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Editor of Europe’s Largest Magazine “Der Spiegel” on Why Obama is “The World’s President,” the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Media and More

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Hamburg is home to Der Spiegel, the largest circulation news magazine in Europe. After Barack Obama won the presidential election in the United States, Der Spiegel had him on its cover with the headline “President of the World.” We speak with Mathias Müller Von Blumencron, editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Hamburg, Germany, home to Der Spiegel

, the largest circulation news magazine in Europe. After Barack Obama won the presidential election in the United States, Der Spiegel had him on its cover with the headline “The World’s President.”

Mathias Müller von Blumencron is the editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel. He joins me now in Hamburg.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: Thank you very much for having me here.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you on, especially given today is the day you put your weekly to bed, so I know that you’re in the midst of figuring out the headlines and the final stories. So thank you for coming on.

Let’s talk first about that magazine. We’re broadcast on radio, on internet and on television. And for our TV viewers, I want you to hold up the magazine, when you announced President-elect Barack Obama. Talk about the title.

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: It was a very moving moment for everybody here in Germany. If Barack Obama would have been elected here, he would have gotten 75 percent of the vote and even, as I looked it up, 88 percent of the vote of the executives here in Germany. So—

AMY GOODMAN: 88 percent — so, more than of the general population —- of the executives. You mean the corporate executives?

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: Corporate executives. They would have elected him by 88 percent.


MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: So, by a big margin. There is big hope. There is big excitement about change, about his motto of change. We called him, on this cover, “the world’s president,” because we followed this election basically as it would have been a German election, very intensely. We did five, six cover stories on that election campaign alone in this year, so our people were very familiar with the issues, and there was a very big attention for this, first for the pre-election and afterwards for the real election. Everybody was hoping that he would win.

AMY GOODMAN: Why is this? And maybe you could show us some of your other covers to give an indication of how people felt. I see two right there, one with -—

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: We had one which basically shows what — I would say we exaggerate a little bit on the cover, but I think that’s allowed. This is called “The Bush Warriors,” and this means “End of the Show.” We had — in the middle of his term, we had this cover with “The Bush Warriors.” But they were very powerful, very powerful figures. And now, four years later, five years later, it’s after the war, after their term, and they look —-

AMY GOODMAN: You have Bush -—


AMY GOODMAN: — as a Rambo-like figure next to Dick Cheney, next to Condoleezza Rice. But their weapons are now — they’re leaning on them. Their clothes are ripped. They’re bloody and wounded.

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: Rumsfeld is running out already.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, Rumsfeld. I didn’t even see his face.

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: He left already. So, it is a very funny — it’s a bitter — it’s certainly a little bit cynical look on that term, but we have covered the results of this presidency very intensely. And we agree with many of the American experts that this probably was not one of the hottest presidential terms in US history, and, contrary, it was probably one of the worst.

AMY GOODMAN: You had a breaking story this summer when you went to Baghdad, Mathias, and interviewed the president, interviewed Maliki. Talk about what he said.

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: We sat down with Mr. Maliki for around about an hour and discussed various topics of politics. And, of course, the American — the future of the American troops in Iraq was a big topic. And he has written an editorial, an opinion piece of Barack Obama, which had appeared in the New York Times a couple of days earlier. In this piece, Obama had outlined his ideas, and he said, within sixteen months, we will start to withdraw from Iraq. And al-Maliki mentioned that by himself and said, “That sounds about right. We like that plan.” And we immediately, when we were sitting in this interview, knew this is a very interesting quote.

We translated that interview afterwards in English, as we do with many our pieces from the magazine, and posted it on our international website, which you can reach under www.spiegel.de/international. And so, it was immediately picked up by American English-speaking wires and also by the American press and caused a huge stir, because it looked like as al-Maliki was endorsing Barack Obama. He explicitly said in the interview he’s not endorsing Barack Obama, but, anyway, it showed a certain sympathy for that plan, and that made a very big splash in US media.

And later on, we were approached by the New York Times, which — they wanted to know how the real wording was, and we played them the tapes, and it was as he had said.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, when people asked you to put the interview on the website, you chose not to but said you’d play it for anyone on the telephone?


