German press review: Media pack turns on lone Wulff | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 03.01.2012
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German press review: Media pack turns on lone Wulff

Newspaper editors had German President Christian Wulff firmly in their sights on Tuesday following reports he threatened the mass circulation daily Bild over its plans to break news about a cheap home loan he accepted.

German newspaper covers

Tuesday's editorials were highly critical of President Wulff

Reports that German President Christian Wulff threatened the mass-circulation daily Bild over its plans to print a story about his acceptance of a cheap home loan triggered an angry response in Tuesday's newspaper editorials. Commentators from across the political spectrum questioned whether Wulff is still fit to hold Germany's highest public office.

The conservative daily Die Welt wrote that a president who highlights the importance of press freedom in his speeches, only to trample those values when he finds himself under pressure, has no place in an open society: "Politicians, including presidents, need not be saints. Past mistakes can be forgiven - as long as they learn from their errors and develop a degree of integrity that remains evident in their future actions. Christian Wulff, however, appears to be taking an experimental 'learning by doing' approach to his role as head of state. Even his most patient supporters and benevolent observers are beginning to see just how little savvy Wulff possesses compared with previous presidents like Theodor Heuss, Richard von Weizsäcker and Roman Herzog."

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also cast Wulff in the role of hypocrite: "President Wulff holds press freedom in such high esteem that he spoke on the issue three times in the past three weeks. The first time was in Qatar. The second was in his statement [about the loan scandal] just before Christmas. And the third was yesterday after media reports surfaced about a voicemail message he left for the chief editor of the Bild newspaper - shortly after he delivered that speech about media freedom in the Gulf. The threats Wulff reportedly made in that call … are befitting only of a head of state who has taken leave of his senses."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung told readers that the German constitution strictly limits the formal power of the president. As a result, the authority and credibility of that office rest firmly on the words and deeds of its holder. "Wulff has announced that he wants to continue performing his duties with 'full vigor'. But he does not appear to have the strength necessary to hold the nation, this society, together. A man who touts press freedom in speeches but doesn't respect it himself is a false president."

The business newspaper Financial Times Deutschland was prepared to forgive many of Wulff's alleged transgressions – but not all of them: "A German president need not necessarily resign for stretching the truth when he was active in the state parliament of Lower Saxony. Nor must he step down for taking a holiday at a property belonging to friends from the business community – or for accepting a particularly cheap home loan. Nor for employing his 'salami' tactic… of only admitting wrongdoing step-by-step after the facts have been made public. Even the telephone call to [Bild chief editor] Diekmann is not enough, in itself, to demand a resignation. The sum of all these parts, however, is becoming too much. Wulff does not understand how to fulfill his duties appropriately. He is not up to the job. His credibility has been ruined by the abundance of his mistakes. A man carrying this much baggage cannot remain president."

Meanwhille, in the country's north, the Flensburger Tageblatt wrote that support for Wulff in conservative ranks was waning: "The president is becoming increasingly isolated. The leaders who nominated Wulff as head of state – especially the Chancellor– are now silent. Christian Wulff enjoyed Angela Merkel's support when news of the home loan first hit the headlines. But why should the CDU [Merkel's party] and the Free Democrats rally behind a president who tried to suppress negative press coverage over the phone like some brazen provincial politician?"

Compiled by Martin Muno / sje
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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