The Breitbart story of ruthless gang members and migrants’ desperate, life-threatening journey across the Strait of Gibraltar was somewhat at odds with the picture that illustrated it: A man in sunglasses on a Jet Ski, flashing a peace sign while wearing what resembled a soccer uniform.
He appeared to be having a pretty good time despite the details of the recent police crackdown. The story described migrants victimized by a gang that charged people 5,000 euros for the dangerous trek from Morocco to Spain. Gang members were locked up and hundreds of victims were rescued from boats. More than 100 had drowned in sea crossings and one Jet Ski was seized.
But, as Breitbart would embarrassingly learn, the man on the back of the Jet Ski wasn’t a human trafficking victim, or on a desperate sea crossing, or even in Spain at the time. Nor was he a human smuggler.
And he had a very famous face.
The man in the life jacket was Lukas Podolski, a German soccer star. He was riding a Jet Ski half a world away from the setting of the article, in Brazil during some time off at the Olympic Games. The Germans took silver.
Many, many people knew who he was.
According to his website, the German has played in more than 100 international matches, he has been the subject of more than 20 million Google searches and has more than 1.7 million Facebook fans. According to the site, 98 percent of football enthusiasts in Germany know who he is.
Apparently, none of them work at Breitbart, which has replaced the photo and placed an editor’s note at the bottom of the story:
A previous version of this story included an image of Lukas Podolski on a Jet Ski. This image appeared as an illustration of a person on a Jet Ski. Breitbart London wishes to apologise to Mr. Podolski. There is no evidence Mr. Podolski is either a migrant gang member, nor being human trafficked. We wish Mr. Podolski well in his recently announced international retirement.
The apology and the glad tidings did not save them from the fiery scorn of social media. It came just days after Stephen K. Bannon returned as chairman of Breitbart, shortly after the former White House chief strategist was dismissed by President Trump.
Some of the jeering voices on Twitter singled out Bannon.
Sunday afternoon, the photo at the top of Breitbart’s migrant crossing story had been replaced with an image of several men on a boat. It was credited to the Associated Press, but it didn’t identify the men, say where they were from or whether they were connected to any alleged smuggling ring.
A reverse image search showed the picture had been used to illustrate various stories about immigration since early July.