Award-winning German journalist, Claas Relotius, fabricated an article about pro-Trump reporters in a small Minnesota town, and it cost him his job.
Germany’s respected news weekly Der Spiegel stunned the media world on Wednesday by revealing that Relotius had for years falsified stories.
Relotius ‘made up stories and invented protagonists’ in at least 14 out of 60 articles that appeared in the magazine’s print and online editions, Spiegel wrote, warning that other outlets could also be affected.
One of the stories that brought Relotius down was the one he wrote about residents of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, a town that overwhelmingly voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
Award-winning German journalist, Claas Relotius (pictured in March 2017), fabricated an article about pro-Trump reporters in a small Minnesota town, and it cost him his job
His dishonesty was uncovered by his colleague Juan Moreno after he worked with Relotius on the story ‘Jaegers Grenze’ (pictured)
Spiegel wrote that it was in March 2017 when an article headlined ‘In a Small Town,’ a snapshot of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, appeared in Der Spiegel.
According to the news outlet, ‘the plan was for Relotius to rent an apartment in Fergus Falls, meet people, listen to what they had to say, and produce a snapshot that would allow readers to gain a slightly better understanding of the Americans’.
However, like many reporters, Relotius realized he didn’t have a story.
Relotius (pictured in 2014), 33, resigned from Der Spiegel after admitting falsifying stories
‘DER SPIEGEL gives its reporters a very free hand in situations like these. No staff member — especially not one that had published the kind of stories Relotius had — has to worry about getting into hot water for failing to bring home a story,’ the magazine said.
The magazine said that Relotius ‘simply refused to accept those realities’ and wrote a tall tale about Fergus Falls.
Relotius lied about seeing a hand-painted welcome sign that read ‘Mexicans Keep Out’, that he claimed was sitting at the edge of the town.
But the sign didn’t exist and never had.
‘He passed on his creation as fact to hundreds of thousands of readers — and insulted the inhabitants of Fergus Falls in the process,’ Spiegel said.
‘Relotius gave the inhabitants of Fergus Falls made-up biographies to suit his needs, as if he were a puppeteer.
‘He invented grotesque lies and reported, for example, that the students at the John F. Kennedy high school drew their role models for the American dream as follows: “They did not draw a single picture of a woman,” Relotius wrote. “One class drew Barack Obama, two drew John D. Rockefeller. Most of them drew Donald Trump.”‘
According to the magazine, it was all ‘pure fiction. Every single bit is concocted bunk’.
Relotius, 33, resigned after admitting to the scam.
He had written for the magazine for seven years and won numerous awards for his investigative journalism, including CNN Journalist of the Year in 2014.
Earlier this month, he was named German Reporter of the Year for a story about a young Syrian boy.
The cheating came to light after a colleague who worked with him on a story along the US-Mexican border raised suspicions about some of the details in Relotius’ reporting.
The headquarters of German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel in Hamburg, Germany
The colleague eventually tracked down two alleged sources quoted extensively by Relotius in the article, which was published in November.
Both said they had never met Relotius.
Other fraudulent stories included one about a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, and one about NFL star Colin Kaepernick.
In a lengthy article, Spiegel said it was ‘shocked’ by the discovery and apologized to its readers as well as to anyone who may have been the subject of ‘fraudulent quotes, made up personal details or invented scenes at fictitious places’.
The Hamburg-based magazine, renowned for its in-depth investigative pieces, described the episode as ‘a low point in Spiegel’s 70-year history’.
An in-house commission has been set up to pore over all of Relotius’ work for the weekly.
The reporter also wrote for a string of other well-known outlets, including German newspapers taz, Welt and the Frankfurter Allgemeine’s Sunday edition.
Relotius told Spiegel he regretted his actions and was deeply ashamed, the magazine said.
‘I am sick and I need to get help,’ he was quoted as saying.