On this day 59 years ago,
all 5 FDP ministers of the black-yellow government coalition under Konrad Adenauer resigned from their posts. The reason was a government crisis in the wake of the “Spiegel affair”. The magazine had previously published an article titled “Bedingt abwehrbereit” (Spiegel issue 41/1962, October 10), which questioned the Bundeswehr’s ability to defend itself in the event of a Soviet attack on Western Europe and thus sharply criticized the policy of Franz Josef Strauß, the incumbent defense minister.
In response, the Federal Public Prosecutor initiated investigations against the “Spiegel” and its employees on suspicion of national treason. Over the course of these investigations, the premises of the „Spiegel” were searched and several leading editors were arrested, including editor-in-chief and publisher Rudolf Augstein. The FDP ministers had not been informed of the investigations in advance and resigned outraged by Strauß’s false claims that he had not known about them.
Only the resignation of the defense minister resolved the conflict and a new government was formed under Adenauer. The arrest warrants against the editors were revoked, but the investigations were not discontinued until 1965 after a ruling by the Federal Supreme Court due to a lack of evidence. A constitutional appeal by Rudolf Augstein was rejected in 1966 in a tie vote, but in the verdict, it emphasized the role of the press as a controlling institution of the government.
Among the public, the investigative proceedings triggered fierce protests. Students and the rest of the press suspected an open attack on press freedom, which resulted in a large number of critical articles, demonstrations and petitions. The opposition also sharply criticized the actions of the Adenauer’s cabinet. Today, the outcome of the affair is seen as a strengthening of press freedom and emphasized the role of the media as a necessary means of self-government, a “fourth estate” to expose malpractices and contradictions within a democracy.