Interview about Gunter IV, the allegedly richest dog in the world

A German shepherd romps through the garden of his villa in Miami with a gold chain around his neck. Right, his villa. As heir to a deceased countess, Gunther IV is said to be the richest animal in the world and now wants to sell his heavenly home with the help of a glamorous brokerage commercial. The story first receives international attention, then it turns out to be a duck. Gunther’s owner, Maurizio Mian, told the fairy tale for 30 years to market his real estate. PR agencies and the tabloid media fell for it in droves. Frederik von Castell of Übermedien exposed the lie.

SZ: Herr von Castell, a shepherd dog who lives in a villa that Pop Queen Madonna also lived in, sounds pretty crazy. Who came up with that?

For me it comes clear from Maurizio Mian, Gunther’s owner. The broker from the video said in an interview with the New York Post said she didn’t know anything. Whether that is true remains to be seen. She might have figured out how to check the story for herself. There are also legal doubts as to whether this is even possible. But a lot is conceivable in the USA.

How did you find out that the richest dog in the world could just be a PR stunt?

A colleague from Spiegel, Hannes Schrader, came across the story and expressed considerable doubts about it. Our job at Übermedien it is among other things to collect such information and to check whether work has been carried out improperly. Unfortunately, that was the case with Gunther.

The dog was exposed as a duck back in the nineties. Even the Spiegel listed it as fake news in 2017. How did she even get back into coverage?

The fundamental mistake lies in the false report from the AP News agency, a colleague there fell for it. The media then referred to their report. You can judge it harshly and say the journalists didn’t do a good job. However, it is common practice to use agencies as a privileged source, and that’s what you pay them for. What gives me stomach ache is that no one has double-checked the story. Both the German colleagues from AP and at the latest also the colleagues from the would have that image, Breaking and have to do RTL.

Why should the editors have noticed the story?

Simply because it’s so absurd. All the alarm bells are ringing. For me, that’s part of the journalistic craft. As a journalist you sometimes tend to think: The story is so spectacular, I have to tell it. That doesn’t mean you’re going to publish the wrong story. But you trust the agency blindly. My personal understanding of journalism is different, in such a case I would have said immediately: I have to check it out.

Can you understand your research as a criticism of tabloid journalism?

I think you can basically do that in my work. I would like to see a rethink. You should continue to trust agencies, they usually do a very good job. But: you still have to turn on your journalistic brain. This case is really a good example to demonstrate how a story can take on a life of its own. It was only researched because it is so spectacular. Perhaps you have to ask yourself in principle: Would a little more caution, not very, very appropriate?

Over-media journalist Frederik von Castell: Uncovered the duck turned dog: Frederic von Castell von "Übermedien".

Uncovered the duck turned dog: Frederic von Castell from “Übermedien”.

(Photo: private)

You have declared Gunther’s media presence over. Don’t you think the next journalist will fall for it in a few years?

For the first time in Gunther’s media career, we have brought about a kill, i.e. the withdrawal of an agency report. I hope that with our reporting we will do a part to ensure that more people work more carefully. Because this story was really not an extensive research. The duck could have avoided a simple googling beforehand.

Will there be further consequences for the agency or the editorial offices?

I don’t think so. But I hope everyone learns from it. Every journalist makes mistakes. Dealing with it is incredibly important. For me, this includes rectification. Apart from AP News and their German colleagues, I haven’t seen any. You should actually always strive to the maximum to reach the same people that you reached with the wrong message with the correction.

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