In a trying political climate, look not towards what divides, but what unites Germany and the U.S.: Journalistic Excellence

By Mattheus Wee

Are Ger­man-Amer­i­can rela­tions in a crit­i­cal state? If pub­lic opin­ion sur­veys are any­thing to go by, per­haps so – at least accord­ing to Ger­mans. While Amer­i­cans gen­er­al­ly still hold on to a pos­i­tive image of Ger­many, the same can­not be said for the way most Ger­mans view the Unit­ed States. A joint­ly con­duct­ed poll by the Pew Research Cen­ter and the Kör­ber-Stiftung revealed late last year that while “three-quar­ters of Amer­i­cans see rela­tions with Ger­many as good,” near­ly “two-thirds of Ger­mans (64%) see rela­tions as bad.” More alarm­ing­ly, the New York Mag­a­zine quotes a sur­vey con­duct­ed by YouGov reveal­ing that Ger­mans view Pres­i­dent Trump as “a greater threat to world peace than any oth­er head of state” – a note­wor­thy dis­tinc­tion, espe­cial­ly in light of the exis­tence of oth­er con­tro­ver­sial lead­ers, such as the likes of Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin.

Con­sid­er­ing that approval rates of the Unit­ed States sky­rock­et­ed in Ger­many to 92% just after Pres­i­dent Oba­ma won his first elec­tion, the sit­u­a­tion at the moment does indeed feel like the dread­ed worst-case sce­nario. Nonethe­less, while dis­ap­proval can be voiced of the con­tro­ver­sial ways in which cer­tain polit­i­cal lead­ers map out both domes­tic and for­eign pol­i­cy, it is impor­tant that Ger­mans remem­ber that there’s much they share with the Unit­ed States – for instance one of the most sig­nif­i­cant pil­lars of a demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­ety: a var­ied, open, and extreme­ly com­pe­tent press.

In spite of the Trump administration’s ten­den­cy to gloss over the truth and cre­ate “alter­na­tive facts,” the fact remains that pub­li­ca­tions with­in the Unit­ed States have con­tin­ued to dis­play a fero­cious com­mit­ment to rig­or­ous inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism and jour­nal­is­tic integri­ty. The New York Times, The Los Ange­les Times and The Wash­ing­ton Post, for instance, are but three of the old­est news­pa­pers that relent­less­ly con­tin­ue to churn out both inter­est­ing and impor­tant sto­ries, tack­ling every­thing from the Mueller report to the Uighur camps in Chi­na. The New York Times, in fact, has an entire sec­tion titled “Under­stand­ing the Times,” ded­i­cat­ed to explain­ing its fact-check­ing prac­tices and jour­nal­is­tic deci­sions. It is undoubt­ed­ly reas­sur­ing to know that the insti­tu­tions that define jour­nal­is­tic excel­lence with­in the U.S. are com­mit­ted to trans­paren­cy. On our side of the Atlantic, the sit­u­a­tion is com­fort­ing­ly sim­i­lar: pub­li­ca­tions, such as Der Spiegel, Die Zeit, the FAZ, and Süd­deutsche Zeitung all con­tin­ue to play impor­tant roles in broad­en­ing nation­al con­ver­sa­tions about cur­rent issues, thus denounc­ing the dan­ger­ous rhetoric of extremists.

Look back just a lit­tle fur­ther and you’ll see evi­dence of Ger­man and Amer­i­can jour­nal­ists work­ing togeth­er in unceas­ing pur­suit of expos­ing the truth. The pub­lish­ing of the Pana­ma Papers in 2016, for instance, brought togeth­er close to 400 jour­nal­ists from more than 100 media orga­ni­za­tions in over 80 coun­tries in expos­ing a wide-scale tax eva­sion scan­dal. This was head­ed by none oth­er than the Inter­na­tion­al Con­sor­tium of Inves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ists (ICIJ) – an Amer­i­can-based and Amer­i­can-run non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion whose inter­na­tion­al net­work of jour­nal­ists aims to “col­lab­o­rate on ground­break­ing inves­ti­ga­tions that expose the truth and hold the pow­er­ful account­able, while also adher­ing to the high­est stan­dards of fair­ness and accu­ra­cy.” Also note­wor­thy in this case is the fact that it was a Ger­man news­pa­per – the Süd­deutsche Zeitung – that received the first tip-off from a whistleblower.

While the fact remains that the image of a coun­try is inevitably tied to its pre­vail­ing fig­ure­heads, we must also remem­ber that they are but part of a big­ger pic­ture. Amer­i­ca is the sum of many parts but, con­comi­tant­ly, it is also defined by its unshake­able val­ues of democ­ra­cy and free­dom of speech. Impor­tant­ly, it remains a bea­con of jour­nal­is­tic trans­paren­cy and excel­lence. On that basis, our skep­ti­cal atti­tude towards the U.S. is worth reconsidering.

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Mattheus Wee is a stu­dent at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don, where he is pur­su­ing a Bach­e­lor of Arts and Sci­ences, a lib­er­al arts pro­gram. Ever curi­ous about glob­al affairs and cul­ture, he loves to read and is inter­est­ed in how cur­rent sys­tems can be changed to forge a more sus­tain­able and inclu­sive future. Mattheus also loves long bus rides, iced cof­fee, and hang­ing out with his friends and family.