Is Lutz Bachmann a neo-Nazi and does it matter?

Lutz Bachmann, the co-founder of Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of Europe (PEGIDA), resigned from the group’s leadership on Wednesday.

Lutz BachmannThe step came after German media published Facebook posts in which he had used derogatory language against refugees and politicians, and pictured himself looking like Adolf Hitler.

Soon after he resigned, commentators claimed that Bachmann’s true face had been exposed, showing him to be a neo-Nazi despite his earlier rejection of any far-right association. At the same time, they suggested reaching out to PEGIDA’s supporters since many of them were just ordinary folks who felt disenfranchised by the political system.

There’s a double misconception here: neither is Bachmann a covert radical, nor are PEGIDA’s supporters innocent sheep.

Having been to a PEGIDA rally where Bachmann spoke, and having tried to talk to PEGIDA supporters, I think Bachmann’s comments reflect the politically incorrect (for good reason!) opinions of many Germans, without meaning he’s a neo-Nazi. On the other hand, there are many, many supporters of PEGIDA one could easily picture marching alongside skinheads at some other occasion.

It’s dangerous to fixate on one person (Bachmann) and unload all the usual cliches about the German far right on him, while at the same time ignoring the extremism that is festering in many “ordinary folks” minds.

The death of Jane Khalaf

Last month a British student died tragically young while on an exchange program in Cologne. Jane Khalaf fell into a coma after allegedly consuming drugs. Doctors switched off her life support a few days later.

Her family and several British media are highly critical of the German authorities, claiming they failed to notify the family that Jane had been taken to hospital and aren’t properly investigating the case. Her MP claims Khalad was murdered by someone who spiked her drink.

Although the full facts aren’t known yet, it may be worth noting that, as far as Cologne prosecutors office is concerned, Khalaf was taken to hospital Nov. 12 and told doctors that she had taken drugs. Tests showed amphetamines in her blood.

“There is no concrete evidence that (she) was given so-called knock-out drops without her knowledge,” Cologne prosecutor Ulrich Bremer said. His office has asked the University of Cologne to produce a toxicological report, in addition to the autopsy. Presumably this will help explain this tragic case.

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Clooney and the lawyer. Or: what headlines tell us about sexism and racism

First of all apologies for picking the examples I picked. The sources say nothing about my esteem for the respective publications. They merely demonstrate the point I’m trying to make, and I’m sure if I’d spent just a minute searching for alternatives I would have found countless others that made it just as well.

Early this morning I received a ‘push’ alert on my mobile phone from a news app I regularly use. It declared that a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, had been shot. Not fatally, mind you, but I guess the publication figured it was important to alert all of its tens of thousands of readers around the world that things could be kicking off again in Ferguson. Which turned out not to be the case. But I’m sure that even without describing the suspect (other publications said he had “dreadlocks”) many readers would have been left with a clear impression of what had happened.

Which wouldn’t be so bad if the same publication hadn’t, hours later, failed to send a similar push alert about the outcome of the Berlin marathon. Why? Again, I’m sure without intended malice the publication sent the message that if a black man shoots a cop, that’s news, but if a black many sets a new world record in long-distance running, it’s not.

Let’s now switch to George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin. The two got hitched yesterday. Now compared these two headlines:

Clooney marries human rights lawyer in Venice

and

Internationally acclaimed barrister Amal Alamuddin marries an actor

Notice the difference? Clooney’s a decent actor and has done some important humanitarian work, but seriously: does anyone think his contribution to the world comes anywhere close to what Alamuddin has done? It’s easy to argue that Clooney is more famous, and therefore more important in a headline. But you can’t escape the fact that the framing of this story in the first headline downplays the importance of the Arab woman while making the white man the main focus of attention.

Journalism isn’t about political correctness. But you can’t claim to be accurately recounting what’s happening in the world if you skew the news in only one direction.