Russia-Ukraine war: The irresponsible behavior of the German mainstream press


by Elisabeth Ellenbrouch

End of August a book written by the German philosopher David Precht as well as the Honorary Professor and Social Scientist Harold Welzer, who is also lecturer at the Swiss St Gallen University, was published under the title Die Vierte Gewalt. Wie Mehrheitsmeinung gemacht wird, auch wenn sie keine ist. (The Fourth Power. How majority opinion is being shaped, even if it is not one, S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt, 2022). An immediate public outburst of hatred and mean commentaries followed the publication.  What motivated the authors to write such a book, that is based on a critical examination of the German main stream media and their one-sided coverage of the Ukraine war, had to do with polls that were made in Germany in June 2022 by FORSA, which stated that 43% (!) of the Germans think that the German press has deteriorated. In June 2021 an Allensbach Institute poll reported that 44% of the Germans thought that they can’t express freely their political opinion anymore. 

The main thesis of the book The Fourth Power is that democracy in Germany is being transformed into a “mediocracy”.  Leading politicians are driven by mass media and in order not to be scandalized, they commit “self-censorship” on a grand scale.  This is exemplified by many German TV talk shows, where for weeks and months the defenders of heavy weapon deliveries for Ukraine were clashing with a few that argued for more caution and called for seeking a diplomatic solution in the war.  The authors observed “hyperventilation” and the tendency to quickly defame all those who think critically about further weapon deliveries. They state that in the leading German media there is the tendency to manipulate public opinion by “polarizing”, “simplifying”, “moralizing” and by “defaming.” This is all the more relevant since the public media have the “responsibility” to offer qualified information that is thoroughly cross checked with other sources. What is however often the tendency of main stream press is that countervailing information is often blocked out, which is a way to suppress the full truth. In addition social media, Twitter, Instagram et cetera are gaining more and more influence.  

The most illustrative example for a press that only “selectively” reports is the attitude of the German main stream press in reporting about the Russia-Ukraine war. During April this year Alice Schwarzer, a prominent German journalist, published in her feminist magazine “Emma” an open letter to the German chancellor Olaf Scholz, that got signed by 28 intellectuals, among them law experts, writers, film makers, philosophers and social scientists, which within a short period of time gathered more than 300.000 signatures on the platform “”. The letter called for more attention to be given to “diplomacy” and for bringing about a “ceasefire, in order to break the escalation spiral of violence and care for the lives of 10.000ds of people.” 

The letter stated: “We welcome the fact that you had so far so carefully considered the risks of the war spreading within Ukraine; the risk of it spreading to the whole of Europe; indeed, the risk of a 3rd world war. We therefore hope that you will return to your original position and not supply, either directly or indirectly, further heavy weapons to Ukraine. On the contrary, we urge you to do everything you can to help bring about a ceasefire as soon as possible; a compromise that both sides can accept. We share the judgment of the Russian aggression as a breach of the basic norm of international law. We also share the conviction that there is a principled political and moral duty not to retreat from aggressive force without a fight back. But anything that can be derived from this has limits in other precepts of political ethics. We are convinced that two such boundary lines have now been reached: First, the categorical prohibition of accepting a manifest risk of escalation of this war into a nuclear conflict. The delivery of large quantities of heavy weapons, however, could make Germany itself a party to the war. And a Russian counterattack could thus then trigger the mutual assistance case under the NATO treaty and thus the immediate danger of a world war. The second borderline is the level of destruction and human suffering among the Ukrainian civilian population. Even justified resistance to an aggressor is at some point unbearably disproportionate to this.”

The letter warned “Firstly, that the responsibility for the danger of an escalation to a nuclear conflict concerns not only the original aggressor but also those who, with their eyes open, provide him with a motive to act in a possibly criminal manner. And secondly, that the decision on the moral responsibility of the further ‘cost’ in human lives among the Ukrainian civilian population falls exclusively within the competence of their government. Morally binding norms are universal in nature. The escalating arms buildup taking place under pressure could be the beginning of a global arms spiral with catastrophic consequences, not least for global health and climate change. It is necessary, despite all differences, to strive for a global peace. The European approach of common diversity is a model for this. We are convinced, Chancellor, that the head of Germany’s government in particular can make a decisive contribution to a solution that will stand up in the eyes of history. Not only in view of our present (economic) power, but also in view of our historical responsibility – and in the hope of a common peaceful future.”

