Editor’s note: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jewish Journal.
Obviously, the reporter at the German magazine-turned-tabloid Spiegel, Konstantin von Hammerstein, is a boring, mean-spirited person given his recent salacious attempt to smear US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell. His idea of a good time must be nibbling under-spiced hors d’oeuvres with Chancellor Merkel and other German power-players at numb receptions. He be must trying so hard to get readers to shun Grenell because Grenell is, actually, the hottest ticket in town.
Anyone who has visited the Ambassador’s residence, dined with him, or attended one of his parties (such as the American Embassy’s Fourth of July party, where we first met) knows that he is a man with superb “people skills”—a concept foreign to most Germans. (Now if I only I’d been invited to the ad hoc show of Britney Spears’ dancers at his Dahlem residence after the pop-queen’s Berlin concert. Sigh.) At a Christmas dinner at his residence, politicians, influencers, journalists, businessmen and just-plain interesting people from across the political spectrum were in attendance, chatting and enjoying.
He’s the type of diplomat who makes everyone in the room feel important—but in his case, he means it. Maybe because of his Christian faith, he sees divinity in everyone, frenemies and enemies alike. During my interview with the friend of Israel in the Juedische Rundschau (republished in English in JNS.org), I was struck by his candidness, friendliness, social and political sensitivity, and just overall cool-ness.
In his failed hit-piece, Count Hammerstein paints Grenell, through unnamed (aka cowardly) sources, as an isolated, unpopular diplomat in Berlin political circles. Proof? This German political brass had declined his invitation to the Halloween costume party at the Dahlem Residence where guests dressed up as “super heroes” (maybe because that’s another foreign concept to many Germans—especially fake reporters). OMG, like—did you know–Grenell is, like, soooo unpopular! Are you actually going to his party? OMG, we are soooo not going! In fact, only four members of the German government were invited. The two who came were young social democrats; the other two were out of town.
It seems someone from Spiegel is spying on Grenell, too, since they were also sore that he attended (more like a brief “meet and greet”—I was there) the annual writers meeting of Die Achse Des Guten (Achgut.com), a non-partisan and very popular media outlet that calls out fake news, the moral missteps of the German government, and Islamic hate and violence (but of course Speigel sees all that as a vice). Was Spiegel just jealous?
Truth is, tables are turning and Speigel knows it. German media is getting desperate. The mainstream media and left-leaning intellectuals are not the cool people anymore. Grenell and his supporters are the intellectual vanguard, the ethical, the artsy, the interesting, the fun—and the socially liberal.
True to its gossipy, unsubstantiating style, Spiegel obsesses over Grenell’s social life when really, as an Ambassador, his substance is what counts. In this case, it is clear that Spiegel is taking revenge on Grenell for pooping on its anti-American, anti-Trump, pro-Iran party.
Grenell took the forefront in calling out Spiegel’s scandalous, fake reporter, Claas Relotius, for making up stories about Americans to make them look bad, not to mention for allowing such egregious ethical breaches to take place. That took courage, because Grenell fought for what is objectively right over being invited to the wursty parties where the German elite gather to feel important and bore themselves given the general German lack of small-talk skills. Spiegel could not deign to introspect (also not a German strong point); instead, the editors took the low road and took cheap shots at Grenell.
German political elites are also sore that Grenell is calling out Germany on its immoral ties with the antisemitic, genocidal Iran regime. The reporter criticized Grenell for urging Germans to stop doing business with Iran when Germany, if it learned anything from its tyrannical past, should have taken the lead on this issue. Still, the reporter virtue-signals by relating Fox News to neo-Nazis—the brave anti-Nazi crusaders they are! Just check out Grenell’s Twitter feed to see who really gets Nazi atrocities.
Spiegel felt so self-satisfied that Grenell wasn’t chosen to become the UN Ambassador—as if to suggest he’s not really as high up in Washington circles as he lets on. I know that’s not the case—and, if Spiegel did any authentic reporting—they’d find President Trump’s praise of Grenell’s work in Germany—the main reason he wasn’t plucked out of Berlin.
I wager Ambassador Grenell will go down in history as one of America’s great ambassadors, competing with the likes of Nazi-era Ambassador William E. Dodd, whose tenure was made famous with the book In the Garden of Beasts. Grenell has been auspiciously—or ominously–placed in a similar situation: a moral conscience at a time when Germany is regressing to its immoral, greedy, propagandistic ways. Those who hate him have only one tool against his charm, skill, and ideals: fake stories, op-ed pieces posing as features, and petty gossip.
As a journalist, I try to keep a comfortable distance from my subjects. No journalist should ever be in anyone’s pocket, and vice versa. As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, however, I’m relieved Grenell’s in Berlin. So far, Grenell, throughout my interactions and observations, has shown he is a mensch—a good man with good values. And I can’t let such vicious, partisan attacks by fellow so-called journalists go unanswered.
Orit Arfa is a journalist and author based in Berlin. Her second novel, Underskin, is a German-Israeli love story.