The long-time Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, gave his verdict on Twitter before the book is even available for purchase: "Hands off the book! These two arrogant, self-absorbed studs who despise Ukrainians and don't know a thing were always wrong anywhere one could be wrong. So just ignore the two narcissistic guys. Don't buy."
One can safely doubt that the German readers will also judge "The Fourth Estate" by Richard David Precht and Harald Welzer so mercilessly. Because Welzer and especially Precht have not only been part of the talking inventory of talk shows from "Markus Lanz" to "Anne Will" for many years, they can also be found regularly on all non-fiction bestseller lists.
Which is where the problem with the "fourth estate" begins. After all, neither Precht (most recently successful with "Freedom for All" about tomorrow's work) nor Welzer ("Obituary to myself" about the art of quitting, triggered by a heart attack) write non-fiction books in the real sense. Rather, they are opinionated, skilfully formulating long-haul columnists.
Both create works that are easy to read. They used to come more from the left, but are now written common sense in a modern guise. Something like Dieter Nuhr for non-fiction.
All-out attack on the media
"The Fourth Estate" is no exception. Precht/Welzer give a somewhat long account of media history, from the US media magnates Hearst and Pulitzer to Hugenberg and Mathias Döpfner. Here, in the best anti-American tradition, transatlantic powers are whispered about. ARD and ZDF or the editorial network Germany (RND), a northern German newspaper group, also get their criticism fat off: tame, close to the government, dubious are the friendliest terms.
The authors describe how the discussion about political issues in Germany keeps narrowing. There is a hegemony of opinion, which as a rule defends government actions with little criticism. This, Welzer and Precht cite earlier studies, is not a new phenomenon, but was already the case in the 1950s under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. In Germany there is a "mediocracy" - the media not only described and accompanied politics, but actively influenced them.
The deputy editor-in-chief of Springer's "Welt", Robin Alexander, has to serve as an example. Fascinated, he described his role in the Union party crisis in 2018 - when he got so much information "between two sessions at the sausage stand" that he could no longer write a whole article, but had to constantly give his two cents to Twitter to get his to document information advantage. The reporter as an actor - Welzer and Precht believe that it has meanwhile become the norm.
Between top and flop
So far, so interesting for political science and journalism students. Not everything is wrong with that, some things are certainly right. Journalism in Germany tends towards the comfortable herd instinct. This was not only made clear by the hatred of the former Federal President Christian Wulff, which Welzer and Precht naturally also use as evidence. Again and again there is too little thought and research, but too much broadcast of what is currently popular. Here the book is uncomfortable for the German media, holding up the mirror to them in an exhaustingly wordy way.
However, "The Fourth Estate" causes discomfort because it also reads like a personal reaction to an insult. In the spring, Welzer and Precht were among those celebrities who spoke out in an open letter against arms deliveries to Ukraine. Not only did they infuriate the Ukraine Ambassador Melnyk. They also openly called on those who were attacked to submit to their fate for the sake of peace and become a Russian colony or whatever. Criticism then rained down - especially from the media.
So "The Fourth Estate" also reads like an answer to this criticism, which was sometimes malicious. Of course, Welzer and Precht deny that, but in several places in their book they act as persecuted counter-current thinkers. That's not far removed from the dubious Monday demonstrations: "One can still say that."
Despite all the criticism, Precht and Welzer obviously don't belong there. In their work they criticize the hyperventilating discussions in the excited German society. Maybe the two of them should first learn how to breathe calmly again before they continue writing.
Richard David Precht, Harald Welzer: "The fourth power. How majority opinion is made, even if it isn't one." The book will be published on September 28th by S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main. 289 pages, price: 22 euros.