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Germany

German press review: Guttenberg a 'master of self-defense'

The German press are feasting on the troubles of the Christian Democrats' popular Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg as a series of mistakes tarnishes his reputation.

Marine and German flag

A cadet fell to her death from rigging on the Gorch Fock

Following the death of a young cadet on board the training ship Gorch Fock, controversy surrounding the systematic opening of soldiers' letters and the accidental death of a soldier in Afghanistan, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is facing strong and vocal criticism.

After a week of negative headlines, the minister suspended the captain of the Gorch Fock and launched a full inquiry into allegations of bullying by superior officers and a mutiny by trainee naval officers.

Guttenberg is one of the more popular figures in Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet, but his apparent mishandling of the controversy and the surrounding misinformation has caused the German press to question him.

National daily Die Tageszeitung says Guttenberg is on a "personal offensive." They argue that the minister is more concerned with his media image, questioning his link to the national tabloid newspaper Bild. The paper notes that Guttenberg alledgedly made the decision to suspend the captain of the Gorch Fock only after the tabloid told him they were planning to prominently feature the story. This prompts the paper to ask: "Who is the minister beholden to? Parliament or Bild?"

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg sitting in parliament

Although he is popular with the public, Guttenberg has been criticized by the press

Alongside a cartoon of Guttenberg pointing a camera at himself and wearing a flak jacket made to look like the cover of Bild, the Süddeutsche Zeitung also mocks the minister's obsession with his media image. The newspaper calls him a "master of self-defense" but also recognizes he has previously shown responsibility when he needed to. Critically, the editorial asks: "What has the minister and the ministry learnt from the example of Kunduz? Apparently little."

The Kunduz airstrike in September 2009 - which was ordered by a German colonel and killed over 90 people - was one of the first controversies of Guttenberg's tenure as defense minister. The airstrike caused the resignation of his predecessor, and Guttenberg was forced to make a public U-turn and admit the airstrike was "inappropriate." The Frankfurter Allgemeine says now Guttenberg once again faces the "old problem" of not being informed soon enough. "It is once again the politics of information that bothers the minister."

National daily Die Welt also comments on the influence of the Kunduz affair, but says Guttenberg's about-face has done little to dent the public's trust in him. The paper comments that although the opposition has criticized the minister for his allegedly erratic commands, they know he is a popular figure.

Rheinische Post draws parallels with Guttenberg's handling of the Kunduz incident. "He cannot afford to make another fundamental mistake," says the regional newspaper.

Compiled by Catherine Bolsover
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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