It has been described as the chilling final seconds of blurry pandemonium before the crash, with metallic banging and passengers screaming, “My God!” in multiple languages, captured on a cellphone video shot from the rear of the cabin.
What has been conspicuously absent is the video.
Reports of its existence created breathless attention Tuesday on television cable channels and social media in the frenetic coverage of the co-pilot’s apparently deliberate crash of a Germanwings jetliner last week in the French Alps, which killed all 150 people aboard.
But there has been no precise explanation from Paris Match and Bild, the European publications that exclusively reported the video’s existence, on how they were able to see it, how they can vouch for its provenance and why they do not have physical proof.
Doubts about the video’s authenticity intensified after the French police asserted that the reports about it were false and the French prosecutor leading the crash investigation said no videos were known to have been recovered so far from the wreckage.Continue reading the main story
Passengers from at least 15 countries were aboard the flight from Barcelona, Spain, to Düsseldorf, Germany, including 72 Germans and 35 Spaniards. Here are profiles of some of the 123 victims whose families have been notified.
Journalism ethics experts in the United States said Wednesday that the video story synthesized what they described as a confluence of disturbing trends shaping the news business in the 24/7 Internet age: reckless urgency, absence of healthy skepticism and disregard for the consequences to credibility if a story is wrong.
“There is this insatiable desire for instantaneous reporting,” said Jane E. Kirtley, director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota. “We tend to feed the beast in that way, by passing along this stuff before it’s been verified, simply because someone else has reported it. I find that really troubling.”
It is entirely possible that such a video exists, journalism ethicists said. But the public is at least entitled to a more detailed explanation of its veracity than has been forthcoming so far.
The lead reporter on the story for Paris Match, Frédéric Helbert, who said he was one of several people at the publication to watch the video, sought in a follow-up article published Wednesday in question-and-answer format to buttress its credibility.
He said the video “had been found among the wreckage by a source close to the investigation” and had been viewed by Paris Match’s editorial staff dozens of times.Continue reading the main storySlide Show
“It is not a trashy video,” he said. “It is from a passenger who filmed from the back of the plane. The sound is atrocious. It shows the human dimension of panic, distress, screaming people on board. That is what is terrible.”
That anguish is why Paris Match decided not to disseminate the video, Mr. Helbert said, and “people should stop attacking us for that.” He also said the video “doesn’t provide any information that might be useful for the investigation.”
Asked to respond to a police official’s assertion that the video was fake, he said: “Did he see it? That proves that the video exists.”
The Bild article differed from Paris Match’s in a few respects. While it asserted that the video had been recorded from the rear of the plane, it said: “It is unclear whether this was done while standing or sitting. It is also not known whether a passenger or crew member” filmed it. Bild’s article also described the video as “an important piece of evidence.”
But there was no explanation for why neither Paris Match nor Bild was in possession of the video. Todd Gitlin, chairman of the doctoral program in communications at the Columbia University School of Journalism, said videos of questionable provenance had become increasingly problematic in reporting. But even in instances in which a fraudulent video is suspected, there are ways to ascertain its authenticity. In this case, there is not even independent proof that a video exists, at least not yet, Dr. Gitlin said, and he found that “actually rather chilling.”
“At this stage of frantic media competition, and I would say unscrupulous competition, the right is being claimed to offer up claims of truth with relative indifference to whether they are the case,” he said.
Professor Kirtley said that the first question she had upon hearing the reports of the video was its authenticity. “How do you know this is what it purports to be?” she said. “I want to know how you know this is what it is.”
Laure Fourquet contributed reporting from Paris, Melissa Eddy from Berlin and Francesca Barber from New York.
A version of this article appears in print on April 2, 2015, on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Doubts Surface About Reports of a Video Made During Jet’s Final Moments .