Giorgia Meloni do of course know the inconvenient truth. But out of caution, they are careful not to blurt it out in the manner of Seymour Hersh. Instead, they go out of their way to leave it at rhetorical announcements of forthcoming investigations, but concretely avoid taking any action in this regard. This is why not only the United States but also England and France reject an independent investigation by the United Nations. Europe’s leaders know they have to choose between the United States against Russia or Russia against the United States.

After all, this is anything but new. The states of Europe have already learned enough about what the dominance of one or the other superpower means for them. Those of the East had to suffer bitterly until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, while Western Europe lived under American rule with comparatively little resentment. Faced with this alternative, Europeans know which dominance to accept and which to shy away from. Despite the blasting of Nord Stream 2 by the Americans, a majority is aware that Putin’s Russia – not that of its great poets, composers, and citizens abused by the „elite“ – far surpasses the U.S. in inhuman brutality (only certain episodes of our own history provide parallels in the 17th and 20th centuries). We can only hope that the struggle for a united humanity will eventually be decided peacefully. In Europe, that was the case only after a bloody civil war in the last century. Will the internecine fight among the superpowers only end after a similarly bloody event? That remains the great unsolved question of this 21st century. Unfortunately, the self-proclaimed pacifists around Schwarzer and Wagenknecht are deluding themselves and us if they hope that an immediate stop to arms deliveries by the West will solve the impending danger. Of course, all peace-loving people would immediately become pacifists if history could provide us with proof that yielding to aggression achieves the desired results. But that is precisely not the case. It usually has the opposite effect, strengthening the aggressor’s intentions. A policy of appeasement will not save the world from a third great war; on the contrary, it will incite Putin to new attacks. Or was Hitler prevented from the second great war by trying to appease him?

This continues my first essay written four months ealier Sabotage, reasons of State and the ordinary citizens.