As if tensions between Greece and its creditors in Germany weren’t high enough already, a German TV host decided to create a convincing fake video of Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis flipping Germany the bird.
When Varoufakis was shown this video, ostensibly filmed in Croatia in 2013, he denied making the rude gesture (which Germans identify with the marvelous word stinkefinger) and said the footage had been doctored. The TV show initially denied faking the video, leading to quite a bit of controversy in Germany.
Let’s just say a sizable portion of the German public found it entirely plausible that Greece’s finance minister would flip them off. He is no stranger to harsh rhetoric. As the below clip from the popular Gunther Jauch talk show notes, Varoufakis once described the European Union’s bailout conditions for Greece as “financial waterboarding.” The middle finger image comes about two minutes into the clip, at a moment in his 2013 remarks where he was talking about “sticking the finger to Germany” in a metaphorical sense. His argument with the host about the authenticity of the clip begins immediately afterward.
After days of hard feelings, a different German TV host finally came forward and admitted manipulating the video to create the stinkefinger. “Jan Böhmermann, host of the satirical programme Neo Magazin Royale on public broadcaster ZDF, said he had been waiting since Sunday for someone to ask him if he had faked the controversial footage, but no one had,” reports the UK Guardian.
Böhmermann then apologized to Varoufakis for the prank and promised not to do it again–at which point the story got even stranger, because Varoufakis praised the satirist for his work. “Humor, satire, and self-deprecation are great solvents of blind nationalism,” the Greek finance minister said on Twitter. “We politicians need you badly.”
To boil down the German media crossfire described by the BBC: Varoufakis has a great sense of humor about the German satirist digitally inserting a literal middle finger into his 2013 remarks about Greece defying German bailout plans; the journalist who filmed that 2013 event, Martin Beros, is miffed at Böhmermann for making light of a serious issue, and dismayed that so many media outlets took the doctored stinkefinger video seriously, at a moment of crisis for the European Union; Varoufakis is mad at Gunther Jauch for sandbagging him with the altered video; everybody’s disappointed in Gunther Jauch’s show for getting suckered by a joke video clip; some Germans are cross with Böhmermann for not stepping forward sooner to make it clear the rude gesture was not genuine; and Greece and Germany are still glaring at each other with itchy middle fingers.
This is hardly the first time satirical words or videos have been taken seriously. The “fake news” genre is quite lively in America, and when convincing satirical “news items” emanate from obscure quarters, rather than well-known comedy outlets such as The Onion, serious journalists sometimes accept them as genuine without verifying the source. “Too good to check” is a common criticism of sloppy reporting. Those words should be posted as a warning in every newsroom across the free world, translated into every language necessary.