News & Politics

Der Spiegel Reporter Was a Rotten Apple, and CNN Went Bananas for Him

(Photo by Jaap Arriens / Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

These are tough times for journalists, at least according to journalists. The president who loved and nurtured them all (except Fox News) has been replaced by a president who hates and battles them all (except Fox News). Journalists came up with the idea of “fake news” to explain why Hillary Clinton lost, then watched helplessly as they themselves were branded “fake news.” Jim Acosta gets shouted down every time he bravely stands up in the White House and asks a question makes a speech. Things are bad out there.

As if all that isn’t enough to make journalists feel sorry for themselves, seven of them were killed in the United States in 2018. Five reporters in Maryland were murdered during a shooting rampage by a lunatic who’d held a longstanding grudge against their newspaper, and two others were killed by a falling tree while reporting on a rainstorm in North Carolina. Somehow, these two incidents mean America is now one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Somebody keeps a list every year, and now we’re on it. This is welcome news for journalists who need to think of themselves as martyrs. Move over, firefighters, because the real heroes are here!

And now, journalists have to deal with yet another hardship: Being reminded that their industry richly rewards liars.

Have you heard of Claas Relotius, star reporter for Der Spiegel? Me neither, at least until today, but apparently he’s a respected, award-winning journalist. And now, Der Spiegel has some bad news about him:

Claas Relotius, a reporter and editor, falsified his articles on a grand scale and even invented characters, deceiving both readers and his colleagues…

For example, he included individuals in his stories who he had never met or spoken to, telling their stories or quoting them. Instead, he would reveal, he based the depictions on other media or video recordings. By doing so, he created composite characters of people who actually did exist but whose stories Relotius had fabricated. He also made up dialogue and quotes…

Since 2011, just under 60 of his articles were published in DER SPIEGEL magazine or on SPIEGEL ONLINE. By his own admission, there are at least 14 articles in question that are at least in part fabrications.

Which means the number is probably higher.

“Der Spiegel” means “The Mirror,” so maybe Relotius thought that meant everything you see in it should be backwards.

To give you an idea of the depth of Relotius’s fraud, two residents of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, have catalogued the many lies he wrote about their little town in just one of his stories. He made up people who don’t exist, invented quotes nobody ever said, and concocted numerous other details out of thin air. He even claimed that the town’s movie theater was still playing American Sniper two years after it was released, as evidence of their supposedly backward, Trumpian nature. It was a complete lie.

The question isn’t how this fraud got away with it for so long. The question is: How many more of these frauds are out there?

Journos want you to believe this is rare. They want you to think that fabulists like Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair and Claas Relotius are the exception, not the norm. But how would they know?

If a reporter decides he needs a memorable quote to spice up a story about people who live hundreds or thousands of miles away from his publisher, what’s to stop him from just making something up? If it confirms the prejudices of the audience, if it’s too good to check, how likely is it that anybody’s going to check?

And if he gets away with it, what’s to stop him from doing it again? Why not escalate? If he can make up a quote, why not make up a completely invented character to say it? Why not just type up whatever fiction is necessary for the story to be accepted by the people who want to believe it?

Relotius was CNN’s Journalist of the Year in 2014. You remember CNN, right? It’s the network that brought you this masterpiece:

Claas Relotius was a rotten apple, and CNN went bananas for him. Yet these guys still demand our trust, and blame us when we don’t believe them.

Keep patting yourselves on the back, journos. Keep giving yourselves awards. Keep congratulating yourselves for speaking truth to power, as long as the power isn’t held by a Democrat. Even if nobody else likes you, at least you do.