By John Hayward
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
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
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.