Fake Polls and Tabloid Coverage on Demand: The Dark Side of Sebastian Kurz

By early May, the conservative leader had resigned and Mr. Kurz was swiftly designated his successor. Almost immediately his party took off in the polls, and in the space of three weeks, catapulted Mr. Kurz into lead position.

It was around this time that Mr. Kurz also actively sought out meetings to pressure more critical journalists. In June 2017, he had dinner with Mr. Brandstätter, then the editor in chief of Kurier, one of the broadsheet newspapers.

“Why don’t you like me?” Mr. Kurz had asked repeatedly, Mr. Brandstätter recalled in an interview.

“You have to decide whether you are my friend or my enemy,” Mr. Kurz had said.

Mr. Kurz comfortably won the election in October 2017. He had run his campaign on immigration limits and Austrian identity, giving a youthful veneer to much of the agenda of the far right — and then inviting it into the government.

In the 17 months that followed, he turned a blind eye to the many racist and antisemitic transgressions of his coalition partners. When journalists, like Mr. Brandstätter, reported on them, they got phone calls from Mr. Kurz or a member of his expansive communications team.

“I got these calls all the time,” Mr. Brandstätter recalled. “Then he called the owners and then the owners called me.”

A year after Mr. Kurz took office, his newspaper leaned on Mr. Brandstätter to move out of his job and become publisher instead, a role with no editorial control. He is now a lawmaker for the libertarian Neos party.

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