AMY GOODMAN: Why did you choose to do that?

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: I mean, an interview conversation is like an hour. And we are not — we don’t do an agreement with our peers that we put this interview unedited on the web. That’s just not our policy. When we do an interview for the print edition, we do an interview for the print edition, and it will be put out in a printed form and not in the original voicing. That’s just our policy.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking —-

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: If we would do otherwise, we would have to agree before with our partners, definitely.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at another of your magazines, Der Spiegel, the cover that has the US dollar on it, and you’ve got a bullet in George Washington’s head. Explain this. What is the title in English?


AMY GOODMAN: And what is it in German?

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: In German, it is “Das Kapitalverbrechen,” which means like very severe crime, capital crime. And the sub-line is “Anatomy of a World Crisis Which Just Have Begun.” And this was an intensively researched story. Five, six people worked for over a month on that story and showed how the financial crisis evolved in the early ’90s, middle of the ’90s, started — I mean, the roots were laid in the middle of the ’90s, and then how it — how the acceleration in the credit market and so on became bigger and bigger and bigger and, at the end, led to this huge bubble, which now imploded.

It was the longest cover story the magazine ever printed. There was some twenty-five pages, which is unusual for a weekly, but we thought it is an unusual time, and an unusual time needs unusual explanation. It is very difficult for the people out there to understand this crisis and what really happened there. And you have to explain it in a very, how should I say, in an elaborate way and in an interesting way. Otherwise, they lose interest. And it’s so important that people are not losing interest in the mechanisms of this crisis and in the groundwork of this crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain how it’s affected Germany and also how you’re covering what’s happening in the United States, the views of Der Spiegel on the bailout of $700 billion for the banks? The auto industry then comes to ask for a bailout, and the question is “What’s your plan? How are you going to spend this?” though the banks were never asked this question.

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: We are in a different situation here in Germany than you in the US. We don’t have a — we didn’t have a credit bubble, because the Germans save so much, because they are so careful people. If you would word it a little bit more negative, they are very risk-averse people, but prudent. So we didn’t have a real estate bubble. We didn’t have a real estate boom. Germany was one of the few countries in Europe where the real estate prices stayed constant for the last couple of years. So we didn’t have — another very important thing is, Germans — only very few Germans own stocks. So we are not affected that much by the decline of the stock market. Less than ten percent of the Germans own stocks. So the situation of the consumer here in Germany is different than it is in the US.

And so, also the recipes and the medication for the crisis must be a different one than in the US. Which will be the right medication is very difficult to figure out at the moment. We think that one thing is very important, is that we agree on the medication on an international level, that the leaders of the Western world, and specifically of the top industrial nations, don’t go their own ways, but sit together and find an approach. That approach must be different from country to country, because the situation is so different in the different countries, but the public expects a unified approach and a unified, uniting message. I think the message in this crisis is very important, because such a financial crisis is a lot about psychology. It’s about the mood of the people. If the people think the world is going under next year, they keep their money by themselves, which is logical, but which is the worst in the situation like that. So we have to give the people a real assessment of the crisis, on one hand, but on the other hand, we also have to tell them that the world is not going down, not going under.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Mathias Müller von Blumencron. He is the editor-in-chief of the German magazine Der Spiegel, the largest circulation news magazine in Europe.

I wanted to ask you about the German press. The US press in the lead-up to the invasion was pretty uniform in support of the invasion. Now, there are some executives of the corporate media that might disagree with me, but the group FAIR did a study — Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting — in the two weeks around Colin Powell giving his push for war at the UN a few weeks before the invasion, and they looked at the four major nightly newscasts and found that there were 393 interviews done around war, only three were with major antiwar leaders, three of almost 400. The media basically, in the United States, beat the drums for war.

Now, I know you weren’t editor of Der Spiegel at the time, but, well, I just heard the former chancellor Gerhard Schröder lamenting he felt that it was the German press that was pretty much uniformly against him because he took a stand against war. Do you think that’s a fair characterization of the corporate media?

