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Dispute over Covid origin: Scientist accuse ZDF of manipulation

In a "fact check", the station attacked the scientist Roland Wiesendanger. He defends himself: The public service institution put an invented quote in his mouth.

Did ZDF fact checkers of all things put an invented quote into the mouth of the Hamburg scientist Roland Wiesendanger to make him look bad? Wiesendanger accuses the public broadcaster of this. ZDF rejects the accusation - but cannot prove that the controversial sentence actually fell like that.

The physicist and specialist in nanostructures Roland Wiesendanger had investigated the question of where the Sars-CoV-2 virus came from. From nature, as the World Health Organization, the Chinese leadership and numerous politicians and journalists in the West claim? Or from a laboratory? The WHO came to the conclusion in its investigation that a natural origin is likely. After reviewing many documents, Wiesendanger came to the opposite conclusion: “The virus does not come from nature. It comes from the laboratory.” At the same time, however, he also says: "I am collecting a lot of, in some cases serious, evidence for this thesis. I do not claim to have found any evidence."

In Germany, numerous media outlets attacked Wiesendanger and accused him - without specifically refuting his work - of spreading a “conspiracy theory” that was “toxic” and “crude”. Left student activists accused him of inciting "anti-Asian racism". ZDF dedicated Wiesendanger and his thesis one labeled as "facts check" contribution that hardly dealt with the content of Wiesendanger's paper.

"University of Hamburg spreads questionable theory," it said there. Wiesendanger would rely on "questionable sources", "including 'Focus', Twitter and Youtube." However, the physicist also traced the public discussion about the origin of the virus in a paper. The fact that he cites the relevant sources - in addition to numerous scientific publications - is neither sensational nor dubious. The broadcaster quoted Wiesendanger in its "fact check":
"Wiesendanger himself tells ZDFheute that he planned the publication together with university president Dieter Lenzen. 'I am proud of the President of the University of Hamburg. We talked extensively about the scenarios and what reactions there will be to the publication. Reactions that want to put us in the corner of conspiracy theories.'"

The scientist, the passage suggests, already knew that he was spreading conspiracy theories - at least that the accusation was plausible.

However, in a conversation with Tickys Einblick and Die Achse des Guten, Wiesendanger insists that he never said this sentence in his phone call with the ZDF employee Nils Metzger. Neither literally nor in essence. He never spoke to University President Dieter Lenzen about “reactions that want to put us in the corner of conspiracy theories”.

If the ZDF worked with a made up quote in a “fact check”, which essentially consists of the accusation of “dubious sources”, then that would be a huge journalistic embarrassment.

"During the interview with the ZDFheute editor on February 18, 2021, I did not say that I had spoken to the President of the University of Hamburg about 'possible reactions that want to put us in the corner of conspiracy theories'," said Wiesendanger when asked by Tickys Einblick: "Since this is supposed to be an alleged quote from me, the ZDF is obliged to submit my written approval of this alleged quote." That did not happen.

In response to a request from Tickys Einblick, ZDF announced : "The statement criticized by Prof. Wiesendanger was made during an interview with a ZDFheute editor on February 18, 2021." However, there are no records, only "made during the interview notes ” from Metzger. The question as to whether the ZDF employee would affirm the correctness of the quotation in lieu of an oath was not answered by the broadcaster. "Prof. Wiesendanger also spoke in other media about a meeting with the President of the University of Hamburg," writes ZDF.

Wiesendanger had never denied a conversation with Lenzen, but only to have expressed himself in the way the ZDF reproduces it.
So far, the formulation has only appeared on ZDF, although Wiesendanger spoke to a number of media - including the NZZ, Die Achse des Guten and Tickys Einblick .

Roland Wiesendanger told Tickys Einblick that he was expecting an apology from the broadcaster. He currently does not want to take legal action against ZDF - but does not rule out the possibility.

By the way, Dieter Lenzen, the President of the University of Hamburg, made a detailed statement in a video message a few days ago about Wiesendanger's publication and the associated press release. Among other things, he says: “It is our duty to listen to, weigh and discuss such a hypothesis. ... It is better to bring an uncertain hypothesis up for discussion than to have concealed a correct one in the end."

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