The German newspaper whose web site is now marginally better organized has two reporters based in the United States for its main news section. One, Matthias Rueb, is said to be one of the paper’s heavy hitters. They post him where they want to have an impact, certainly within German debate, and if possible at a European level or in the host country. (The paper has several such correspondents.) This is not his story.
His apparent office-mate is named Katja Gelinsky, someone I only know through her writing. Writing that has inspired an amusing game, which I will now share. Visit the web sites of the major US newspapers (Washington Post, NY Times and, in a pinch, the LA Times) plus CNN. Find the strangest, most lurid story that a European audience could understand without much explanation. With a startling degree of accuracy, this is the story that will appear in the next day’s issue of the Frankfurter Allgemeine under Gelinsky’s byline.
Violence is a regular feature; violence against gay people and members of minorities makes a story more likely to appear. Lawsuits are also good. Death penalty stories are always usable. Strange religious angles are not bad either. Natural disasters are good, especially if they demonstrate Americans’ innate indifference to the environment. Further rules of the game entail that no European stereotype of America must ever be challenged and that at least four out of every five articles must portray America and Americans in a bad light.
I’m not saying the stories are false. Just that the picture that is built up by a steady stream of these articles is one that bears very little resemblance to the actual country Over There. (Until a better book comes along, read Not Like Us by Richard Pells for a sense of how this problem goes in both directions, and has for more than a century.) Gelinsky’s oeuvre is both product of and contributor to German prejudices about the United States.
From time to time, I will post titles of Gelinsky’s stories to demonstrate this thesis. Links are unlikely, because the web site still needs better organization, but I will point out date and page if the story appears in a dead tree edition that I have at hand.
From today’s web edition: “Women who eat low-fat foods are not healthier”
From today’s paper (p. 9, col. 1): “Santa Ana winds fan forest fires”
Monday, Feb 9 (p. 9, col. 1): “Search for the Bedford murderer has deadly end”
Recent editions that I can’t lay my hands on at the moment featured articles about iPod buyers suing Apple because of hearing loss and about a violent attack on a gay bar in Massachusetts; Monday’s article was a follow-up on that one.