The publicly funded Franco-German “cultural” channel Arte did not waste any time celebrating the dawn of a new era in transatlantic relations. This is the same Arte, incidentally, whose earlier contributions to transatlantic understanding have included a report accusing American soldiers of beheading Vietnamese civilians during the Vietnam War and a portrayal of President George W. Bush with devil’s horns and fangs. On the day after the election of Barack Obama to succeed the outgoing demon-president, the channel broadcast a 70-minute-long special, live from Washington, with the highly imaginative title “A Black Man in the White House” [Un Noir à la maison blanche]. (To their credit, the editors at Arte-Germany chose to abjure the racist impulses of their French counterparts and titled the show instead “Obama: A New Wind in the White House” [Frischer Wind im Weissen Haus].) The guests on the program included Annette Heuser, the executive director of the Bertelsmann Foundation’s new Washington, DC, office. The influential German foundation set up shop in DC just this past spring, presumably in anticipation of the impending “change.” Host Daniel Leconte revealed that the foundation had even helpfully prepared “a little aide, a little white book” for the incoming president on how to conduct his relations with Europe. He was careful to interject that the “white book” had been prepared for both candidates.
In any case, Bertelsmann can be sure that Mr. Obama will read its “little aide, its little white book” very carefully. For — as Ms. Heuser failed to disclose and as was not mentioned either in an op-ed on Obama that she published in the Washington Post in July — the Bertelsmann Corporation happens to be the president-elect’s principal source of income. It was Bertelsmann, namely, that agreed to pay Obama a reported $1.9 million in advances for a three-book deal that the then-senator-elect signed with its fully owned American subsidiary, the Random House publishing group, in December 2004. And who knows? The real amount of the deal might well be more than the reported amount. After all, it was only in April of this year that we discovered that a reported $10 million book deal signed by former President Bill Clinton with Bertelsmann/Random House in 2001 had in fact been worth $15 million. (See my earlier PJM report on “Bill Clinton’s German Paymasters.”)
Largely thanks to the Bertelsmann deal, Obama went from earning just over $85,000 in 2004 (see statement 3 in Barack and Michelle Obamas’ joint 2004 tax return here) to well over $1 million in 2005. His senate salary of $154,000 was dwarfed in that year by a reported $874,000 in income from Random House plus another $336,000 from literary agent Dystel & Goderich. (See statements 5 and 10 in the Obamas’ 2005 return here.) The Obamas’ most recent 2007 return lists a staggering $3,279,000 in income from Random House plus another nearly $816,000 from literary agent Dystel & Goderich, adding up to over $4 million in book-related revenues in all. (As so happens, Jane Dystel is Obama’s former literary agent, whom he is reported to have unceremoniously dumped before signing the Random House deal. That Obama should be receiving such large sums from Dystel & Goderich suggests some sort of complicated settlement between the three parties and this suggests in turn that the sums could well represent additional indirect payments to Obama from Random House. In any case, it is unusual for an agent to be paying a client rather than vice versa.) All told, from 2005 to 2007, Obama received some $4,556,636 in income from the Random House division of Bertelsmann and another $1,299,167 from Dystel & Goderich, adding up to nearly $6 million — presumably all of it related in one way or another to the Bertelsmann/Random House deal.
In the interest of transparency, Obama should surely now release the full details of his contractual relationship with the Bertelsmann Corporation. After all, if one is to judge by his recent tax returns, even as president, he will be paid far more by Bertelsmann than by the American taxpayers. For him to be taking advice from the Bertelsmann Foundation suggests conflict of interest on a magnitude that has perhaps never before been seen in the history of the American presidency. Although legally distinct, the foundation and the corporation are, in effect, just functionally distinct parts of a single entity. The Bertelsmann Foundation is in fact the majority shareholder in the corporation, presently holding roughly three-quarters of the company shares, to which, however, there correspond no voting rights. All the remaining shares are held by the Mohn family: family patriarch Reinhard, his wife Liz, and their children. The Mohns in turn control the foundation (to which Reinhard Mohn assigned a large part of the company capital in 1993), such that foundation and corporation are perfectly intertwined and both are, in effect, emanations of the Mohn family’s power.
It might be considered irrelevant today that Bertelsmann massively collaborated with the Nazi regime during World War II. (For more on this, see “Bill Clinton’s German Paymasters.”) But it is surely not irrelevant that when German researcher Hersch Fischler first brought this fact to light, the family proposed to have the matter further investigated by one Dirk Bavendamm. Bavendamm is the family’s “in-house” historian, having written no fewer than three commissioned histories of the Mohn family and the Bertelsmann Corporation. As so happens, he is also an open revisionist, who calls World War II “Roosevelt’s War” and suggests — à la contemporary 9/11 conspiracy theorists writing on George W. Bush — that Franklin Delano Roosevelt intentionally permitted the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to occur. Bavendamm has even written a book on the subject with the curious title Roosevelt’s War 1937-45 and the Puzzle of Pearl Harbor [Roosevelts Krieg 1937 — 45 und das Rätsel von Pearl Harbor]. “With the events of December 7-8, 1941 [i.e., the attack on Pearl Harbor], Roosevelt … had achieved his most important aims,” Bavendamm has written in an essay on the subject [German link], “America’s entry into the War occurred with the enthusiastic consent of the overwhelming majority of the American people — … Roosevelt had finally convinced them that it was their sacred duty, guns in hand to defend freedom, democracy, and prosperity around the world.” (For more on Bavendamm, see Hersch Fischler and John Friedman’s “Bertelsmann’s Revisionist” here.)
The theory that the Pearl Harbor attack was a set-up is, incidentally, standard neo-Nazi fare. Interestingly enough, in his infamous “God Damn America!” sermon, Obama’s longtime pastor Jeremiah Wright invokes precisely this theory as apparently well-established fact: “The government lied about Pearl Harbor too,” he says. “They knew the Japanese were going to attack. Governments lie.”
The Obama team and the Mohns would undoubtedly say that it is scandalous to suggest that the Mohns were using their millions to influence the American presidency or that Obama could possibly be corrupted. But as a reputed former professor of constitutional law, Obama will surely recall the famous words of James Madison in the Federalist Papers: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” The president-elect’s most fervent followers may well be convinced that he is divine. But his financial relationship to Bertelsmann proves, after all, that he is only human.