For the dossier “Discussing journalism – Second Thoughts”, published by German media organisations n-ost and FROH! Magazin, the journalists Ben Knight and Ulrike Christl led several debates during the 2016 n-ost media conference “On the Tightrope” in Moscow.
The final publication is part of the Stereoscope network for media observation and was first published as print brochure by FROH! Magazin and n-ost.
I was asked to discuss one of several German terms currently used in the social debate on media and their role in politics. Together with Moritz Gathmann, a freelance colleague from Germany specialised in Russia and Ukraine, we picked “Lügenpresse” – Lying Press.
It seems that it was some time around 1848 when German people started to think that the press was lying to them – pretty much the same time that the word “presse” was being used to talk about the media. No one has ever really trusted the news they read – even if they base all their ideas on that news. In the early 20th century, many Germans – including intellectuals – used the word Lügenpresse to describe any press they didn’t like (particularly foreign reports of German World War I atrocities). So it was natural for the Nazi party to adopt the word (Adolf Hitler used it to describe the Marxist press in Mein Kampf). Now Trump supporters have adopted it too, to describe what they used to call “mainstream media”.
Discussing journalism – The debate between Moritz and me
Second Thoughts: What has the word Lügenpresse come to mean in Germany?
Schlager: I think that the mainstream media in Germany does have a big problem. I think the general loss of trust in the media is justified. I can understand it. I couldn’t stand here and say: Lügenpresse shouldn’t be used as a word. I wouldn’t use it myself, but I can understand why other people use it, out of anger, out of a certain helplessness and powerlessness about not being listened to, that they’re not even being noticed. That’s what people feel when they create these buzzwords, and then of course they use them. I’m not sure where this word came from. Who started using that word in Germany?
Gathmann: It came from the Dresden hooligans. They started using it again. And the word is associated with Nazi Germany? That’s how they described the “Jewish-liberal” press at the time.
Schlager: The problem is I’m not that up on the history. I can’t put it in a big historical context. I’m emotionally involved with it though. It’s like that phrase “post-fact era” – that’s a word I hate. It’s much too charged for me, but I keep hearing it in discussions.
Gathmann: What is it supposed to mean?
Schlager The feeling in journalism and politics that facts don’t matter anymore, and that everyone just lets themselves be guided by their emotions.
Gathmann: Can you point to an actual case in your work as a journalist when an editor has stopped you writing about a certain issue?
Schlager: No, but as a reader, as a media consumer, I notice this really strong bloc mentality. I think the German mainstream media is dominated by western journalists who still have that bloc mentality today. East Germans like me are always put in this defensive position. That’s just stupid. Maybe it’s my fault too, because I hang on to that image a bit, because I say, “I’m an Ossi” and not “I’m German.” But that’s because I see this bloc mentality – there’s a lack of understanding for the East German situation.
You can download and read the whole debate in Second Thoughts – Discussing Journalism, October 2017