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Becalmed with sagging sails by @BloggersRUs

Becalmed with sagging sails

by Tom Sullivan


A bridge collapsed yesterday in Genoa, Italy, killing at least 39.

A German journalist seems to have hit on an unlikely approach to covering the country's far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Journalist Thomas Walde of ZDF asked AfD leader Alexander Gauland policy questions having nothing to do with refugees:

The resulting 19-minute interview, in which Gauland struggles to answer basic questions about his party’s positions on such issues, has been lauded by opponents of the AfD as masterful. Supporters of the AfD and Gauland himself panned it as biased. ZDF journalist Thomas Walde, who conducted the interview, repeatedly pushed Gauland to clarify or explain statements made by his fellow party members—and asked more than once about proposed policy “alternatives” from a party that counts the word “alternative” as part of its name.
Asked about the party’s position on Germany’s retirement system and his AfD colleague Jörg Meuthen’s suggestion that there should be a “system change,” Gauland said his party had not voted on or released any specific plan for reforms. “We’re discussing this and have no determined concept,” he said. (Asked whether this meant that his party had, in fact, no “alternative” for Germany on this topic, Gauland replied there would be one after the next major party meeting, “not now.”) Referring to the party’s frequent rhetoric about wanting to “protect” the German people (presumably from migrants and increasing immigration), Walde then asked Gauland for the AfD’s position on “protecting” local renters from big international vacation rental companies like Airbnb—a major theme in Berlin, where previously-low rents are rising rapidly. “At the moment I can’t give you an answer on that,” Gauland said. “That has not been voted on in our party program.” On digitalization, which is a major topic of discussion among other political parties here, Gauland was asked to expand on an AfD colleague’s brief comments on the topic’s importance on the floor of the Bundestag. “I can’t explain that, and you’d need to ask an MP,” Gauland said, adding that he personally has “no close relationship to the internet.”
My German never was good enough to follow an interview on policy (interview link above), so I'm taking the word of Emily Schultheis, a Berlin-based freelance journalist (and her Atlantic editors) that the interviewer simply asked Gauland the kinds of policy questions the program "Berlin Direkt Sommerinterviews" typically asks guests. But from her description, Gauland came off like Karl Marx in a Monty Python sketch being quizzed on British soccer trivia.

"Ultimately," she write, "the interview also highlighted the strategy some German politicians have told me they see as the most effective one against the AfD: to hold them to the same standards as other politicians, and watch them fail to deliver anything substantive."

With no xenophobic winds to fill his sails, the AfD's Gauland found himself becalmed. There is a lesson in there for a U.S. press that cannot help but cover the Donald Trump rallies that keep his sails full. But political drama makes infotainment too ratings-rich for many American reporters to bother asking about policies actually impacting people's lives — infrastructure, for example — much less stop fringe figures from somehow making bridge collapses the fault of brown-skinned immigrants.

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