On New Year’s Eve in 2015, there were reports of mass sexual assaults across Germany. Migrants, it was reported, were responsible for the assault of hundreds of women across the country.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open door” refugee policy was immediately in the foray: her reputation and her policies questioned, her credibility at stake.
Frankfurt was one of these locations.
On February 6, German Newspaper Bild reported that women were attacked by a 50-strong group of “Arabic and North African looking men”. The group were said to have stolen drinks and clothing, and thrown bottles and fireworks.
In a since-deleted report, Bild led with the headline “37 days after New Year’s Eve, victims break their silence – sex mob in the Fressgass”.
The story was born from two places: a chef who purported to have witnessed the incident and a 27-year-old woman who claimed she was attacked by men.
A year on and police have cast “major doubt” over the reports, deeming them “baseless”. One of the alleged victims was not even in Frankfurt at the time they claimed the attacks occurred.
In response, Bild published a statement on its website, writing “Bild apologises expressly for the untruthful article and the accusations made in it.
“This article in no way met the journalistic standards of Bild.”
Editor in Chief of Bild, Julian Reichelt, apologised for the error, writing on Twitter that there would be “consequences” as a result of the article.
And I have little doubt there will be. In all of this talk of pervasive “fake news”, jobs should be lost and newspapers brought into question.
But what’s lost in all of this is the consequences that have already played out. The ones that can’t be undone, but have instead clawed their way into public debate and had a very real impact on the lives of so many migrants across the world.