Germany's President Wulff in a duel with Bild newspaper

German President Christian Wulff (L) and Bild Chief Editor Kai Diekmann (composite image) President Wulff (L) faces the editor of Germany's most popular paper

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The president of Germany and the country's most popular newspaper are now standing nose-to-nose, eyeball-to-eyeball, their muscles flexed and each with a snarl on the lip.

Both are powers in the land in different ways - and both are saying that the other is not telling it like it is.

This confrontation is ripe for escalation. And who knows how this heavyweight contest it will end?

Big stick

But it's hard to see how Bild can be flattened, and easier to see how the president might lose.

Start Quote

Kai Diekmann, editor of Bild

We noted with surprise your statement... that your call to my mailbox was not about stopping the report... but about delaying it for a day”

End Quote Letter from Kai Diekmann to President Wulff

Bild, after all, is carrying a very big stick behind its back in the form of the recording of the voicemail which President Wulff left when he called the paper's editor-in-chief to try to get the story blocked (Bild's version) or to try to get it delayed rather than blocked (the president's version).

Whichever account is true or nearer the truth, there is no doubt that the voicemail was angry and threatening. Bild has said so and the president has admitted that he regrets the message.

The likelihood, then, is that the tone and content of the raw recording doesn't sit easily with the dignified image of a grand office of state. President Wulff represents Germany: will the voicemail match that high status?

Even if the message vindicates President Wulff's assertion that he was merely seeking a delay to publication of the story (which Bild says it had granted anyway) rather than the spike, the tone and perhaps the language might not help him.

Round One to Bild.

Reputation at stake

If the voice-mail message vindicates Bild, much will depend on how the newspaper handles it. It may feel honour-bound to keep it private.

The president has said that's what should happen and Bild might find it hard to defy that wish by publishing a private communication.

Start Quote

German President Christian Wulff (04 Jan 2012)

The words spoken in an exceptionally emotional situation were meant exclusively for you and for no-one else”

End Quote President Wulff's letter to Kai Diekmann

In which case both walk away, but with President Wulff's reputation damaged. Bild lives to fight another day - which it might well do at the least opportunity with this particular foe. Old grudges die hard.

Or it might say that in the interests of clearing up the dispute, and because its own veracity has been impugned, the message should see the light of day.

And if the MP3 were exposed to the harsh glare of the internet, to circulate as an attachment among the amused citizenry, how would President Wulff come across?

An angry voicemail never sounds that good when played back in cooler circumstances.

So if the message were published and corroborated Bild's side of the story, utterly dishing President Wullf's version, then it might well be the knockout blow.

This would be even more likely if the voicemail were to reveal an unattractive side to President Wulff that ran counter to his public image of a mild and quietly spoken public figure.

The president, after all, is meant to be the very symbol of the nation.

He's the man at the end of the red carpet to greet the Pope or president.

He's not expected to be the man who rolls up his sleeves and tangles and scratches with a tabloid newspaper.

He has much to lose in a bruising encounter with Germany's most aggressive and popular newspaper.

They are very different fighters - heavyweights both - and the bout has barely begun.

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