‘It was a good laugh’: Germany’s Bild duped by bogus Russian meddling ‘bombshell’

Red-faced German Bild has been forced to retract a ‘bombshell’ report about Russian interference in German politics, which was invented by a satirical magazine just to have a “laugh” and to expose Bild’s lax editorial standards.

Editors of Titanic, a German monthly satirical magazine with a circulation of approximately 100,000 copies, found it odd and amusing that the German media, including the top-selling Bild daily, for some reason hesitated to blame Russia for meddling in their country’s political process too. Capitalizing on the global ‘Russian meddling’ hysteria, they devised a ‘spy movie’ plot, a storyline that would feature a Russian ‘troll factory’ using social media bots to target German politicians.

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“There were no rumors of the Russian meddling and we thought – 'this cannot be' – we have to make an alliance with the Bild tabloid and push a story of the Russian meddling. And as we see now, it works perfectly,” Moritz Hürtgen, editor of Titanic, told On Events.

Applying all their creativity, they forged a chain of fake emails resembling an exchange between Kevin Kuehnert, head of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) youth wing Jusos (and a prominent critic of the new coalition government with Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc), and a shadowy Russian bot master by the name of “Juri.” The fake material was then fed to Bild.

“What we did was we came up with a story that was tacky and like in a spy movie. And we had a good feeling that this would work especially with Bild as they already ran a campaign against the SPD, the Social Democratic Party which Kevin Kuhnert is a part of,” Hürtgen recalled. “Our intent was to spin this story more further.”

Bild apparently thought that they finally got some hard proof of Russian meddling in the German elections, something which no newspaper, nor any of the Western intelligence agencies, have so far been able to uncover. Without double-checking the sources, Bild jumped on the honey-trap material, publishing the “New smear campaign inside the SPD” article last Friday.

Citing the ‘sensational’ messages, Bild’s sizzling Russia scoop documents Juri’s offer to use social media bots to target former SPD leader Martin Schulz and to pump between €4,000 and €5,000 into Kuehnert’s campaign against a new “grand coalition.” Kuehnert readily accepts the mysterious Russian meddler’s generous proposal, as long as Juri can ensure that it looks like the money came from his youth organization.

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However, on Wednesday, the satirical magazine confessed that it had fabricated the entire email exchange, mocking Bild for its WordPress-blog journalistic standards. “The readers of Bild just like the editors of Bild – they are hopeless cases. So you can’t help them,” Hürtgen told Eyes On Events. “It was a good laugh. And I think that is worth something.”

Although Bild is Germany’s most widely-read daily with over one million copies sold, ordinary Germans were hardly surprised by the tabloid’s extremely lax standards. “I don't believe that the Russian really do that, because the BZ and the Bild publish fake news very often. We here in Berlin know that already and that happens constantly,” Mohamed, a Berlin resident, told Ruptly.

“I’m used that Bild publishes without checking, I mean, Bild is for entertainment, not for something serious,” another Berliner said.

Following the scandal, Bild retracted the bogus Russian meddling bombshell. While conceding that the emails are fakes, Bild still insists that the emails originated from an SPD server and were perhaps part of an elaborate smear campaign aimed at Kuehnert – making them “newsworthy.”

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