German President Christian Wulff's 'War' with the Media

 @https://twitter.com/dantovrov on January 03 2012 10:09 AM

Germany's President Christian Wulff, currently embroiled in a home loan scandal, is facing further criticism for his attempt to cover up the story.

Germans are demanding that Wulff explain the low-interest 500,000 euro ($649,000) loan he received in 2008, but the president is trying his best to do just the opposite. Last week, it was revealed that Wulff tried to prevent the popular newspaper Bild from publishing its damaging report on the scandal.

Wulff allegedly called the tabloid, which is Germany's most widely-read newspaper, and made menacing threats to try to bury the story. Wulff left multiple voice-mails for Bild editor Kai Diekmann, saying he would start a war if the loan article ran, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

Wulff was on an official visit to the Persian Gulf states when he called Diekmann, as well as Bild's publishing house president Mathias Doepfne. He threatened legal action against the paper, but then called again a few days later to apologize for his tone, according to Bild.

The Bild incident was apparently not first time that Wulff had tried to prevent a paper from running a negative article. On Tuesday, the Die Welt newspaper reported that Wulff threatened the Welt am Sonntag newspaper with unpleasant and public consequences if an article on Wulff's family and childhood were printed in a June edition.

The president has refused to give his side of the story, but noted through a representative that freedom of the press was a valuable commodity.

What view of people must a president have who seriously believes that bothersome journalists could be deterred from their search for the truth by means of a presidential intervention with the boss? asked Die Welt. Anyone who thinks and behaves in that way isn't especially interested in freedom of opinion and the sometimes unpleasant investigations of a free press, and instead has a hierarchical view of society. He disregards the rules an open civil society that can't be confined to a disrespectful pecking order and orders from above.

Merkel's Problem

The position of president in Germany is largely ceremonial, but Wulff's allegiance to Chancellor Angela Merkel has made his indiscretions all the more damning.

When Wulff's first financial irregularities came to light last month, Merkel publicly backed the president, saying at a press conference in December that the president is doing a great job. He has my full support.

But as the scandal develops, Wulff may become as embarrassing to Merkel as former-Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who she supported through plagiarism allegations that eventually led to his resignation.

Merkel appointed Wulff to president in 2010 when he was Prime Minister of Lower Saxony. Even at the time Wulff was an unpopular choice, and it took three rounds of voting to get him approved for the job. In the first round, 44 members of Merkel's party voted against the nomination.

The naivety and brazenness of Wulff's actions are worrying. He's not chief administrator of (the city of) Osnabrueck, nor is he prime minister of Lower Saxony any longer -- he is head of state. This post is apparently too big for Wulff, Sueddeutsche Zeitung said in an editorial calling for the president's resignation.

The loan in question was a 500,000-euro private loan from the wife of businessman Egon Gerkeens in 2008. He was first asked about it in 2010, when he outright denied having a business relationship with Gerkeens and then replaced the loan with a bank mortgage, according to BBC.

The constitution imposes strict limits on the formal power of the president, wrote Süddeutsche Zeitung. That means the president's authority and credibility depend on what the incumbent says and how he or she behaves. But it's possible to gamble away even this limited power. Wulff has done that. He tried to use his office to save Wulff the private man and then Wulff the statesman embarrassment, trouble and critical questions.

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