Following the elections in which the Social Democrats did much better than anticipated, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder took most observers aback by sharply attacking the media for their alleged bias against his party.
Even Schröder's wife thought he had gone over the top this time
Editor-in-chief of the German public TV station ZDF, Nikolaus Brender, who co-moderated the post-election debate with leaders of the six main parties, said on Monday that Schröder's "style and form" during the debate on Sunday night were at times fully inappropriate for a German chancellor, but expressed a modicum of understanding for somebody "who has just descended from the orbit of election campaigning."
Did she have the German media on her side?
During the discussion, Schröder spoke of "media power and media manipulation," accusing the media of covering the campaigns in a biased manner and disparaging the fact that the media often quoted the pre-election polls, all of which predicted a decisive victory for Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and their coalition partner, the free-market liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).
In his speech after the preliminary election results were announced, Schröder told his supporters at the SPD headquarters in Berlin that his party had done well despite a lack of support from the media.
"I am proud of a democratic culture that overcame the power and manipulation of the media," Schröder said to a crowd made up of almost as many journalists as SPD voters.
Journalists strike back
President of the German Journalists Association (DJV) Michael Konken rejected "decisively the blanket accusation of media manipulation." Informing the public about the polls before the elections is a duty, which the German media, according to Konken, performed professionally and fairly.
"In the interest of 70,000 journalists in our country, I am asking the ruling chancellor to take back his accusations," Konken said.
Communications expert Frank Brettschneider described Schröder's behavior as "bizarre" and indicative of a "loss of reality paired with a certain amount of megalomania." On the other hand, Brettschneider said it was possible that Schröder's aggressive demeanor was a calculated attempt at browbeating Angela Merkel "to secure an advantage for himself and push up the prices for coalition negotiations."
The rivalry continues
Not everybody, however, is critical of Schröder's views. Siegfried Weischenberg, a German media researcher and former president of the Journalists Association, believes that the German media, along with polling institutions, did not handle the pre-election polls carefully enough.
"Large portions of media reports were directed against the SPD," said Weischenberg.
According to Weischenberg, the German media were responsible for trying to motivate the public for a change of government.
When media mixes with politics
Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, leading candidate for the Greens, echoed Schröder's concerns about the manipulative power of the media and called for more "self-critical reflexion among journalists" during a press conference Monday afternoon.
The fact that the SPD and the Greens were able to prove the trend researchers, pollsters and media were wrong, shows that it's "worth fighting," he said and added that "40-year-old yuppies, office managers and editors-in-chief" were not the only ones who decided the political future of the country.
Polling institutes criticized
The respected US polling institute, Gallup, on Monday added fire to the flames when it questioned the quality of German opinion researchers. The manager of Gallup in Germany, Gerald Wood, said that he considers the fact that German opinion institutes are often close to the political parties a "serious problem."
Doris didn't like it
Germany's first lady, Doris Schröder-Köpf -- herself a former journalist -- disapproved of her husband's belligerent appearance on television.
"She told me I should be more statesmanlike," Schröder told his guests of honor at the post-election party. He quickly pointed out, however, that people expected him to fight. "And that's what I did," Schröder said, accompanied by a tumultuous applause.