Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Uninformed

There are many news stories that cross the Atlantic from east to west. Germans know all about congressman Weiner and the "nutiny" that occurred in a prominent Republican candidate's campaign staff. But by contrast, how many Americans are aware of the resignation of Germany's Verteidigungsminister? It was a huge story with serious implications for Germany's current government, but I saw very little about it in the US press. And how about Horst Köhler? The president of Germany resigned almost exactly a year ago, but it went almost unnoticed in the US.

Americans have the reputation of being uninformed about the world, but in some ways, it's not really our fault. Our media just doesn't cover the more subtle world events. Now, if a starlet should wear a particularly stupid dress to a Hollywood event, or stumble momentarily while approaching the podium, Yahoo will crow over her misfortune until every 2nd grader is buzzing about it on the playgrounds of Topeka or Des Moines. But the resignation of the president of the world's 4th largest economy? Whatevah!

I did read several stories about the current E. coli outbreak in Europe and I'm wondering why Americans were interested. In some way, I think this story about random and sudden death must awaken the same kind of Schadenfreude as a badly dressed ingenue. Any German will tell you, Schadenfreude ist das beste Freude, but it doesn't do anything for America's image abroad.

Horst Köhler is on the front page of this week's Zeit with an exclusive interview about his decision to resign in May of last year. I read the story with great interest, but the comments to the online version of the story were even more interesting. Köhler was an immensely popular figure, and like his predecessors, was elected almost by acclamation. His resignation shocked most Germans, and while he didn't give a reason for his decision at the time, most people assumed that he resigned in the face of strong criticism of a casual remark he made while meeting with German troops in Afghanistan. The story in Die Zeit doesn't really have any surprises: it merely confirms what everyone already thought. But the in a world where online comments are typically relegated to stuff like: "Sez who?" or "You and what army?" the comments on Köhler were remarkably on target. Readers registered their feelings of betrayal and asked why Köhler accepted the position if he wasn't up to the stress. I felt that the juxtaposition of Köhler's complaints ("The attacks were outrageous!") and the trumanesque heat and kitchen comments online did nothing to rehabilitate him. I still feel that Köhler is an intelligent man, probably a genuinely "good" man. In fact, he's a guy that reminds me of our own Jimmy Carter. But like Jimmy, he's clearly not build for the dirty game of politics. Arguably the most important quality that we need in our politicians.


Today's papers in Germany were once again featuring a story from across the pond, but this time with a local spin. Dirk Nowitzki, German citizen and member of the Dallas Mavericks was being hailed as a super star, even making the front page of the illustrious Süddeutsche Zeitung. I know because a young woman stopped me in the Bahnhof today to try to sell me a subscription to the Südeutsche. Her big selling point was that it's a "very serious newspaper". With a front page story on American basketball? She had a hard time explaining that. Dirk is a big story here, but if he wants to make it big in the States, he'll need to do something really significant, like get a bad haircut. And I guess I'll subscribe to the Süddeutsche Zeitung when they inaugurate a column devoted to news of Brangelina.



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