Still controversial: former star journalist tries another comeback

May 15, 2008

Michel Friedman, 52, the former vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and celebrated TV journalist, is back on German television. At the height of his prominence, in 2003, he was involved in a cocaine-and-prostitutes affair, quit his job and stepped down from all public positions.

Back then, the Forward wrote: “Friedman’s life had, to this point, been a success story; the son of parents saved by Oskar Schindler, he grew up to become an important political figure and an outspoken Jewish personality in Germany. But the current investigation threatens to bring his tale to an ugly denouement.”

It did. Although Friedman didn’t give up – he wrote a novel and launched a talk show in October 2004 – his new career never even came close to what it had been before. He made headlines, however, when he interviewed Germany’s top Neo-Nazi Horst Mahler for the German Vanity Fair and was greeted with “Heil Hitler, Herr Friedman.”

Now all eyes are on Friedman again. According to one review of his new reportage, which deals with youth delinquency, Friedman is an “excellent journalist.” However, the reviewer doubts that Friedman will be able to rid himself of the stigma that has clung to him since the affair. Another review makes fun of Friedman for his inability to show compassion with the prison inmates he interviewed, but never mentions the ugly past.

Friedman has always polarized Germans, Jews and non-Jews alike. Many hated him long before the scandal for his alleged arrogance and vanity. They added hypocrisy to that list when it came out that the seemingly clean Mr. Friedman was really not that clean. (He used to be a real hardball when he interviewed politicians and often gave the impression that he stands on a higher moral platform than anybody else.) But many Germans – especially Jews – also loved Friedman for precisely this arrogance, which they said he can afford due to his sharp intellect and his impressive eloquence. He is also a staunch supporter of Israel.

Whatever one thinks of Friedman, one thing is clear: the man knows how to divide opinions.

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