Weekly magazine sent six push messages Focus in the last three days. tabloid picture sent four in two days: The Greens allegedly plagiarized candidate-chancellor Annalena Baerbock. With every newly found passage from Baerbock’s book that showed similarities with content from Wikipedia or a newspaper, the conservative-populist media again sounded the alarm. Direction: Baerbock cheats the ball.
Baerbock, party leader for De Groenen since April, published a book two weeks ago to support her campaign: jetzt. Who wir unser Land erneuern. In the book Baerbock mixes a personal story about her grandmother with the program of De Groenen. The reviews were mild. Tuesday messaged Focus for the first time about a so-called ‘plagiarism fighter’ from Austria, who ran Baerbock’s book through the plagiarism software: certain passages are said to have been copied from other publications.
As quietly and harmoniously as Annalena Baerbock’s candidacy at the Greens was prepared, unlike, for example, the open power struggle between Armin Laschet and Markus Söder among the Christian Democrats, things have been stormy since Baerbock was appointed as the first candidate for chancellor in the history of The Greens. Because Baerbock is not just a party leader, but is claiming the chancellorship in view of the high polls. And that ambition comes up against a lot of headwind.
It first appeared that Baerbock had reported additional income, such as a ‘corona bonus’ paid out by the party, too late. Baerbock apologized. Then there was a public debate for weeks about Baerbock’s resume, which would have been somewhat flattering: for example, the first version stated that she has a ‘bachelor’ in political science, when in reality it was a ‘Vordiplom’ which is not a diploma in itself, but which nevertheless allowed Baerbock to embark on a master’s degree. Since then, Baerbock has been given the image of a woman who wants to pretend to be better than she is, which is also reflected in the declining polls.
Starting this week, that image is reinforced by the accusations of plagiarism, coming from ‘plagiarism fighter’ and media scientist Stefan Weber. For example, Weber points on his blog to a sentence that, without citing the source, is taken verbatim from the magazine International Politics has been taken over, on two sentences previously published in the newspaper Tageszeitung published, and on a phrase that can be read on Wikipedia.
The seriousness of the case is presented quite differently in different media. Platforms like picture and Focus, who have little affinity with the politics of De Groenen in terms of signature, label the working method of Baerbock and her co-author as a mortal sin. Weekly magazine of the mirror and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, on the other hand, interviewed lawyers who saw no plagiarism in the agreements; the passages were considered too short or too factual for that, and moreover Baerbock’s book has no academic pretensions. Baerbock himself also defended himself on Thursday evening in an interview with women’s magazine Brigitte saying that she does not pretend to have written “not a nonfiction book or a scientific work.”
The Greens immediately went full in the counter-attack on Tuesday. The party called it ‘character assassination’ of Baerbock, and hired a lawyer. Party leader and former environment minister Jürgen Trittin called it a ‘smear campaign’. Greens Bundestag member Franziska Brantner compared the way Baerbock is treated with the way Hillary Clinton was written: “This is like it”flood the zone with shit’ by Steven Bannon to avoid having the political discussions that matter.” with „flood the zone with shitTrump’s media guru Bannon said the media should write mostly about side issues, such as Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, to distract from substantive discussions.
The accusations against Baerbock seem to stick especially because Baerbock says he stands for a new style of leadership, which she herself calls ‘human and empathetic’. In addition, the Greens argue for a radical kind of transparency, which is not in line with reporting bonuses too late or embellishing CVs. In her first speech as a candidate for chancellor, she said: “Others stand for the status quo.”
The Christian Democrats, for example, who have a series of corruption cases involving masks to their name, but where conflicts of interest are such a recurring problem that the accusations are taken for notice, also by the voter.
Weber’s blog has featured contributions about Annalena Baerbock since May; in a file he underlined all the incongruities in Baerbock’s resume with red. Yet Weber, who can also be hired to check theses or PhDs for plagiarism, swears that he works completely independently and has not been paid for his research into Baerbock.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 3 July 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of July 3, 2021