Breitbart and German media in 'fake news' fight

BERLIN • Ultra-conservative US website Breitbart has claimed to be a victim of "fake 'fake news'", saying charges that it distorted or exaggerated news of events on New Year's Eve in the German city of Dortmund were dishonest.

Several German newspapers and politicians disputed the Breitbart.com story from Jan 3 which had the headline, "Revealed: 1,000-man mob attack police, set Germany's oldest church alight on New Year's Eve".

Dortmund city police said in a statement that the night was "rather average to quiet" and free of any "extraordinary or spectacular" incidents, while local newspaper Ruhr Nachrichten charged that elements of Breitbart's reporting had been distorted to produce "fake news, hate and propaganda" spread on social media.

Breitbart argues, in an article published on Sunday, that it became the victim of a "dishonest attack", or of "fake 'fake news'", and that national and international media, German politicians and police had "railed against" its reporting.

It said that many stories published by "establishment media" had "confirmed almost every substantive fact about the Breitbart London report on the issue".

"There were 1,000, mostly male, mostly non-native German people gathered in Leeds Square; there were repeated chants of 'Allahu Akbar'; the Free Syrian Army flag was flown; and there was a fire at the St Reinold's Church caused by the fireworks.

"The only correction Breitbart London is happy to make is the age of the church, which does not constitute a substantive error in our reporting."

The Ruhr Nachrichten and several major German dailies had argued that Breitbart had combined and exaggerated unconnected incidents to create a picture of chaos and of foreigners celebrating terrorism.

Fireworks did indeed start a small blaze, but only on netting covering scaffolding on the church, and it was put out after about 12 minutes, the Ruhr Nachrichten reported.

The newspaper also said that while some Syrian men had chanted "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great"), they had apparently done so to celebrate news of a ceasefire agreement in their country.

Dortmund police said its officers handled 185 incidents that night, sharply down from 421 the previous year. Overall, the squad leader judged the night as "rather average to quiet", in part thanks to a large police presence.

Breitbart also published video footage from the night that showed New Year's Eve crowds, police, and revellers setting off fireworks, but includes no images of attacks against police or of a burning church.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2017, with the headline 'Breitbart and German media in 'fake news' fight'. Print Edition | Subscribe