In the book the authors pointed to the phase change that occurred in Germany several weeks after the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, when the Chancellor announced in the Federal parliament that Germany stands at the side of Ukraine and will deliver all necessary equipment to the country so that it can win the war. The chancellor’s speech was hailed by the main stream press as “historic” while at the same time talk-shows were launching a “guilt /pride” campaign i.e. more and more politicians such as former chancellor Schröder, as well as the former German President Steinmeier were accused for their pro-Russia policy in the past and for having engaged in the North Stream 2 Pipeline project.  What counted was that those people, who had engaged in a constructive Ostpolitik for more than 30 years, now have to feel “ashamed” for having committed such error. So “feeling ashamed” became the main narrative in the main stream media.  The formula “Wandel durch Handel” (Change through Trade) that had accompanied Germany’s Ostpolitik was overthrown overnight. 

Most telling example the coverage about Ukraine war 

The authors point to the striking constellation concerning the press coverage about the war in Ukraine. In summer 2022 there was an almost homogenous, equally normative evaluation concerning the causes for the war in Ukraine, its course and the question which measures should be taken by the government and the West.  One can say already now that between end of February and mid July 2022 you had to carefully research, in order to find journalistic contributions, that were “critical” about the absolute desire of the Ukraine government to receive more and more heavy weapons, and the reporting about the actions of both participating armies or the question concerning the international opinion about the actions of the West. “Instead there was a flood of commentaries, that identified with the position of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian ambassador in Germany (Melnyk).What also astonished was the Eurocentric reporting, in which non-  western reflections of the situation were not at all or only casually mentioned (in contrast to the NYT or the FT).  The fact that in many countries of Asia and Africa the role of the West on the one side and of Russia on the other could not be so clearly categorized, as it appears in our media, was in the first months clearly underrepresented.”  Even if on March 2nd 2022 many representatives in the UN did not vote or abstained to the UN resolution, “the objectively false perspective that the Russian dictator is internationally isolated, was slowly corrected in the media only mid -June, when it became clear that the Russian exported energy has internationally enough consumers, which is why the effects of five western embargoes did not really matter.” 

Also not represented were reports about the nature and the dynamic of the war. Wars do produce their own logic, the authors state. This is ‘brutalization and cruelty’(…).  One should for example think about the immense cruelties of the German Wehrmacht that raged in Ukraine and SU and murdered millions of people, including mass shooting, letting prisoner of war starve and annihilating Jews. One should just think about the US throwing nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the bombing of Tokyo with 100.000ds of dead people. One should remember the Vietnam War, in which 1,5 million Vietnamese were killed, in which Napalm destroyed the bodies of countless human beings or poisoned them with Dioxin (Agent Orange). One should think of the rapes and massacres occurring during each war, which put the crimes in Butcha in one line with the massacres of US soldiers in Haditha and Mahmudija in the 2005 / 06 Iraq war. There are no such things as clean, non-criminal wars. And as understandable as the indignation and mourning about terrible Russian war crimes are, they are unfortunately no exceptions. By concentrating only on the Ukraine perspective, the German media in terms of media skills not only fell beneath the standard, but missed the chances to do a ‘realistic analysis’ about the development of the war. Instead they prefer an analytically ‘fruitless posturing journalism’ that in face of Russian war crimes was trembling given its indignation, but was therefore “not able to systematically describe the war events and decipher them.” It was never stated that the killing of civilians and brutal sexualized violence, plundering and torture, are “never exclusively excesses of one war party, but always happen when war and its brutality evolve.”  

It is mentioned that in a FAZ report the very right wing “Asov” Regiment was described as “heroes in Moscow’s clutches,” which is contrary to any objective reporting but pure propaganda. The authors criticize what they qualify as “moralizing opportunism.”  What strikes is the “unconditional voluntary solidarity with Ukraine” up to the “we- feeling ecstasy” and the immediate attacks against those who bring forward other arguments. The way in which the German press writes about Ukraine war is an illustration of what they call “Cursor journalism”.  The conformism in German newspapers stands in contrast to a much more critical press in France or US with the NYT that at one point attacked the US president to endanger military engagement on the European continent.” 

