Saturday, July 26, 2014

The “friendly” Mr. Steinmeier

by Dagmar Henn

There can be no doubt, western media are full of propaganda. The claims that are in the centre of this propaganda, are almost identical. They are:

1. The crash is the fault of the Militia.
2. The Militia obstructs the investigations
  a. the Militia confines access to the site of the crash
  b. the Militia does not confine enough access to the site.
  c. they take away the bodies of the deceased too fast.
  d. they do not take away the bodies fast enough.

With the German medias, it is not just the lower end of the newspapers that feels the need of using manipulative language.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) shows us convincing proof for this assertion. On the 21st. of July they published their article, “Fighting for Truth”, starting it with these words: “Specialists from the Netherlands inspect the victims of the airplane-crash in Eastern Ukrainia. People in the area don't want to hear about any guilt on the part of the separatists. They rather believe in weird rumours and Russian television.”

Implicated assertions are one of the favourite tools of propaganda. The articles of the German news medias (and, unfortunately, not only news media texts), are full of them these days. In the introduction above, only the first sentence would pass the set of rules of journalistic scrutiny and integrity. With the second sentence the manipulative part starts: it is contrived to provoke distaste for the inhabitants of the area. In the third sentence, the implicit verdict is cast: Russian television is put on the same level as “weird rumours”, and both are set in opposition to the afore-mentioned “guilt of the separatists”.

They continue on this level. “The heavily armed rebels” that accompany the forensic team from the Netherlands, are furbished with “German shepherd dogs, machine-guns, anti-tank-weapons and sunglasses and tattoos on their upper arms” – clearly, these are dangerous people. Looking into the cooling-cars, into which the recovered dead bodies have been brought, as is customary in such disasters, reveals “in the darkness of the objects ...shapeless carrier bags, thrown down upon the metal screen of the floor in an disorderly fashion, one next to the other, one above the other.” It would be superfluous to comment explicitly upon lack of respect for the dead. “Thrown down upon the metal screen of the floor in a disorderly fashion, one next to the other, one above the other” – what do you expect from heavily armed tattooed people!

Even commentaries that completely contradict this picture are integrated into the tale without any fuss. “Later the speaker of the team from the Netherlands, Pieter van Vliet, said that the storage conditions of the dead are “good”. He did not expatiate on this. The corpses are lying around in a disorderly fashion. But it seems here that what is important is the cooling, and the cooling works.”

Even this forensic specialist from the Netherlands is not immune from being, very casually, used as a liar or even – check for the very fine meanings between the lines here – a collaborator.

You can find this very same bias in all of the German printed medias, in a big way, from the very distinguished papers to the popular boulevard press, whether they pose as conservative, supposedly leftist or just plain cheap and crappy (Bild). The propagandistic agenda, which we find in almost all of the western media landscape these days, is packaged in dense clouds of sentiments, feelings and apprehensions, surrounded by subtle denunciations and has been launched in a very obvious emotional direction.

And today's BILD newspaper stays in exactly that pattern: “The train is stationed inside the company terrain, behind high gates. Isolated in this way from the public, a dignified examination of the human remains is possible – very different from what the pro-Russian rebels are doing, in the middle of the fields on which the plane has crashed.”

Implicit accusations, a strong emotional contrast, every detail is loaded with emotional connotations.

“The screened-off area of the factory as a supportive dwelling” is contrasted with “the middle of the fields”, which suggests a helpless state of exposition, which, by adding a completely useless piece of “information”, “the pro-Russian rebels”, gains a clearly defined culprit – how could it be otherwise? The use of the unusual definition “pro-Russian rebels” has certainly been decided upon because of its sound, because multiple repetitions of the r sound evoke words and ideas behind them, such as “Russian” and menacing...

Just the normal tools of propaganda?

No, most European medias certainly touch on the very coherent motives of propaganda, but they don´t try to slip it into the readers´ minds. They certainly construct a picture of the enemy, with the manipulative use of information and statements which they distribute or suppress, but they do not load them to such an emotional degree and do not use every opportunity to denunciate. As mentioned before, the first example is from a very distinguished daily newspaper, which gives you the impression that the German press has worn out its democratic phase and ditched it like an old jacket.

