In theory, it is probably not particularly honorable for any government official to be praised by journalists. Especially when he was a journalist, successful in fact, for more than 20 years, before moving to the “other side”.
But this is not the case with Stephen Seibert, the man who managed to win the trust of Chancellor Angela Merkel without ever losing that of his audience.
Stephen Seibert is the longest-serving government spokesman in Germany – if not the entire Western world. Yesterday he completed 1,058 appearances at the briefing, more than 11 years in the position. Just like his chancellor, he specialized – and he – in crises.
“On August 10, 2010, he began by expressing his embarrassment: ‘I feel like I’m going through a final exam, a driving test and a lot of other things at the same time,'” he said. Expected, despite his previous successful career at ZDF, his popularity, his on-camera experience. Yesterday, he closed his last briefing of the accredited editors, asking the journalists to continue to do their job well, because, as he explained, “I will no longer have privileged information, I will wait to be informed by you”.
Angela Merkel and Stephen Seibert were a rather unexpected “duo”. He was born in Munich, lived in Hanover, studied History in Hamburg, and later at the London School of Economics. As a ZDF employee, he lived at his headquarters in Wiesbaden, as well as in Washington, as a correspondent. He was the “golden boy” of German television: a bright face, with great popularity and an even bigger smile.
Angela Merkel is the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, she grew up in East Berlin, she studied Physics and every Thursday she had … a sauna appointment. In an interview in 2009, Seibert singled out Social Democrat (SPD) Helmut Schmidt and Christian Democrat (CDU) Helmut Kohl from the chancellors, and said he could certainly find something positive for Gerhard and Angela Merkel … To make up for the differences, Stephen Seibert, born an evangelist, later became a Catholic.
That was in 2009. Shortly before Mr. Zeibert’s classmate and editor-in-chief of Die Zeit, Giovanni di Lorenzo, proposed his name to the chancellor’s advisers.
Some say that Mrs. Merkel was chosen precisely on the basis of their completely different style. She was still colorless, awkward, “dry” in her public speech. He, on the other hand, entered the homes of millions of Germans every day with great comfort. In the process, after some ups and downs, Stephen Seibert not only established himself as the chancellor’s confidant and “immovable” in office, but his every statement came to be considered as 100% reflecting the views of his boss and to be interpreted accordingly. Over the years, and with the crises, Mr. Seibert would have felt more comfortable in his role – although, as those close to the chancellor say, he has never relaxed. During Merkel’s trips abroad, as she briefed reporters on the plane, Stephen Seibert sank into his seat and closed his eyes. However, no one even dares to assume that he may have slept, or not listened …
In the briefing of the authors, the outgoing government representative became known for his “surgical” formulations, the – however not very common – shades of irony and the solid style of the answers. During the Greek crisis, he skillfully extinguished the fires lit by Wolfgang Schieble and his men. Despite the pressure, he never lost his temper, he was never carried away by the questions. In short, we all knew that “if Seibert does not want to answer, there is no way to force him.”
“I will always come”
Stephen Seibert, on the other hand, never left the slightest suspicion that he did not respect journalists and their work. All the questions, of all the journalists, of all the media, German and foreign, were taken seriously. Even media correspondents controlled by authoritarian regimes. “We often have to deal with representatives of foreign state media who use here a journalistic freedom that is being suppressed in their homeland. There are good reasons why such media are allowed here and why they have the right to ask questions. And I support it. “But let us not forget what they think of our democracy and what mission they are coming here with,” Seibert said in a brief farewell to reporters yesterday, while also reserving an unexpected “nail” in the face of major German media outlets that did not care. as he said, to send regularly to the update one of their authors. Maybe because they had other ways to find information …
However, he stressed that he always considered that the central point of his obligations was to inform the authors and that is why he made sure to be in the briefing room at least twice a week. Even in the pandemic, when the Writers’ Union wondered how the briefing could go on, he said, “I will always come.” And he did.
In his place as spokesman, he gave in, rather belatedly, to social networking sites. In 2009 he stated that his Twitter and Facebook were foreign. Commenting on the chancellor’s standard weekly videotaped message, he spoke of a completely “anti-internet” product, something like … a Christmas message. In 2011, however, he acquired a Twitter account, @RegSprecher – famous in political and journalistic circles – with more than a million followers, with his posts in which he managed to never cause trouble for the government. He treated him even more accurately than his public statements, perhaps with some fear, acknowledging his power.
Lately, he has been asking questions more and more about the next day. Seibert, 61, after denying the information that he wanted to take over Angela Merkel’s office, also said, like his boss, that first of all he wants to get enough sleep. For eleven years, it is known that he worked at least as long as she did. Many believe that a position of ambassador of Germany in a large capital would suit him. His old interests may give an indication of the future. He has been UNICEF Ambassador to Germany and Chairman of the Organizing Committee for Early Childhood. Maybe because his third child was born at 7.5 months, at the risk of his own life and that of his mother. As a father, when he was still a journalist, he had admitted that he did not have as much time as he wanted with his children, who of course have grown up in the meantime. His wife, the painter Sophia Seibert, is, as he has said, the one who taught him to “see”, while as he said yesterday, he has a hobby of cooking. As a farewell gift, the Writers’ Union gave him a knife sharpener – so that he would never be left without a sharp knife when he cooks, but also “to remind him of sharp questions and that we would sometimes like sharper answers,” the spokesman joked. of journalists.
Another possible replacement for Mr. Seibert is another Stephen, Hebestraight, now Olaf Solz’s spokesman for the Treasury and already known to reporters – not far from his boss’s gentle, friendly style. Like the new chancellor, his representative is coming to open a new era and pass the bar set by their predecessors – as if they were also passing “final exams and driving licenses at the same time”, that is. .
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