Could the Possible Sale of Huffington Post to Right-Wing Company Affect Its Editorial Line?
This piece originally ran on AlterNet.
This month, Newsweek quietly reported that a German media conglomerate called Axel Springer was the “most serious” contender to buy the Huffington Post in the proposed sale of the magazine’s corporate parent, AOL, to Verizon. While Newsweek detailed Springer’s sizable media holdings in Germany and beyond, from the tabloid Bild to the newspaper Die Welt, it failed to note the stringently enforced right-wing editorial line that makes Springer the German equivalent of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
Among the five preambles of Springer’s corporate principles is the requirement that employees “support the vital rights of the State of Israel.” Journalists are also expected to “uphold the principles of a free social market economy” and “support the Transatlantic Alliance and maintain solidarity with the United States of America in the common values of free nations.” The webpage outlining Springer’s preambles mysteriously disappeared from the web months before the company entered the bidding for the Huffington Post. (An archived version of the page can be viewed here).
The Huffington Post is one of America’s most widely read online news outlets. While the site’s various niche portals earn much of their traffic through clickbait headlines and celebrity news, the Huffington Post’s politics section has made its mark with slashing coverage of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, Likudnik mega-donors and police brutality. Huffington Post reporters have targeted Democratic senators who promoted war on Iran and highlighted President Barack Obama’s support for of a provision in TPP that would reward companies that profit from slavery. Earlier this year, Obama urged House Democrats not to read the Huffington Post, complaining that the outlet reported unfairly on the free trade agenda he has been promoting.(Full disclosure: my brother Paul is a staff writer for The Huffingon Post.)
Springer’s editorial line offers a stark contrast to the Huffington Post. Founded in 1946 by the journalist Axel Springer, the company now holds about $3 billion in assets and oversees a collection of publications mostly associated with what left-wing Germans derisively refer to as “the boulevard press.” Springer took a turn to the populist right in the late 1960’s when Axel Springer sicced his most popular tabloid, Bild, against the radical left-wing student movement in West Germany. The paper homed in on Rudi Dutschke, one of the movement’s most visible leaders, accusing him of conspiring to bring down West Germany through violent revolution while calling on patriotic Germans to “eliminate the trouble makers.” On April 11, 1968, a lonely neo-Nazi mechanic and avid Bild reader named Josef Bachmann riddled Dutschke with bullets as he bicycled through Berlin. Bachmann testified later in court that he had developed his view of Dutschke exclusively through the Springer press and assorted right-wing nationalist rags. As protests exploded across West Germany, with students chanting, “Springer pulled the trigger!” Axel Springer directed his editors to call for harsh police crackdowns on the demonstrators while whitewashing Bachmann as a lone madman no less deranged than his victim, the “red maniac” Dutschke. (Dutschke died of injury-related complications in 1979 and Springer’s son committed suicide months later).
With the onset of the so-called war on terror, Springer shifted its sights from the radical left to the Muslim menace. A Bild article warning last August of an epidemic of Ebola imported by black migrants from Africa was typical of Springer’s coverage. A month earlier, the paper ran a screed by Nicholaus Fest arguing that with their “far disproportionate criminality of young people with a Muslim background” and supposed tendency towards “anti-Semitic pogroms,” Muslims had no place in Europe. Fest’s tirade earned censure from the German Press Council, which ruled that its bigoted content “was incompatible with the reputation of the press.”
Even Springer’s most supposedly respectable paper, Die Welt, has become a repository for neoconservative editorializing and nakedly Islamophobic diatribes. Welt recently anointed the hyper-repressive Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as “the Luther of the Arab world;” it has proclaimed that “we should be thankful to drone pilots,” accused Muslims of insufficient opposition to ISIS and claimed that ISIS represents the true face of Islam. During the 2012 ceremony where anti-Muslim former Dutch lawmaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali received the Axel Springer Prize, she appeared to blame liberal defenders of multiculturalism for the killing spree committed by the Norwegian extremist Anders Breivik, claiming they left Breivik with “no other choice but to use violence.”
In keeping with its stated commitment to “uphold the principles of a free social market economy,” Springer publications have aggressively campaigned for economic austerity throughout the Eurozone. In February, Springer’s Bild launched the “We say NO!” campaign against new loans to Greece with a giant front page headline that read, “NIEN!” The tabloid then published selfies of honest-looking, hard working Bild readers holding the paper in defiance, granting the campaign to hollow out the Greek public sector with a populist veener. Bild was widely panned for the stunt, including by the German Journalists Association, which accused the paper of “crossing the border into political campaigning.”
Though the Huffington Post would not offer a comment on its possible sale to Springer, several editors I spoke to were previously unaware of the German media congolmerate’s hard-right editorial line. The question now is whether they will publicly oppose a deal that threatens to reverse the progressive direction of one of America’s most popular online news outlets.
Read Max Blumenthal’s report for Alternet on being smeared by the Springer press during a recent trip to Germany.