Villa Ida talk with Hans Leyendecker

"I do not pay for anything, but I'm protecting my sources."

Journalist Dr. Hans Leyendecker of Süddeutsche Zeitung about his job as investigative journalist

by Katharina Lötzsch

Kamin Leyendecker

He is friend to only one politician, but he knows him since kindergarten says Hans Leyendecker (53), head of politics department of German daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) and one of the most renowned political journalists from Germany. He was editor of Spiegel magazine for 18 years, reported on the Flick affair, arms deals, Lothar Späth. "I am considered as an investigative journalist", he says during the Villa Ida talk (14 November, 2002) with students, scientists and local media entrepreneurs. "But am I not a kind of vacuum cleaner salesman?"

His treasure are his informants, who say what they are not allowed to say; give what they are not allowed to - Leyendecker calls up to eight of them every day; 20 to 30 are contacted rarely but regularly. His sources come from ministries, authorities, companies.

Sometimes he is like a petitioner, sometimes like a "vaccum cleaner". "I do not pay anything for the information and documents. My only return is rigorous protection of informants", says Hans Leyendecker. Once he sent a rare signature of Konrad Adenauer as a birthday gift to one of his informants who collected Adenauer manuscripts - the gift was sent back to Leyendecker. "The source said, that such favors are not suitable. He was right." Leyendecker was never taught the craft of journalistic research. He was bought by Spiegel because of his style of writing, but could not cope with writing and thus began to concentrate on journalistic investigation. He had his first scoop in 1981 during the Flick affair - "but I rather stumbled into this by chance." He experienced a disaster during his investigations of the Bad Kleinen incident. "I thought that nothing could happen to me, that I am the greatest. I made many mistakes. The only thing I could rescue was my informant", he looks back.

Spiegel magazine was his home but also a kind of a hamster wheel - he sometimes felt like a prisoner. Now he enjoys the freedom of the "authors' newspaper SZ", is doing his investigations from home for example. Slyly smiling, Leyendecker commented: "I think it's nice, that everyone at SZ behaves so nice to each other, although I do not like it." Whether Leyendecker would write against Bodo Hombach, his only politician friend, in case of doubt? "I hope that I would act like a journalist if this case occurs. At least I would have regarded it as a breach of trust if he hadn't told me anything about his filth before."