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December 22, 2018

THE JANET COOKE OF HAMBURG. WAPO: A reporter’s dispatch from Trump country featured a ‘Mexicans Keep Out’ sign. But he made it all up.

What motivated [Claas] Relotius to lie? “It was the fear of failure,” he reportedly told editors at Der Spiegel, confessing that the pressure had grown as his career took off. After the 2016 election, his editors suggested that he write about Trump voters in rural America, and made plans for him to rent an apartment in Fergus Falls. But once he got there, the article failed to come together, Der Spiegel editor Ullrich Fichtner wrote:

When asked about the Fergus Falls story, he admitted that he knew perfectly well that the editors wouldn’t have reprimanded him if he had dropped the whole thing. “I think,” Relotius said last week, “a normal person would have said: ‘Listen, this just isn’t working. I’m stuck and we can’t do the story.’” But Relotius is evidently no normal person. “I tend to want to have control,” he said, “and I have this compulsion, this drive, to somehow make it happen. Of course, you don’t make it happen. You make a fabrication.” When he says “you” here, he can only mean himself and no one else.

According to Anderson, however, there was a story to be found in Fergus Falls. It just may not have been the one that Relotius was looking for. What he had overlooked, she wrote on Wednesday, were the community programs supporting local artists, the excellent coffee shop, and all of the residents who traveled to Washington for the Women’s March, planted Black Lives Matter signs in their yards and wept when they realized that Trump had been elected.

“This is just a hunch, but it seems to me that Relotius’ overseas readers might appreciate knowing that small American towns are more complex than they imagine — that die-hard liberals like me can still magically live alongside conservative Republicans — that sometimes we even find some common ground and share a meal together, and take the time to try to understand each other’s viewpoints,” she wrote.

You mean, we’re not all socialists now, as the Washington Post once pretended?

(Classical allusion in headline.)

UPDATE (FROM GLENN): Remember James Lileks’ epic takedown of a foreign report from a Birmingham, Alabama Olive Garden shortly after 9/11? They’ve always got the story pre-written before they talk to anyone.