HOW BISMARCK USED THE PRESS. T HERE is a tendency among
certain amiable and sentimental persons in England, whose sincerity is unquestionable, to accept the opinions of the German Press, and above all its " inspired ' opinions—those which are prompted, or expressly dictated, by the bureaucracy— its though they had the same value as corresponding statements in our own newspapers. This is an old error, but a very easy one to fall into. It is the familiar mistake of dealing with one set of conditions in the terms of another. The German.Press has different methods and standards from ours, and though every one knows this in away, it is astonishing bow ready people are to accept iii an absolute sense statements to which the authors of them would attribute no such authority or finality. That this easygoing habit is creditable in a way to many English- men we do not deny ; but its dangers are great and obvious, particularly at a time like this, when German newspaper statements about shipbuilding and naval intentions are quoted as having the value of exact evidence. There would be reason in this English practice. only if tia Bismarckian method were dead; but it is not dead ; there are officials in the German Departments of State who were trained in the Bisrnarckiau tradition and in none other. We think it therefore a duty to remind our readers at this time what sort of relations Bismarck entered into with the Press, and what use he made of it. Any one can go into the matter for himself by reading Herr Busch's "Bismarck: Some Secret Pages of his History,"—a work of which the authenticity is established. We can give here only a few quotations, but they will be quite enough to prove our meaning.
Herr Busch was an official in the German Foreign Office, and was employed for many years by Bismarck as his agent in "working the Press." The first quotation we shall give refers to an episode in 1870, five months before the outbreak of the Franco-German War :- "Read over to the Minister, at his request, an article which he ordered yesterday and for which he gave me the leading ideas. It was to be dated from Paris, and published in the ninische Zeitung. lie said:—' Yes, you have correctly expressed my meaning. The composition is good both as regards its reasoning and the facts which it contains. But no Frenchman thinks in such logical and well-ordered fashion, yet the letter is understood to be written by a Frenchman, It must contain more gossip, and you must pass more lightly from point to point. In doing so you must adopt an altogether French standpoint. A Liberal Parisian writes the letter and gives his opinion as to the position of his party towards the German question, expressing himself in the manner usual in statements a that kind.' (Finally Count Bismarck dictated the greater part of the article, which was forwarded by Metzler in its altered form to the Rhenish newspaper.)" Bismarck apparently had no objections on principle to fabricating a letter purporting to come from Paris in order to 'influence German opinion. No honest newspaper in England would concoct such information for its own uses, and of course it is unthinkable that a Cabinet Minister would do it. In the same month (March, 1870) Bismarck wanted to have the Polish question discussed in the Press a propos of lilitczko's appointment at Vienna. He instructed his agent as follows :— " Quote Rechenberg's confidential despatch of the 2nd of March from Warsaw, where he says that the Polish secret political societies which are engaged at Lemberg in preparing for a revolution, with the object of restoring Polish independence, have sent a deputation to Klaczko congratulating him on his appointment to a position whore he is in direct communication with the Chancellor of the Empire. Send the article first to the Ktdmische Zeitung, and afterwards arrange for similar articles in the provincial newspapers. We must finally see that this reaches Reuss (the Ambassador in St. Petersburg), in order that he may get it reproduced in the Russian press. It can also appear in the Kreuzzeitung, and it must be brought up again time after time in another form."
Oa July 19th Herr Busch records that be met Bismarck in his garden :--- "He stopped in his walk as I came up to him, and said : I wish you to write something in the Kreusseitung against the Hanoverian nobles. It must come from the provinces, from a nobleman living in the country, an Old Prussian—very blunt, somewhat in this style: It is reported that certain Hanoverian nobles have endeavoured to find pilots and spies in the North Sea for French men-of-war, The arrests made within the last few days with the assistance of the military authorities are understood to be connected with this affair. The conduct of those lianoverians is infamous, and I certainly express tho senti- ments of all my neighbours when I put the following questions to the Hanoverian nobles who sympathise with those traitors. gave they any doubt, I would ask them, that a man of honour could not now regard such men as entitled to demand honourable satisfaction by arms whether their unpatriotic action was or was not undertaken at the bidding of King George?"
And so On—another fabricated letter in which Bismarck was no doubt more at his ease than in the case of the French Radical.
Side by side with entries about the work of fabrication and disingenuous suggestion we find such entries as the following, which we may perhaps take as proof that Bismarck never thought otherwise than that the "working of the Press" was a quite natural and legitimate part of a. statesman's diplomacy :— "At 11 o'clock this morning [April 25th, 1870] Count Bismarck and his family took the Holy Communion at their residence. He asked whether any one in our bureau desired to join them, but no one offered to do so. I was for a moment tempted, but reconsidered the matter. It might look as if I wished to recommend myself."
