HAMBURG, Germany, December 20, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) ― A respected German mainstream magazine fired one of its award-winning contributors after discovering he included fake news in several stories.
Der Spiegel admitted Wednesday that reporter and editor Claas Relotius had “falsified his articles on a grand scale and even invented characters, deceiving both readers and his colleagues.” Some of the stories were set in the United States and played to unpleasant European prejudices about Americans, raising questions as to why Der Spiegel accepted them so trustingly. The magazine fired Relotius.
Relotius had worked for Der Spiegel in various capacities since 2011. He contributed more than 50 articles, of which at least 14 contained fabrications. Some of these tainted pieces were nominated for, or even won, awards, and the freelancer was hired by Der Spiegel as an editor. He remained in that job for a year and a half.
According to Der Spiegel, Relotius had also contributed articles to such mainstream periodicals and newspapers as Cicero, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung am Sonntag, the Financial Times Deutschland, Die Tageszeitung, Die Welt, Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, Weltwoche, Zeit Online, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. Relotius was honored in 2014 by CNN as its Journalist of the Year.
Relotius’ former employer said the “first suspicions” about him were raised after the November publication of an article entitled “Jaeger’s Border.” This was about an alleged “American vigilante group that patrols the border between Mexico and the United States.” Relotius’ Spanish colleague, Juan Moreno, who collaborated with him on the story, reported his suspicions to Der Spiegel and went back to the United States for confirmation.
However, some American victims of Relotius’ lies had already realized the mainstream journalist was a fake.
In an article published yesterday on Medium, Michele Anderson and Jake Krohn described Relotius’ visit to their town in February 2017 and the lies he told about it in an article published that spring. In their essay, entitled “Der Spiegel Journalist Messed with the Wrong Small Town,” the Fergus Falls, Minnesota residents zeroed in on the most blatant lies Relotius told about the community.
In his article entitled “Where They Pray for Trump on Sundays,” the German journalist portrayed the town as “immigrant-fearing” and “gun-obsessed.” He falsely described 27-year-old city administrator Andrew Bremseth as man who had never had a serious relationship with a woman, who carried a handgun to work, and who had never seen the ocean. Relotius also falsely claimed that Bremseth was the only person in town who “subscribes to national publications.”
The journalist also exploited a Mexican-American waitress and her son, spinning fictional stories about the woman’s work and health and the young man’s supposed suffering from the racism of his “high school” classmates. Pablo Rodriguez, a college student called “Israel” for the article, was never interviewed by Relotius; he only posed for a photograph. To add to his “racist America” narrative, Relotius invented a “Mexicans Keep Out” sign.
The journalist even lied about the high school students, saying they had to pass through three sets of armored doors and a weapons scanner. He depicted them as yokels on a class trip to New York, missing out on important cultural sites, but visiting Trump Tower. This class trip never happened.
Anderson and Krohn believed that Relotius was painting “the community as the perfect villain around which to frame the rest of his horror story about rural America.”
Der Spiegel says its management “will set up a commission of experienced internal and external persons to investigate the indications of falsification” although the magazine was not clear if it meant just for its archive of Relotius’ work or for the entire magazine.
It stated also that it will report on the commission’s “findings and recommendations for improving safety mechanisms.”