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Culture

Live by the Media, Die by the Media

No one raised the profile of Switzerland as much as Ambassador Thomas Borer-Fielding and his Texan wife, Shawne. But after a sex scandal that took both countries by storm, Berlin's most popular couple have to leave.

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The ambassador, middle, and his wife, far right

The cliches are well-honed: soaring alps, accurate clocks, delicious chocolate, cheese.

Add to that swinging parties, headline-grabbing photographs and a salacious sex scandal and you’ve got the new, modern Switzerland Ambassador Thomas Borer-Fielding and his Texan wife, Shawne, were trying to present Germany.

Since arriving in Berlin in 1999, the pair have commanded Berlin’s party scene. Hardly a party passes without the glam couple in attendance. Photographers are there to document their every move and Germany’s ravenous tabloid press feasts on their toast-of-Berlin parties.

In grabbing headlines the couple have raised the profile of Switzerland like no other diplomatic pair before them. Their defenders, among them Berlin’s high society and high-ranking politicians, claimed they were a boon to a country always considered bland and bureaucratic.

Their detractors, virtually all in Switzerland, saw them as an ugly spot that irreparably stained the country’s polished image with each sensational photograph.

This week it appears they have gone too far. The Swiss Foreign Minister called back one of his most important foreign representatives following a media craze when Switzerland’s Sonntags Blick reported Borer-Fielding had an affair with a Berlin perfume saleswoman.

Everything to do with the affair

Foreign Minister Joesph Deiss was at pains to make clear that whatever late-night rendezvous Borer-Fielding might have had, they had absolutely nothing to do with the decision. Pulling him out of Berlin had everything to do with Borer-Fielding’s ability to represent Switzerland with the necessary dignity and composure, he told reporters.

In other words it had everything to do with the affair.

"It takes away from his work as ambassador for Switzerland in Germany," said Phillipp Staehelin, head of the conservative CVP party.

Shawne Borer-Fielding

Der Schweizer Botschafter in Deutschland Thomas Borer, rechts, und seine Frau Shawne Borer-Fielding winken bei der Festsitzung des Aachener Karneval Vereins (AKV) am Samstag, 26. Januar 2002 in Aachen. Borer wird dort mit dem traditionellen Karnevals-Orden "Wider den tierischen Ernst 2002" ausgezeichnet.

This isn’t the first time the pair has made headlines and raised hackles in Bern. Borer-Fielding’s wife Shawne (photo), a native Texan beauty queen, was forced to publicly apologize to Deiss a year ago after she allowed a magazine photographer to take very un-Swiss photos of her in miniskirts and relatively provocative busteiers – all in the Swiss colors of course.

Deiss said the pair would have to make more of an effort to distinguish between their private and public lives.

But the media spotlight was too bright to ignore. The Borer-Fieldings continued to swirl in Berlin’s appreciative nightlife, raising Switzerland’s profile with each shutter click.

Sex sells

Then the bomb dropped ten days ago. The Sonntags Blick reported that a 34-year-old Berlin perfume salesman had visited the ambassador at the midnight hour while his wife was away.

Though details were sketchy and the woman in question embellished her story with each interview, the spark was enough to start a tabloid blaze that engulfed Berlin and Bern.

All of a sudden, the media-saaviness that the Borer-Fieldings used to raise their profile became a double-edged sword. The couple that had welcomed photographers at every ball and charity event suddenly begged for privacy. They threatened to file suit against the Sonntags Blick and kept their silence – at least for a few days.

It wasn’t long before the reporters came calling on the French island of Mauritius, were the couple was spending their vacation. Instead of hiding behind the still-supportive Swiss foreign minister, Borer-Fielding used the media to launch his defense campaign. He attacked the Sonntags Blick and publisher Michael Ringier.

He allowed he and his wife to be photographed, hand-in-hand on the sunny French island.

Stand by your man

"I stand by my man," Shawne Fielding told Bild am Sonntag reporters. "I believe him. He is a man who enjoys international trust. Those who speculate, they can pull us apart with those types of stories is crazy."

Had the media campaign stayed within the tabloid realm, there would probably be less harm done. But when German prominents like the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung picked up the salacious tale, the Swiss foreign ministry began feeling the heat, according to various newspaper reports.

What’s worse, Borer-Fielding apparently didn’t go out of his way to please his bosses in Bern. He turned down an offer to break his vacation and go back to Bern to talk things over with Deiss.

As a result Deiss’ "absolute confidence" in one of his most important representatives quickly turned sour. ""He didn’t behave himself optimally," Deiss told reporters.

About ten days after the story broke, Deiss broke the bad news. The Borer-Fieldings would have to go back to Bern by the end of April. The pair apparently got the news over their cell phone. Borer-Fielding rejected another posting elsewhere.

The career of the fast-moving, ambitious 44-year-old who headed Switzerland’s WWII truth commission looks to be over. The couple have not said much since then, aside from the fact that they accept Deiss’ decision.

Oscar Wilde once said that he hated Switzerland because it "produced nothing but theolgians and waiters."

The Borer-Fieldings were neither and went out of their way to prove it. And that was their biggest mistake.

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