The authors are critical about the fact that German newspaper articles would be written in a way that would “trigger”; articles which are “trendy”, and which are being judged by the amount of “clicks” which they receive. They also criticize people like Ralf Fücks (German politician and member of the green party since the beginning 1982) who called military experts like Brig. General Erich Vad (the former military advisor of Angela Merkel who usually delivers very precise and sober military analysis about the ongoing war, but is most of the time blocked ) as “Unterwerfungspazifisten” (a pacifist who wants to capitulate).  Such an attitude demonstrates a “new form of destructivity”. It is essentially accepting a “form of decontextualization”.

Escalation to irregular warfare

The above mentioned military analyst Erich Vad in a recent NTV (private German TV news channel) interview (September 29th) had warned that the present war in Ukraine is shifting into some kind of “trench warfare” (Stellungskrieg.) Pointing out that the 1200 km long “frontline” in this war is very difficult to hold, he observed that the after the “referenda” in the Russian occupied territories the recent sabotage operations against North Stream 1 and 2  Russian pipelines, the war is shifting in the direction of a tremendous escalation  potential. As he stated in the interview, despite the fact that the Ukraine government receives all the necessary military intelligence data from the West, the war will increasingly shift towards Russian territory and transform more and more into an irregular/ partisan war. According to Vad the shift towards irregular war will increase in the Donbass in the next weeks. Vad made clear, that he thinks that it is necessary to talk with Putin, as Turkish President Erdogan has been doing, illustrated by the recent grain deal. Vad simply did not accept the argument that there was no way to talk to Putin: “What I don’t like about the western position is that we only bet on more weapon deliveries and do not look for diplomatic discussions.” In the same interview he underlined how important it was for Russia to keep the land -connection to Crimea. That Russia has a lot of interests in Crimea and Donbass which are at stake. Being asked about new sanctions, Vad responded that they would not have negative effect on the military conduct of the war but that the effects of sanctions are that they are sanctions against us. Being asked about the sabotage against the North Stream gas pipelines, Vad underlined that he could only speculate. Given that the sabotage operation against the two Russian pipelines North Stream 1 and 2 were “highly complicated”, he very much cautioned that such an operation could only be done by a state. And the real question to ask is “Who is to profit from such sabotage”, Cui bono? Such complex operations could be done by “navy seals” f.e., but this “is just pure speculation”, he said.

Italian TV on earlier threats to North Stream 2

Similarly the Italian “Contra TV” channel on Sept 30.09. issued a report from Dario Fausti which centered on the subject of the prehistory of the construction of North Stream 2 pipeline. The report  recalled the infamous letter from the three Republican Senators Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Ron Johnson to the Management of the East German Fährhafen Sassnitz (Sassnitz Ferry Port, Island Rügen, Schleswig Holstein) in which the senators threatened Germany’s port town of Sassnitz with “crushing sanction” for allegedly providing supplies for vessels involved in the  Russian pipeline project. The Port is a key post for ships involved in the construction of the North Stream 2 pipeline. Film clips were also documented showing a statement from Senator Ron Johnson who stated that “I can’t think of a more powerful way against Russian aggression than to prevent Nord Stream 2 forever.” He insisted that there had to be a rolling back of the Russian pipeline and that a law should get passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to prevent these pipelines. The Italian TV in its commentary expressed outrage since the law that was talked about, is directed “against a project between tow sovereign states – Russia and Germany,” hence it would be “an unbelievable level of arrogance.”  There was in addition a film clip showing State Secretary Victoria Nuland who, before the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, stated that “we have strong conversations with Germany.  If Russia invades, the only way to answer is to stop North Stream II.”

The TV finally quote US president Joe Biden who shortly before the war had stated in a White House press conference, February 7 2022:  “If Russia invades, there will be no longer North Stream II. We’ll bring an end to it.” Being asked, how this could be done, the US president answered “I promise you, we will be able to do it.” Extremely noteworthy is also the statement made by the well-known US economist Jeffrey Sachs,who in an interview with Bloomberg blamed the US to be responsible for the North Stream Pipelines leaks. He said that his suspicion was that actions were carried out by the USA but also by Poland. As possible proof he mentioned, that radar surveillance was carried out by US helicopters near the pipeline location, which usually are located in Gdansk (Poland).

Yet all these arguments are usually cast aside in the German main stream press, which is tantamount to suppression of truth finding.


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