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: I think that’s exaggerated. We have a very diverse press in Germany, which is very difficult to unify, luckily. So there is a wide range of opinion. On the other hand, I don’t want to paint us as the heroes who always had the finger up and said this is a very tricky war. But specifically our magazine did a very intense reporting on the causes of the war and on, for example, on the connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, which, of course, didn’t exist, and so on. There were many other issues where you could see that the reasons for this war were very tricky and probably, in large ways, fabricated. Of course, that, afterwards, you’re a lot smarter than in a situation like that, and specifically, because nobody here in Germany liked Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein was one of the worst dictators in the world. So it is always a little bit tricky in such a situation to choose your sides.

AMY GOODMAN: And let me ask you about Afghanistan. We just announced in the headlines that British troops say they’re pulling out of Iraq. In Afghanistan — I was surprised that even Swedish troops are in Afghanistan. And Barack Obama has called for a surge in Afghanistan of more troops. Where does Germany stand there?

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: Afghanistan is a very center piece of world policy, and it is in a horrible situation. We see that the Talibans grab more and more of the land again, control more and more of the country again. And we have seen what Taliban regime means to civil rights, to — specifically to women, to freedom of press, expression, all our core values. So I think it is a crucial point for and a crucial area for the Western countries. I think we can’t give up. We can’t give it up. We can’t let it go to the Taliban.

The Germans are now with over 3,000 people in Afghanistan. We would be happy if the German chancellor would sell the engagement of the Germans in Afghanistan with a little bit more energy. We are not in a peaceful — on a peaceful mission there. We are in areas where there is war. Germans die. German soldiers die. They get killed. It is a brutal fight. But I think Obama is right to define that it’s one of the core issues of his foreign policies in the next years.

And the big problem is, it’s not only Afghanistan. We also face a very difficult situation in Pakistan, which is often considered, and with a certain reason, as the most dangerous country in the world and has a very unstable government.

AMY GOODMAN: There are those who would say, to save Afghanistan, the US should pull out or the — all the US military forces — and support it in other ways, through peaceful means.

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: Yeah, the Germans tried to do that, but what we see now is that there is a spiral of violence and which naturally leads to more tensions. If the troops, which come with a peaceful mission, which come with a mission to build bridges, schools and so on and on, if those get attacked by suicide bombers, they get more careful, and they get more careful, and they get more careful. And then incidents happened that even innocent people get shot, and so on and so on. You’ll see this kind of a spiral.

I think pacifism and the respect for peace is a very important value in this world, but there are situations when we have to think if we can go with our idealism or if we have to choose a more pragmatic approach.

AMY GOODMAN: But even practically, the number of civilians that are dying in Afghanistan as the NATO and US forces intensify the military campaign.

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: It’s true. And, of course, we see a lot of mistakes being made. A lot of civilians lose their lives, and which leads again to a hostile environment for the foreign troops. It is a very tricky and messy situation, and you need very clever people to handle that situation. We have now General Petraeus on your side there, and —-

AMY GOODMAN: Working for the US government.

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: Working for the US government, exactly, and coordinating the events over there. We think that this person -— of course, he’s military, but has a very differentiated picture of the real situation, is not a Rambo-like type, because with pure violence, you can’t win that war.

AMY GOODMAN: In other words, you can win it with what?

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: You need a mixture between diplomacy, help and certainly military force. And those three goals, putting — put those three goals or those three means together is probably one of the most difficult tasks in the world. But I think that just coming with peaceful ambitions, with peaceful means towards the Talibans, and say, “We just want to build up your country. Please let us give you our money and let our workers help your people,” I think that is a much too idealistic approach. On the other hand, what we should, of course, think about, is it the correct way to not talk at all with the Taliban? How to deal with the Taliban is a very tricky issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Mathias Müller von Blumencron is the editor-in-chief of the German magazine Der Spiegel, the largest circulation news magazine in Europe. And the international website, if you would say again? By the way Der Spiegel is spelled d-e-r-s-p-i-e-g-e-l.


AMY GOODMAN: The website is…?

MATHIAS MÜLLER VON BLUMENCRON: Again, www.spiegel.de/international.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’ll link to that at our website, democracynow.org. When we come back, we’ll be joined by one of the leading radical lawyers in Germany, where we’re broadcasting from in Hamburg. Stay with us.

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