French daily Le Monde covered the dismissal of a right-wing AfD party official in a story also featured in the Washington Post, which reported, “Lueth told a young blogger in February that the worse off Germany is, the better it would be for his party, and that migrants coming to the country‚ could still be shot later on (...) or gassed. The meeting was secretly filmed by broadcaster ProSieben for a documentary to be aired Monday about Germany’s far right.” At home, German daily the Frankfurter Allgemeine stated that “ProSieben journalist Thilo Mischke has scored a real coup with his documentary ‘Rechts. Deutsch. Radikal.’ (Right-Wing. German. Radical.).”
What happened? TV station ProSieben shocked the German public and political Berlin with the report entitled "Rechts. Deutsch. Radikal." (Right-Wing. German. Radical.). Journalist Thilo Mischke spent over 18 months investigating the right-wing scene in Germany. He filmed young neo-Nazis at festivals and demonstrations, met with far-right organizers of sports events and he spoke with constitutional protectors as well as political experts. And by planting a hidden camera, he recorded a top functionary from Germany’s right-wing, nationalist AfD party saying things like, “We have to make that Germany is doing badly.” The high-ranking AfD official was hoping to win over an influencer to help him and the party in an election campaign.
How does a documentary like this come into being? “By listening. And then listening some more,” says journalist Thilo Mischke. “When conducting an investigation of this kind, you’re not trying to convert your conversation partner to your way of thinking. I met with many of the protagonists in the documentary several times and was always an attentive listener. I also phrased my questions so that they were not directly accusatory.” How did he go about conducting the investigation? “My team and I got in touch with many of the leaders in the right-wing political scene. Some of them broke off contact after the first recordings. Others met with us several times.” Is it possible to put together detailed plans for a documentary like this in advance? “Not really. In fact, not at all,” says Thilo Mischke, who received the 2020 Bavarian TV award in the information category for another special ProSieben documentary ‘Deutsche an der ISIS-Front’ (Germans Fighting on the Front for ISIS).
“The end of each shoot is a crossroads: You have to decide where to go next and whose story to pick up on. It’s not possible to work to a ready-made plan, such as a script. That takes patience as a reporter. The fact that we weren’t committed to a specific broadcast date took the pressure off and turned out to be a huge advantage. All along, ProSieben Channel Manager Daniel Rosemann said, ‘We won’t air the documentary until you’re totally happy with it.’ That made our job as journalists a lot easier.” How dangerous was working on the documentary? “Let’s just say that we received a lot of advice reminding us to take extra care over our personal safety. Which is exactly what we did.”
For his part, ProSieben Channel Manager Daniel Rosemann says, “Thilo Mischke’s documentary is an exceptional piece of investigative journalism, which is emblematic of the new ProSieben – bolder, more relevant, more topical. For the past two years, we have been increasing the proportion of in-house productions in our programming including special documentaries, such as ‘Rechts. Deutsch. Radikal.’. In 2021, we will be airing significantly more documentary reports and other factual programs on ProSieben.”
It’s worth the effort. After all, Thilo Mischke has made what is perhaps the most highly regarded political documentary report in recent years. While it was still being broadcast on ProSieben, other German TV stations, such as ZDF and ARD were already reporting on it in the news program "heute journal" (Today Journal) and political talk show "Hart aber fair" (Tough but Fair). Social media went wild. For two days, the documentary’s hashtags dominated Twitter trends. And the AfD dismissed the official in question.