German Media Obsessed With "Fingergate"

Yanis Varoufakis

Did the Greek finance minister really flip off Germany or is it all an elaborate media hoax?

As leaders of Germany and Greece continue a series of tense debt negotiations that could determine the future of the European Union, all the German media can talk about is the Greek finance minister's middle finger.

A 2-year-old video of Yanis Varoufakis apparently flipping off the German government – both literally and metaphorically – has been at the center of a media firestorm here.

The clip, in various forms, has gone viral in Germany, with mainstream and online media hotly debating its veracity. Did Varoufakis flip Berlin the "stinkefinger" (stink finger), as the obscene gesture in called in German, and if so, what does it mean?

The video first aired on a German late-night talk show March 15. It featured a 17-second clip taken from an hourlong talk Varoufakis gave at the 2013 Subversive Festival in Croatia, long before he joined the Greek government. In it, Varoufakis appears to make the obscene gesture while telling the crowd that, back when the euro crisis hit in 2010, Greece should have simply defaulted on its debts to "stick the finger to Germany."

A popular German talk show on public network ARD showed the clip in an apparent gotcha moment ahead of a live interview with Varoufakis, who was a guest on the show.

But Varoufakis denied he had every made the obscene gesture and told the show's host, Gunther Jauch, that the video had been "doctored."

German media pounced on his denial, dubbing the scandal "Fingergate" and scrambling to try and authenticate the video. Various experts appeared to confirm its veracity and Bild, Germany's conservative tabloid, branded Varoufakis a "liar."

Then, on March 18, the host of a German satirical television show "confessed" to faking the video, saying he and his crew doctored the original footage using green screen technology. Satirist Jan Bohmermann aired a detailed "making of" on his show Neo Magazin Royale, demonstrating how he had digitally altered the video and had the fake clip uploaded to the web.

The segment was later put online with English subtitles.

Bohmermann claimed the prank was intended to satirize German anger at perceived slights from Greece during the debt talks.

"We devastated Europe twice within a century but give us the finger and we go nuts," he said. "Objective debate is out of the question. If a Greek gives us the finger, we flip out, because we're Germans."

The confession appeared to rehabilitate Varoufakis, who posted a link to the satirist's video on his Twitter account. Supporters of the Greek foreign minister, using the hashtag #Varoufake, called on Gunter Jauch and the German media to apologize.

But then the story took another turn when Bohmermann and his network, public broadcaster ZDF, admitted that the "confession" was, in fact, itself an elaborate hoax.

"Neo Magazin Royale is a satirical program," ZDF said in a statement. "The editorial team satirically intensified the public debate about the Varoufakis video following the Jauch talk show. To this end, Jan Bohmermann and his team very demonstrably displayed the possibilities of video manipulation."

For his part, Bohmermann issued a tongue-in-cheek denial, saying the accusation that his video was a "fake fake fake fake fake" was "absolutely false."

He added in a tweet: "we would never ridicule the essential journalistic debate about a two-year old, out of context middle finger or those seriously engaged in this debate."

So did the Greek finance minister flip off the German government? Yes, according to Martin Beros, the Croatian editor who put together the original video of Varoufakis' talk. Speaking to Reuters, Beros said the first version of the video screened on German TV, and available on YouTube, was the "original undoctored, unmanipulated video that I edited." Beros confirmed that Varoufakis raised his middle finger while talking about "sticking the finger to Germany" in his talk.

After his appearance on German TV, Varoufakis appeared to clarify his comment that the video had been "doctored" to say he meant his remarks had been taken out of context.

Fingergate is far from over. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is set to visit Berlin March 23 to discusses Greek debt with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German media has the "stinkefinger" video cued and ready to roll.