German newspaper Bild duped by fake Russian trolls e-mails - iMediaEthics

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Germany’s widest-circulating newspaper, Bild, was hoaxed by fake e-mails claiming Russian trolls were working with the Social Democrat Party to mess with the upcoming election. Bild‘s Feb. 16 front-page article, headlined “New smear campaign inside the SPD,” reported on e-mails allegedly between a Russian named “Yuri” and Kevin Kühnert, a member of the SDP leading the youth wing of the party, which is called JuSos.

After publication, Bild learned that the e-mails were fake, having been created by German satirical magazine Titanic, German news site The Local reported. Titanic took credit for tricking Bild in a Feb. 21 post on its website saying its editor Moritz Hurtgen “launched” the fake e-mails. “An anonymous email, two or three calls – and ‘Bild’ prints everything that suits their agenda,” the Titanic post reads. Titanic’s website states it has a circulation of about 100,000. iMediaEthics has written to Titanic to ask what prompted it to create and send the fake e-mails.

The e-mails indicated the upcoming political vote “would be manipulated,” German’s public broadcaster Deutsche-Welle reported. The alleged effect would be “The SPD would become the leading opposition party in parliament, Chancellor Angela Merkel may be forced to resign, and Germany could face fresh elections. Or it may have to accept the prospect of a minority government made up of the Christian Democrats and the sister party, CSU.”

Christian Senft, a spokesperson for Bild‘s parent company Axel Springer, told iMediaEthics that Bild “always questioned the authenticity of the anonymously delivered e-mails” when reporting on them. Senft noted the Bild article included that Kühnert denied the e-mails’ authenticity and that the article noted that “there is no proof of the authenticity of the e-mails.” Further, Senft said that because the SPD issued a criminal complaint against an unknown person for defaming Kühnert, the story and e-mails were “relevant and newsworthy.” That said, now that Bild knows the e-mails were faked, reference to them was taken out of the headline, he said.

Senft pointed iMediaEthics to Bild editor Julian Reichelt’s article about the incident, which explains the timeline of events. According to Reichelt, Bild got the leaked e-mails anonymously Feb. 14 via Twitter and e-mail, and then asked Juso leader Kevin Kuhnert about the e-mails, which Kuhnert denied were authentic. Bild said it decided not to report on the e-mails after that, until the PD’s spokesperson said he might order criminal charges against an unknown person, which the SPD ended up doing. Because the SPD did file a criminal complaint against an unknown person for defaming Kuhnert, Bild decided it was newsworthy and, thus, it had to report on the e-mails.

In tweets, Bild‘s editor Julian Reichelt wrote in part (translated via Google), “My Opinion: Of course, satire may do that, but it tries to make a name for itself by intentionally discrediting journalistic work.”

Last year, Bild apologized after being duped by a fake story claiming migrants sexually assaulted women in Frankfurt on New Year’s Eve. The tabloid newspaper admitted the article didn’t meet its “criteria of journalistic diligence and editorial control” and that “the story was literally ‘Fake News’ and spread from a source with a clear intention to disinform. After that apology, Bild appointed an ombudsman, Ernest Elitz, to review complaints against the paper.

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German newspaper Bild duped by fake Russian trolls e-mails

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