Berlin — It has been a rough several weeks for Der Spiegel magazine — one of Germany’s most respected news outlets.
First, the online Spiegel website published a premature obituary of George H. W. Bush, who had been hospitalized. The obituary titled “The Better Bush” depicted Bush senior as a “colorless” politician while bashing his son, George W., in a decidedly slanted view of the two presidents.
Another setback revolves around the Spiegel online columnist Jakob Augstein. Late last month, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles included Augstein in its annual list of the “Top Ten Anti-Israel/Anti-Semitic Slurs.”
The inclusion of Augstein, son of Der Spiegel founder, Rudolf Augstein, who owns a large shareholder stake in the Hamburg-based Spiegel, was a controversial one. His listing sparked a nation-wide debate in the German media about modern anti-Semitism.
Whether or not Augstein’s work should be characterized as anti-Semitic remains the subject of considerable disagreement. But the record shows that he is inflammatory.
In one Spiegel column, Augstein writes:
The fire burns in Libya, Sudan, Yemen, in countries which are among the poorest on earth. But those who set the fires live elsewhere. Furious young people burn the American, and recently, the German flag. They, too, are victims, just like the dead at Benghazi and Sanaa. Whom does all this violence benefit? Always the insane and unscrupulous. And this time it’s the U.S. Republicans and Israeli government.
Augstein engages in frequent assaults on the United States and its political and economic system. In one of his weekly “When in Doubt, Think Left,” columns Augstein equates Republican party members with the Taliban. In short, he writes, “They are the Taliban of the West,” andreaches the conclusion that “the downfall of the American empire” is nigh. His reason? American society is “totally dominated by capitalism.”
In some ways, Augstein has become the voice for the Iranian regime in the Federal Republic. Despite mounting International Atomic Energy Agency reports, along with Western and Israeli intelligence assessments documenting Iran’s work on nuclear technologies with military applications, Augstein insists there is no proof that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon.
This inverted perspective is consistent with Augstein’s defense of Günter Grass, another German writer who warned in the form of a poem last year of Israeli aggression against Iran. Augstein’s defense of Grass included agreement with the poet’s assertion that “Israel’s nuclear power is a danger to the already fragile peace of the world,”along with a special thanks to Grass for “taking it upon himself to speak for us all.”
A late 2012 Spiegel magazine cover story announced, “The American Patient: The Downfall of a Great Nation,” with a picture of a hospitalized Uncle Sam. This was not an isolated incident. Spiegel’s editorials have grown increasingly bombastic. This is a shame, given Spiegel’s solid history of news-gathering and reporting on a wide spectrum of topics.
— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.