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Germany’s biggest newspaper under fire for publishing fake Russian email story

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Germany’s biggest newspaper under fire for publishing fake Russian email story
Kevin Kühnert. Photo: DPA
17:02 CET+01:00
Bild newspaper ran a story detailing allegations of cooperation between Russian trolls and the Social Democrat’s youth leader. But a satire magazine revealed on Wednesday that it tricked the tabloid with fake information.

The tabloid last week published details of an alleged "explosive" email exchange between Kevin Kühnert - head of the SPD’s youth wing (Jusos) and a vocal opponent of a new grand coalition government - and a mysterious Russian by the name of Juri.

Bild, Germany's biggest paper with a daily print run of over a million copies, titled the article "new smear campaign inside the SPD."

In the email exchange Juri offers to use social media bots to target then SPD leader Martin Schulz on social media and to support Kühnert’s campaign against a new grand coalition. He also offers to pay for the campaign with between €4,000 and €5,000.

Kühnert happily accepts the support for his NoGroKo campaign, while saying that attacking Schulz would be “too much.” He also says he's "not worried" about taking the money as long as it looks like it came from the Jusos.

With Russians accused of meddling in US and French politics, the email exchange would have been quite the scoop - except for the fact that even the tabloid seemed to have nagging doubts about its credibility.

After selling the email as political dynamite at the top of the article, Bild acknowledged in the last sentence that “there is no proof that the emails are real.”

Now the satirical magazine Titanic has come forward to take responsibility for creating the emails.

“An anonymous email and two or three calls - and Bild publishes everything that fits into its agenda,” Titanic editor Moritz Hürtgen said on Wednesday.

Hürtgen explained that he had been able to fake the email exchange by simply copying and pasting Kühnert’s email address into a text document.

“We rebut the accusation from Jusos that this was a crude fake. That is a disgraceful accusation - we put at least three hours work into this,” the Titanic editor added.

Several newspapers and blogs have questioned on Wednesday how Bild could have fallen for the fake. Bildblog, a website dedicated to exposing bad journalism, pointed out that the email account from which the alleged Kühnert emails originated was not his real account.

But Bild fought back against accusations that it should not have run the story on Wednesday.

The newspaper insisted that it had not planned to publish the article due to its doubts about the credibility of its source. But when the SPD decided to file a criminal complaint against unknown persons for slander, the newspaper decided that the story was newsworthy.

Bild further assured readers that it had contacted several IT experts who told it that the emails had originated from an SPD server, leading it to believe that someone inside the party was trying to smear Kühnert.

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