Julian Reichelt: Right-wing populist comeback on YouTube?


As of: August 22, 2022 12:31 p.m

The former “Bild” editor-in-chief Reichelt has his own YouTube channel. According to experts, the right-wing populist theses he spread there are well received. A strategy with chances of success?

By Carla Reveland and Pascal Siggelkow, editorial team of ARD-Faktenfinder

“Greens are making us starve for the climate!”, “Energy crisis: That’s why Germans should now dig through the trash,” or “Faeser is inciting ARD against its own citizens!” These are some of the current video titles from the new YouTube channel of former “Bild” editor-in-chief Julian Reichelt: “Attention, Reichelt!”

After his dismissal from the “Bild” newspaper, Reichelt announced that he wanted to close a market gap in the German media landscape with a new platform. In fact, 119,000 people have now subscribed to the channel and its videos have been viewed more than five million times. So can Reichelt, with the channel he launched in July, close and successfully serve the gap he has chosen for himself between tabloid or conservative media and the so-called alternative media?

“This could end quickly”

The rapid increase in subscribers is remarkable, says media economist Christopher Buschow from the Bauhaus University Weimar. It is not self-evident that a YouTube format that comments on current issues would succeed in this. “But the question is how quickly this will subside again. It can also end quickly,” says Buschow. According to the media economist, it remains to be seen how large the target group will ultimately be and how many people Reichelt can actually reach with its polarizing content in the long term.

The setting of the show gives the impression of a serious news program. Reichelt sits at a desk in front of a monitor* that displays headlines, images and videos that visually support what Reichelt is saying. However, as the channel description itself says, it is an “opinion show”.

As Reichelt writes on YouTube, he wants to “become one of the clearest and most unmistakable voices in this country – the voice of the majority.” The channel info says: “We are the fiercest opponent of spin, oppressive narratives, ideologies, bigotry and hypocrisy in politics. We want to speak fearlessly and disrespectfully about what is happening in our country.” In response to a request from tagesschau.de Reichelt didn’t answer, instead he posted it on Twitter.

Reichelt “another prophet of doom”

“First of all, Reichelt’s YouTube channel stands out from others in that Reichelt and parts of his team have completed journalistic training,” says Jan Rathje, senior researcher from the Center for Monitoring, Analysis and Strategy (CeMAS). “Otherwise, his channel doesn’t differ too much from other ‘alternative media’, which constantly produce opinion pieces that are perceived as news.” It remains to be seen to what extent Reichelt can continue to ensure the increasing attention of right-wing populist and conspiracy ideological milieus.

The videos, which are usually between 15 and 20 minutes long, contain primarily right-wing populist content with a right-libertarian tendency, says Rathje. This becomes clear, for example, in his apocalyptic depictions of Germany’s future. “Julian Reichelt presents himself on his channel as another prophet of doom and reproduces right-wing enemy images.” Rathje thinks this is fundamentally problematic.

Proximity to conspiracy ideology scene

Reichelt’s YouTube channel is well received in the conspiracy ideology milieu. His videos are shared by high-reach Telegram accounts from the scene, such as the channels of Eva Herman, Bodo Schiffmann or Oliver Janich, who was recently arrested in the Philippines. The right-wing extremist magazine “Compact” also shared Reichelt’s content.

Within the channels and groups, Reichelt’s videos were among the most shared, says Rathje. His previous career in established media actually benefits him. “Within conspiracy ideological milieus, he is seen as a kind of renegade who can now presumably report free of all the constraints of the ‘mainstream’.”

In terms of content, Reichelt uses similar enemy images in the scene. Greens who restrict the lives of Germans through a climate dictatorship, public media that are controlled by the state or forced vaccinations against the coronavirus. “The under-complex portrayal of politics propagated in his videos as a conflict between the good German people and the evil red-green elite coincides with conspiracy ideological ideas that imply a conspiracy behind it,” says political scientist Rathje.

Some “Bild” employees follow Reichelt

According to the imprint, the company behind Reichelt’s YouTube channel is Rome Medien GmbH. This was entered in the commercial register on March 28, 2022, and the company’s purpose is: “The production, national distribution and marketing of media content through various distribution channels (e.g. online, mobile, linear TV)”. Reichelt himself is the managing director.

In the past few weeks and months, some of Reichelt’s former companions from “Bild” had announced their move to Rome Medien. According to research by “t-online”, billionaire Frank Gotthardt could be a wealthy cooperation partner of Reichelt. Gotthardt is not only the main shareholder of the Kölner Haie, but is also active in the regional television business with his regional channels TV Mittelrhein and WWTV.

After his expulsion from “Bild” due to alleged abuse of power against employees, Reichelt initially published short videos about political events on his Instagram channel. A fan account called “Reichelt Ultras” also spread it on YouTube. At the beginning of July, Reichelt took over the channel and, according to his own statements, brought the previous operator of the account into his new team.

On the trail of Tucker Carlson?

In terms of presentation and content, Reichelt’s YouTube channel shows have strong parallels to Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s show. He takes a radical, riotous course and has, among other things, regularly defended Russian ruler Vladimir Putin for years. In the USA, Carlson is seen as the mouthpiece of former President Donald Trump.

The extent to which Carlson’s US concept also has a chance of success in Germany is questionable, says media economist Buschow. “We don’t have such a polarized society and media usage in Germany as in the United States.” The majority of Germans trust the established media and their reporting. “Aktion Reichelt” is “ultimately a niche product that will be interesting to see how big it can become under the German market conditions, which are completely different.” This will be shown by developments in the coming months.

* An earlier version stated that he was sitting in front of a so-called green screen

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