Why this story matters:
Ever since the Panama Papers scandals, most people in the media industry keep an eye on Bastian Obermayer’s career. Back when the story broke, the Süddeutsche Zeitung journalist came across as an incredibly powerful element in a chain reaction that would deliver a blow -- not a crushing blow, perhaps, but still a blow -- to public trust in capitalism as we know it.
When it was first revealed that he had been contacted by a source -- known to this day as John Doe -- to receive the explosive data leaked from Mossack-Fonseca, many wondered what black magic Obermayer had used to attract such a bounty. Oh, he was a deserving recipient, no doubt. But the world is wide and full of talented journalists.
In a recent interview with the New Yorker, Obermayer reveals that there was no magic trick. In fact, John Doe had reached out to several news outlets all over the world.
But he alone understood the incommensurable worth of the data sent out when he saw the name Mossack-Fonseca -- an ultra-secretive company founded by a Bavarian-born lawyer Jurgen Mossack.
Now a Pulitzer winner and international celebrity, the German journalist was a key player in exposing the Paradise Papers scandals. Although he reveals little about his involvement in the actual acquiring of the data, the fact that it was Süddeutsche Zeitung who got their hands on the leak first speaks volumes.
So, to answer the titular question, journalists everywhere should take a leaf out of Obermayer’s book: no magic tricks, just hard-won knowledge and an understanding that still water runs deep.
Details from the story:
- Bastian Obermayer and his colleague, Frederik Obermaier, both of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, were key players in unraveling the Paradise Papers, which were sent to SZ after the the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists became aware of the leak’s existence.
- Obermayer told Elisabeth Zerofsky of the New Yorker that John Doe “had tried to get the attention of several large international outlets, including a U.S. paper, before he got in touch” with Obermayer.
- Obermayer has won a Pulitzer Prize for his work on the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers.
- The Sueddeutsche Zeitung journalist was accused of working to promote American interests because there were so few American names in the Panama Papers. “This time, with the Paradise Papers, we were so happy when we found many U.S. names,” Obermayer said. “Because we knew, O.K, we won’t be accused of working for the C.I.A. Now they say K.G.B. Which is fine.”