Triumph on the Battlefield of History
Examining these obituaries, at least one of the following experiences and accomplishments proved to be necessary to be commemorated as a personification of good journalism: (1) Having faced and resisted political pressure, (2) war and/or foreign correspondence, under an oppressive regime or during a particularly significant period of time and (3) influence on histor y.
Having faced and resisted political pressure as a signifier of professionalism featured prominently in obituaries in both countries. In US articles, this information was often to be found in the lede and explained in more detail further on. Aside from reporters, this was often a badge of honor for publishers and network executives as well. The Washington Post’s obituary of NBC president Julian Goodman, which already mentioned that he “battled White House” in the title, began with the following lede:
Julian Goodman, who, as president of NBC in the 1960s and 1970s, stoutly defended his network’s coverage of the Vietnam War against White House criticism, and who issued an abject apology after NBC cut away from a dramatic football game to show the TV movie ‘Heidi,’ died July 2 at his home in Juno Beach, Fla.” (Schudel 2012a)
The article noted appreciatively that he was on President Richard Nixon’s “enemies list” and threatened with the revocation of NBC’s broadcasting licenses if its coverage did not become more favorable toward him. The obituary also mentioned instances when Goodman fought for collective occupational interests by appealing to Congress for upholding the freedom of the press.
Nixon appeared as the nemesis of journalistic autonomy and, conversely, several journalists were celebrated for having fallen out of his favor. Times reporter and D.C. bureau chief Tom Wicker was another target of Nixon’s animosities. He “helped ignite opposition to the war in Vietnam and ... called for the ouster of President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate scandal” (Schudel 2011). The obituary described Wicker, who had also been a columnist for the Times since 1966, as a “liberal voice” who referred to the Watergate scandal as “the beginnings of a police state,” and was then included on Nixon’s “enemies list” (ibid.). Although news coverage of the Vietnam War involved attempts of restricting press freedom by several presidential administrations, Nixon emerged as the sole archenemy in this context. US journalism prevailed and Nixon eventually resigned, partly as a consequence of journalistic efforts. Against this background, the 1960s and 1970s were narrated as a triumphant period of self-liberation and autonomization of the press.
Having faced and endured political pressure is also a recurrent but not nearly as salient a theme in German obituaries. The closest German counterpart to Nixon was the Bavarian Minister-President and Federal Minister Franz Josef Strauss and to a lesser extent Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Both were known for their strained relations with the press. Despite the fact that former ZDF chief editor, Reinhard Appel, was often criticized as too nice to his interviewees, “this did not keep CSU chief Franz Josef Strauss from asking for his head in 1979” (Unsigned 2011). Obituaries of Jurgen Leinemann (Der Spiegel), a well-known portrayer of politicians, mentioned that not all politicians were flattered by his descriptions, particularly Strauss and Kohl: “Helmut Kohl struck his name off the list of journalists accompanying him on trips abroad“(Leyendecker 2013).
Strauss earned his notoriety as the main antagonist primarily because of his role in the most well-known episode of state intervention in the press in post-war Germany. After publishing a critical article about the German armed forces in 1962, author Conrad Ahlers and Der Spiegel founder, publisher and first chief editor Rudolf Augstein were arrested on the order of Defense Minister Strauss. Augstein’s obituary in FAZ mentioned:
“Augstein was arrested, together with leading members of the staff, on the grounds of treason and was imprisoned for 103 days. At the end of the scandal was the fall of Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauss” (Unsigned 2002b). This scandal, later known as the Spiegel Affdre, became a defining moment for press freedom in Germany.