BERLIN—What happens when you do a prime-time interview with a far-right leader—but don’t ask them anything about refugees?
German television viewers found out Sunday night when the broadcaster ZDF ran a major interview with Alexander Gauland, a co-leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which capitalized on anti-refugee sentiment to earn its first-ever seats in the German Parliament last fall. Ahead of the interview, ZDF’s Twitter feed teased the interview as dealing with “climate change, retirement, digitalization—and without refugees.”
The resulting 19-minute interview, in which Gauland struggles to answer basic questions about his party’s positions on such issues, has been lauded by opponents of the AfD as masterful. Supporters of the AfD and Gauland himself panned it as biased. The ZDF journalist Thomas Walde, who conducted the interview, repeatedly pushed Gauland to clarify or explain statements made by his fellow party members—and asked more than once about proposed policy “alternatives” from a party that counts the word alternative as part of its name.
It’s no secret that journalists have struggled to figure out how best to cover the far right and its signature issues here in Europe and, of course, across the Atlantic. A political party with 92 seats in the German Bundestag is inherently newsworthy, as are the issues it advocates. At the same time, the German (and European) media has been criticized for an overly sensational focus on refugee and migration issues here; constant media focus on such issues helps keep them on people’s minds even after the flow of immigrants has slowed significantly.