But it is not only the media that use this old pattern. The German Foreign Minister Steinmeier, who is often seen as an intermediary voice (and, according to the magazine FOCUS, is currently eager to shed his image as Putin-sympathetic), in his statements about the crash of MH 17, follows the same patterns. In an interview with Bild am Sonntag he said (citing from the Tagesschau transscripts):
Steinmeier refrained from accusations or recriminations for the crash. In the end, there is really no big difference if “the shoot-down was done fully intentionally or was a terrible mistake”. Whoever uses “such weapons”, accepts “the possibility of a disaster”.
There is ample reason to be preoccupied that the “Russian” separatists, “even now, after this horrible disaster, will continue to thoroughly neglect the basic rules of our civilization”, Steinmeier said.1

This statement is rife for publication in handbooks of political propaganda. It is very important to realize, how far it is going and to discern the implicit signals and messages. Because the deeper meaning here is very different from what Cameron said, “if the separatists are guilty, Europe has to put its fist firmly down upon the table”. In the same way, Steinmeier's negotiations in February contained the implicit message that Swoboda and the right sector should be allowed to come to power. It is very important not to be deceived by the fact that Steinmeier bears a label that means social democrat. He honours the basic ideas implied by that as much as does his comrade Sarrazin.2

To start with, Steinmeier builds himself a position of moral superiority, by “abstaining from laying blame” – something he is not really doing, after all, but by the time we notice that, he has already made his point. He paints himself as a prudent person. That increases the value of what he is about to say. Finally, he takes care that there is ample room to wiggle (after all, the facts are anything but clear!), by making the statement that “it does not matter if the shoot-down happened fully intentionally or was a terrible mistake.” It seems obvious that he knew how unstable and ambiguous the American claims really were...

Emotional manipulation starts with the use of the words “such weapons.” He leaves things unsaid, open to interpretations we carry sub-consciously with us, which everybody will fill with the pictures and projections that scare him most. It is to be supposed that only a few were thinking of anti-aircraft-units BUK M-1 – but rather something in the form of a mushroom (which was used to re-activate long-forgotten remnants of the cold war); an additional amplification of this sentiment came with his phrase of “the possibility of disaster.”3

The real message, however, comes in the last sentence. The “Russian separatists” (look here – not “pro-Russian”, they have now magically transformed into real blood-and-bone Russians!), “thoroughly neglect the basic rules of our civilization”; barbarians, in other words, savages, cannibals, Untermenschen...

Another phrase by Steinmeier in connection with the crash underscores this direction even more: “those who are responsible for this have forfeited any rights for concerns of their own in the name of human rights and humanity.”

No more rights for human treatment and behaviour towards them.

These are exactly the same kind of statements that we can hear from Kiev. Cameron's statements are aggressive, but still completely in line with demands and insistence on sanctions. In comparison, even the hoarse outcries for “NATO-involvement” are more or less harmless. The version from Kiev is easy to discern, because of the open and unambiguous use of the key words. Steinmeier has produced a masterpiece of vicious propaganda, which puts the idea of the Untermensch in the head of the reader, without ever mentioning it himself. That, my friends, is the difference between a master and an apprentice!

The use of propaganda is so widespread and so dense, that these statements by Steinmeier in no way stand out as anything exceptional. After all, no German newspaper did have any problem with the announcement of Poroschenko, to kill hundreds separatists for every dead Ukrainian soldier. On the contrary, it was distributed with obvious contentment and approval. But Steinmeier does not promote sanctions here. This is propaganda for war, it outlines the type of war and it sanctifies any and all crimes of the Kiev junta, as far as Berlin is concerned.

He suggests “a way out of this” to the Russian government: to let go completely (and one-sidedly) of the two republics. “Moscow now has a chance, maybe its very last chance, to show that it is really and seriously interested in a solution.”

This is not diplomacy any more, this is an open threat. It seems to me that Putin must have outlawed the opium trade.

1As the second translation, „thoroughly neglect...“ is better it should be used here as well.It comes close to the original pathos.
2A friend remarked noone outside Germany would know who Sarrazin is. Perhaps I should add a footnote?
3It´s the same quotation. And „outrage“ isn´t as open as disaster or catastrophe.