Somewhat paradoxically, given his suggestion that lying was routine and common, the same Prof. Beschorner continued: "Whether this is an isolated case, or the problem is systemic and therefore widespread, we don't know yet."
Then a similar case was discovered. An award winning contributor to Sueddeutsche Zeitung Magazine, Dirk Gieselmann
, had invented a main protagonist in a story he wrote. The SZ stated the forgery had taken place, but revealed few details, while suggesting the case was not as severe as that of Relotius.
One way or another, do two known recent cases of fictitious journalism in Germany make the problem systemic?
But what about the infamous fake news
? And alternative facts
Those have been around for a while. Is that something totally different from making up plots and characters as in the above mentioned cases?
Even though it was Donald Trump who was credited with creating the fake-news brand, it was largely applied to his own statements, as well as various stories, posts and tweets coming out of Russia, on its behalf, in favour of its perceived friends, and against its perceived enemies.
Yet, has the fake news era really started with Trump and his collusion with Russia, that never actually was? While some call the Trump era "post-truth", how should we refer to the times when, for example, a Labour prime minister was lying blatantly to justify a war that was to kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians? Or what was the director of National Intelligence in the administration of a progressive predecessor of President Trump doing as he denied NSA were spying on Americans? He was lying, as it became obvious from Edward Snowden's revelations a little later, but it was a lie before the post-truth era kicked off "officially".
I had to do my fair share of pondering on the fake news issue while dealing with the story of Sergei Magnitsky and William Browder. I started investigating the story well before the Trump era, but the consequences of my findings revealed in a film played out fully in the context of the new ideological war between Russia and the West.
In the course of the preparations for a new film I am to shoot this year, I wrote to Frederik Obermaier, a Munich based journalist known for the investigation of the famous Panama Papers leak. Obermaier won a Pulitzer Prize for his work on the Panama Papers, as part of an ICIJ (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists) team. Mr Obermaier was one of the authors of the article "The Cellist and the dead Lawyer
" (in the English version: "The Magnitsky Case
") published by Suedeutsche on 27 April 2016.
My new film deals, inter alia, with the ways money is laundered, and I wanted to interview Mr Obermeier, who, along with his ICIJ colleagues, has become an authority on the subject. The article Mr Obermeier co-wrote was of a particular interest to me as it appeared to have traced the money stolen in the fraud associated with the name of Sergei Magnitsky. ICIJ has recently reminded its subscribers of the great investigative article by the German colleagues, published exactly three years ago.
The article seems to have established a connection between the Magnitsky Affair (which my previous film was about) and a friend of Vladimir Putin, Sergei Roldugin. My forthcoming film is in many ways a sequel to the film about the fraud at the centre of the Magnitsky Case.
While studying Frederik Obermaier's article and its sources I realised that it was full of mistakes. I made a list of the most obvious ones and emailed it to Mr Obermaier on the 23 October 2018. Having not heard back I sent another email on 21 November attaching an updated list of mistakes complete with explanations and links to documents disproving the majority of the claims in the article
. The first time round I asked Mr Obermaier for an interview, but then I suggested we discuss the matter off the record. Anyone can make mistakes, but the ability to admit them is as important as the talent for authoring good stories, in my humble opinion. I got no response from Frederik Obermaier whatsoever.