- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Germany has an image problem.

“Hitler still dominates everything,” complains Media Tenor, a Bonn-based media-research group that analyzed more than 3,000 American print and broadcast stories covering Germany in the past three years.

“Cliches pre-empt understanding,” the researchers found, and predicted “dire consequences” to the relationship between the two countries, which remains shallow at best.

Americans, the researchers say, just don’t “get” the real Germany.

Indeed, Adolf Hitler was the personality most recalled by the American public and “opinion leaders,” Media Tenor concluded, based on research by Strategy XXI, an international marketing group in New York that polled 1,000 Americans about their impressions of Germany last year.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder or predecessor Helmut Kohl do not seem to register on the cultural radar. About 42 percent of the public know who Hitler was, while Mr. Kohl was familiar to only 4 percent and Mr. Schroeder to less than 1 percent. Among leaders surveyed, Hitler was cited by almost 50 percent, Mr. Kohl by 21 percent and Mr. Schroeder by 2 percent.

“A lot of people are not in touch with many historical facts. The most intense or horrific details tend to stand out in their minds,” noted Los Angeles-based psychologist Robert Butterworth.

“They’ll remember Jeffrey Dahmer, or they associate Germany with Hitler,” he continued. “It doesn’t necessarily mean they think ill of Germany. But what else are they going to remember? Octoberfest?”

Still, it does not bode well for the German image abroad.

“To paraphrase Oscar Wilde,” the Media Tenor researchers say, “the only worse thing than a negative media image is no presence at all.”

President Bush was featured in about 1,750 of the news stories that the report analyzed, with Saddam Hussein coming in second place with 500 stories.

The study also analyzed 18 German newspapers and magazines, plus four German TV networks. Germany’s global stature was positive “until Chancellor Schroeder and Foreign Minister [Joschka] Fischer turned the German mission to the U.N. into a central office for opposition to the politics of George W. Bush and Colin Powell.”

German media “took the side of ‘their’ government rather than report the news” and “hardly distinguished between democracy and dictatorship.” The coverage created a “judgment barrier” among Germans, who “inevitably became preoccupied with America.”

Media Tenor cites a June survey of 1,000 young Germans about America’s image, conducted by the Gfk, a German marketing group. A third say they are more informed about the United States than any other country in the world. The closest contenders are Britain, cited by 16 percent, and France, cited by 10 percent.

The United States also tops the list when respondents are asked, “Which countries do you think most highly of?” It was cited by 14 percent. Switzerland, France, Australia and Britain followed in popularity. Another 31 percent say they would most like to study or work in the United States, followed by Britain, cited by 13 percent.

Americans have mixed reaction to Germany. Gallup, which surveyed 1,000 Americans adults in February, found 71 percent had a favorable impression. The Pew Global Project Attitudes poll released in June put the figure at only 44 percent.

The damage already is done, though, according to Media Tenor.

“Nothing is more fractured than the relationship between America and Germany, [and] there are no signs that the trans-Atlantic alliance will be revived anytime soon.”

The report analyzed coverage from Time and Newsweek magazines, USA Today, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and New York Times, plus ABC, CBS and NBC. It can be seen in full at the Media Tenor Web site (www.mediatenor.com).

Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.


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