Continuing our series looking at foreign coverage of the US presidential elections is Klaus Brinkbäumer, one of five US-based correspondents for the German weekly Der Spiegel. He has questioned McCain, Clinton, Obama and his wife, Michelle.
Founded in 1947 and published in Hamburg since 1952, Der Spiegel is the most widely read news magazine in Germany with a readership of 6.1 million and sales of a million a week. Klaus Brinkbäumer, a print journalist who has written three books and has reported on everything from German football to Philip Roth to Iraqi refugees, runs the New York bureau with colleague Frank Hornig, who covers business and economics. Brinkbäumer follows the elections from Der Spiegel’s Fifth Avenue midtown office next to Bryant Park.
Monocle: After working in Iraq, how do you find covering the US elections?
Klaus Brinkbäumer: I flew in to cover the last US elections and covered John Kerry, whom I liked. My colleague covered Bush. I love it here because you meet so many bright, intelligent people. It is also an exciting race – the candidates go through so much. Every little mistake might have horrible consequences, so it’s exciting to watch and describe.
M: Does ‘Der Spiegel’ endorse any one candidate then?
KB: No, we are not endorsing anyone. There are several people who are covering the election with different points of view. I’m expecting Obama to win, which doesn’t mean I’m hoping he wins.
M: Does Germany, which voted in Angela Merkel as Chancellor, have more empathy with Hillary because she’s a woman?
KB: The Germans were favouring Hillary Clinton and I’m sure Merkel un- derstands Hillary better than she would Obama. And it is exciting, women taking government. But then Obama showed up and changed it all. Germans are really interested in him and what he’s like. Our cover story on him in February entitled “The Messiah-Factor” sold well because people want to know who he is.
M: Did you follow him on the campaign trail?
KB: I covered his campaign for two weeks and interviewed Michelle Obama. But if you’re a foreign correspondent covering the elections, it is difficult because the candidates don’t really care about you. They don’t have to. We’re not bringing in any votes, so we’re not always riding on the bus.
M: What did you ask Obama?
KB: I only got one question so I asked him about international relations. How is he going to improve German-American relations and what about his intention of getting out of Iraq? He wasn’t specific. He talked about being diplomatic, about listening. But what else could he say? He is not thinking about German-American relations right now.
M: What are the key issues in the coming year related to German-US relations?
KB: Number one will be Afghanistan. The Americans, like many other NATO partners, want Germany to send more soldiers. The Germans don’t want to do that. They’ve always been hesitant about sending soldiers out of the country since the Second World War – with good reason. With our history, we have to be.
M: What else?
KB: The recession. At the moment, it’s threatening everyone. The second most important issue to Germans is economic development here [in the US] and its effect on Europe.
M: What about Iraq?
KB: That’s going to be discussed between the two countries. It’s not affecting Germany that much – there are no German soldiers out there. But it’s an issue because of German-Israeli relations, German interests in the Middle East and then of course there’s Russia.
M: What would be the worst-case scenario regarding the outcome of the US elections?
KB: If you want me to fantasise, I imagine it would be Obama getting the candidacy and then something going terribly wrong. Everybody is fearing that.
M: What if McCain wins?
KB: McCain will try to put pressure on the German government to send more German soldiers to Afghanistan. He already said that when I interviewed him.
M: What would Obama do for positive German-American relations?
KB: People expect him to be nicer, but I actually expect Obama to have the same point of view on Afghanistan as McCain – to send more soldiers.
M: Overall, Germany seems optimistic about whoever gets elected. Is that true?
KB: People in Germany care about the United Nations. They want it to work and to function and what they expect is that after eight years of neglecting the UN maybe this is going to change. Of course, the US will never let the UN tell them what to do, but the next government, either Democratic or Republican, will at least listen to the Security Council and maybe follow its rules.
The US’s relationship with Germany
Angela Merkel was elected chancellor of Germany in 2005 and has greatly improved relations with the US, which had worsened after former chancellor Gerhard Schröder refused to send German troops to Iraq. In 2003, Condoleezza Rice advised President Bush to ignore Germany, but for once, Bush didn’t listen to her. His cosying up to Merkel has helped to build a good relationship between the two countries, despite the shoulder rub incident at the G8 summit in St Petersburg in 2006. Stumbling points include Germany’s reluctance to send more soldiers to Afghanistan. Germany is also being affected by the US’s economic woes. The presidential candidates would be wise to befriend Merkel as she is a possible candidate for the presidency of the European Council. In that role she is likely to become the mediator between the US and Russia.
Founded: 1947. In 1994, it was the first news magazine to go online (spiegel.de), beating Time by one day.
Tagline: no tagline but the magazine has long been synonymous with investigative journalism, in particular exposing government malpractice and corruption.
Politics: The magazine is considered centre left: “Der Spiegel was founded after the war by Rudolf Augstein, a liberal magazine journalist who said, ‘If there’s any doubt, Der Spiegel falls on the left.’ But of course, you have to stay in the middle and look at everybody’s political point of view,” says Brinkbäumer.
Bureaux: seven regional offices in Germany, 24 international bureaux. Circulation: has an estimated 6.1 million weekly readership, 90 per cent is in Germany.
Distribution: Available in 172 countries, an average of 1 million is sold each week.