Indeed, we have the key to Bismarck's heart in the entry which tells us that he remarked: "We are at least entitled to tell the truth with discretion in presence of such indiscreet lies." We a,re really, as we have said, dealing with a different code when we find that truth and falsehood may be judged for political purposes by the degree of their discretion. On April 29th, 1888, Herr Busch wrote in his diary :— "I read this morning in the Berliner Emerson Zeitung : 'We are In a position to state that the Imperial Chancellor, as was indeed to be expected, is most indignant at the notorious article in the Granaboten slandering the Empress Victoria, and that he has given expression to his condemnation in very strong terms. In this connection exceptional importance is to be attached to the sympathetic article in the Nordeteutsche Allgemeine Zeitung on the Queen of England's visit.' Doubtless as that paper is in the Bleichroder's service, this utterance has been inspired by that firm, over which floats the flag of the British Consulate General. Well informed ? Possibly, indeed probably. A disclaimer ? Why not! Quito in order! Tempera mutantur? But I shall never change towards him, nor he doubtless towards me. Ho will once more call for his little archer when he again wants an arrow shot into the face of this or that sun, and Biischlein's ' bow shall never fail him."
The ejaculations of Herr Busch on reading the Berliner Boersen Zeitung can be easily understood, when it is explained that the publication of what was said to the discredit of the Empress had been procured by Bismarck himself, as the previous pages of the diary show. This is the prettiest example in the book, though there are several, of the art of dementi. As a final specimen we will quote the following. It is dated September 26111, 1888 :— " In the intervals he had a long conversation with me on the manner in which the Crown Prince's diary should be dealt with. He introduced, the subject by the remark (in English); 'I am afraid you have forgotten your English.' On my answering, 'No, sir, by no means,' he continued, the conversation in that language on account of the coachman. He began: As you will have seen from what you read, wo must first treat it as a forgery, a point of view from which a great deal may be said. Then, when it is proved to ho genuine by the production of the original it can be dealt, with further in another way.' 1 said that on the whole it appeared to me to be genuine, but incomplete. . . ...•. He rejoined : 'You were quite right. I myself consider the diary even more genuine that you do. It is quite insignifleant, super, ficial stuff, without any true conception of the situation, a medley of sentimental politics, self-conceit and phrase-mongering. He was far from being as clever as his father, and the latter was certainly not a first-rate politician. It is just that which proves its genuineness to me. But at first we must treat it as doubtful.'" These extracts surely prove that if anything like the Bismarckian tradition remains, it is childishness to set an exact scientific value on statements which are part of an accepted system of "flying kites" and of general manipu- lation. If there had been any effort to break with the Bismarckian method, we should find that the political fame of Bismarck had fallen into some disrepute. But this haS not happened. His statesmanship is held in high honour by the bureaucracy and its supporters. Herr Busch's diary and Bismarck's reputation exist side by side. Only a few. years ago we ourselves had an amusing illustration that the old methods of employing the Press held good. The Spectator published an article when the German Emperor was beginning to demand a strong Navy, pointing out that the desire was a very natural one for a rising industrial Power which might have to protect its overseas commerce. If there should unhappily be a quarrel, we said, between Britain and Germany, German commerce would be at our mercy. The article was reproduced in Germany, and quoted freely by the German Navy League in confirmation of its views. Soon it was mentioned in the Reichstag, whereupon the late Herr Richter, the well-known leader of time National Liberals, who spoke in perfect good faith, declared that the article was worth nothing as independent evidence, as it had obviously been concocted in Berlin by the Imperial Press Bureau, had been sent over to London, aud its insertion then procured in the Spectator In other words, a continuance of the practices by which Bismarck conjured up letters from the French Radical and the blunt Old Prussian was assumed ; no German Deputy apparently thought what Herr Richter said at all unnatural. Yet of course the article had been written in the usual way in the S.gectator office by the writer of these lines. We can hardly hope that those Englishmen in whom the wish is invariably father to the thought will cease to accept the German Press as an authority like the Times ; but we do hope that we shall cause some of our readers who have been accustomed to regard the talk of disingenuousness in German journalism as vague and unreal to look on the matter with new eyes. We make no charge of dishonesty against the German Press. There are, to begin with, a number of newspapers which are quite independent of official influences. Again, those newspapers which are ready to insert official articles do so on patriotic grounds, and not from any base or unworthy motives. It is natural that they should publish what is offered to them by officials, what they are assured is sent them in the public interest, and what, as a matter of fact, is often remarkably good " copy." In the case of the Navy, however, we should be maniacs if we adjusted our building programmes by the tone of German news- papers instead of by our own independent conception of what our needs may be.