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A Blooper at the Financial Times

How did the Financial Times almost cause a major political crisis in Germany?

January 24, 2000

How did the Financial Times almost cause a major political crisis in Germany?

Germany's Christian Democratic party — with former Chancellor Helmut Kohl at center stage — is embroiled in a worsening political crisis over illegal campaign contributions, money laundering and even bribery.

With the list implicated officials growing almost daily, the scandal already seemed bad enough — even before the Financial Times fueled the fire with an alarmist and misleading headline on the front page of its January 21 North America edition.

In a large-type above-the-fold headline, the Financial Times boldly announced "German crisis deepens as CDU chief is found dead." The story ran with a photograph of Wolfgang Schäuble, the CDU's leader, just underneath the headline. Any time-pressed reader would immediately come to the conclusion that Mr. Schäuble — who, until recently, was widely regarded as a future Chancellor — had taken his own life.

There is just one little problem — Mr. Schäuble is still very much alive. No matter how badly Mr. Schäuble’s involvement in the scandal has hurt his political ambitions, things are evidently not as bad as the Financial Times has implied.

Upon closer inspection, it appears the FT's headline writers had committed something akin to a television "blooper." As it turned out, the story was actually about the tragic suicide of a lower-ranking CDU official — one in charge of the party's parliamentary finances.

But as terrible as his death is, his position would by no means be described as "CDU chief." You would not expect the Financial Times to mistake Gordon Brown for Tony Blair — or Larry Summer for Bill Clinton.

In an age where people receive most of their news in sound bites and visuals, it is hard to imagine how a newspaper as dependable as the Financial Times could "bloop" so low.