Newsmakers, Literal and Figurative

Published: 1996-01-04

The 37-year-old German documentary film-maker Michael Born, according to an AP story [Feb. 15, 1996], owed his prolific output to the fact that he happened to be a literal rather than a figurative newsmaker.

For example, a 1994 Born documentary portrayed a group of Germans performing a white-hooded Klansman's cross-burning ritual allegedly somewhere in Germany; a televised image that sent police investigators fanning out across the land in search of a clandestine cell of Teutonic Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

As it turns out, the ritualistic "Klansmen" were nothing more than pals of Born's mugging for the camera, cooking up a lurid tale they knew Born could easily sell to the sensation-hungry German TV networks and its audiences.

Born admits he faked this and other segments, but said in his defence that many other documentary film-makers did the same. "I am only a small cog in the machine," he told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. Born is now facing fraud charges that could net him up to 15 years in prison.

The documentary film-maker was, it seems, motivated by greed rather than politics; the 22 documentaries he cranked out between 1991 and 1995 having earned him hundreds of thousands of dollars. Similar and, often worse, hoaxes perpetrated on the Germans (and others, too, of course) in the past, however, have been motivated by a political design.

Consider the 1960 New Year's Day "swastika campaign" kicked off in Cologne, West Germany, by Soviet agents who daubed a local synagogue with the slogan "Germans Demand That Jews Get Out."

John Barron, a senior editor of the Reader's Digest, in his book The KGB: The World of the Soviet Secret Police, describes how the campaign then exfoliated in all directions:

During the New Year's weekend, swastikas and slogans were daubed on synagogues and Jewish buildings in London, Oslo, Vienna, Paris, Parma, Glasgow, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Milan, Antwerp and New York. On January 3 [1960] further outbreaks of anti-Semitism were reported in Melbourne, Manchester, Athens and Perth, Australia. On January 6, more desecrations occurred in Bogata, Buenos Aires, Milan, Oslo, Vienna and the summer home of King Frederik IX of Denmark.

What is instructive about the KGB-inspired "swastika campaign" is how the Western media gullibly and uncritically parroted the storyline of a malevolent "resurgence of Nazism." There was a general hysteria in Western Europe and North America.

An outraged Carl Sandburg—the great American poet—advocated the death penalty for anyone caught painting swastikas.

In London, Lord Robert Boothby—dismayed by what seemed like a "rising tide of Nazism"—said he intended to go to West Germany to investigate the situation there firsthand.

A German bishop, Otto Dibelius, insisted the outbreaks of "anti-Semitism" proved the German nation had not yet overcome its shameful past. And so on.

Meanwhile, West German businessmen, diplomats, and politicians were given a rough ride by the world community, notwithstanding their many and abject apologies and statements of self-abasement. Which was precisely what the Soviet apparatchiks had intended: to drive a wedge between West Germany and her allies in the West; to effect her moral isolation.

The anti-German smear operation even struck at targets inside Israel. The January 12, 1960, New York Daily News, reported:

"Swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans have appeared like a rash all over Israel during the past 48 hours... Forty swastikas, printed in red crayon, were found at Petak Tikvah."

The "swastika campaign" was and remains a prime example of a successful Soviet disinformation project and of the clever psychological warfare waged by KGB agents against the gullible people of the Western world.

It also underscores the importance of being skeptical of sensational breaking news stories. Don't believe everything you read. Don't believe everything you hear. Keep an open mind.

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Author(s): The TransCyberian Express
Title: Newsmakers, Literal and Figurative
Published: 1996-01-04
First posted on CODOH: April 29, 1996, 7 p.m.
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