Claas Relotius is a prime example of a fake news superstar. There are others out there. I’m going to address another one I find particularly egregious as soon as possible. For now we’ll look at Claas Relotious and Der Speigel’s attempt at damage control
What did Claas fabricate?
Claas Relotius committed his deception intentionally, methodically and with criminal intent.It looks like just about all his work was fabricated. Intentionally. And he is playing the victim in all this, of course.
Shortly before the end of his journalistic career, misery and glamor crossed paths in the life of Claas Relotius. On the evening of Monday, Dec. 3, Relotius, who had worked for DER SPIEGEL for seven years and had been employed as an editor for the past year and a half, was called onto a stage in Berlin. The jury for the 2018 German Reporter Prize was once again of the opinion that he had written the best feature story of the year, this one about a Syrian boy who lived with the belief that he had contributed to the country's civil war through a graffito he had daubed onto a wall in Daraa. The jurors praised the article for its "unparalleled lightness, intimacy and relevance that is never silent regarding the sources on which it is based." The truth, however -- a truth that nobody could have known at that point in time -- is that his sources were anything but clear. Indeed, it is likely that much of it was made up. Inventions. Lies. Quotes, places, scenes, characters: All fake.
That misery came in the form of an email, one which, as chance will have it, arrived some 17 hours before the glamor of the awards ceremony, at 3:05 a.m. The message came from a woman named Jan, short for Janet, who was doing media work for a vigilante group in Arizona conducting patrols along the border to Mexico. She asked Relotius -- who two weeks earlier had written an article ostensibly about this vigilante group in the darkly dazzling DER SPIEGEL report "Jaeger's Border" -- what exactly he was up to. How, she wanted to know, could Relotius have written about her group without even bothering to stop by for an interview? She found it very strange, she wrote, that a journalist would write stories without gathering facts locally.
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The story "Jaeger's Border" would prove to be Relotius' undoing. It was one fabricated story too many, because this time, he had a co-author, who sounded the alarm while also collecting facts to counter his fiction. That co-author, Juan Moreno, has been traveling the world as a reporter for DER SPIEGEL since 2007. In the dispute with and surrounding Relotius, Moreno risked his own job, at times even desperately seeking to re-report his colleague's claims at his own expense. Moreno would go through three or four weeks of hell because his colleagues and senior editors in Hamburg didn't initially believe that Relotius could be nothing more than a liar.Somehow Relotius had gained an impenetrable armour of authority that truth could not break through... until finally, thankfully, it did.
In late November and into early December, some at DER SPIEGEL even believed that Moreno was the real phony and that Relotius was the victim of slander. Relotius skillfully parried all allegations and all of Moreno's well-researched evidence, constantly coming up with new ways of sowing doubt, plausibly refuting accusations and twisting the truth in his favor. Until, ultimately, his tricks stopped working
It has now become clear that Claas Relotius, 33 years old, one of DER SPIEGEL's best writers, winner of multiple awards and a journalistic idol of his generation, is neither a reporter nor a journalist. Rather, he produces beautifully narrated fiction. Truth and lies are mixed together in his articles
Others, he admits, were embellished with fudged quotes and other made-up facts. Still others were entirely fabricated
The fact that Relotius had for years been able to slip through the vetting and fact-checking measures established over decades at DER SPIEGEL is particularly painful and it raises questions about internal structures here that must be addressed immediately.
In February 2017, DER SPIEGEL published "Lion Boys," a heart-wrenching story that made waves well beyond journalistic circles. "Lion Boys" is a particularly appalling example of the fraud committed by Relotius. The figure of the physician, upon which much of the story is based, never existed
“ In a Small Town”
Just one month later, in late March 2017, an article headlined "In a Small Town," a snapshot of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, appeared in DER SPIEGEL.
In his story about Fergus Falls, Relotius bent and twisted reality in a repugnant and arrogant manner. To ensure a gripping lead, he wrote that next to the welcome sign at the edge of town, there was also a second sign -- "half as tall, but almost impossible to overlook." On this sign, made of thick wood rammed into the frozen soil, stood in large painted letters: 'Mexicans Keep Out'"
This sign, which set the tone for the entire story, never existed, except for in the author's imagination. But he passed on his creation as fact to hundreds of thousands of readers -- and insulted the inhabitants of Fergus Falls in the process.
“He says he wasn't as deceitful in the case of "Blind Date," the story of an FBI translator who fell in love with German Islamic State fighter Denis Cuspert. But if the premise of the story itself already sounds fictitious, what about the details within? Nothing has yet been proven with regard to this story, but more investigation is clearly needed.
Relotius miraculously had Kaepernick's parents on the line. "They hesitated over whether they should speak about their son on the phone. They didn't want to cause any trouble for him, they said, but they also wanted people to understand him. Finally -- at times crying, at times laughing -- the mother told his story." The phone conversation carried the entire story that followed. But it never took place.
“The Last Witness”
“It all fits perfectly. But it's not true. None of it. Claas Relotius never accompanied a woman to executions in America. He never traveled by bus with her, and he never paged through Leviticus with her. He made up the story, all 40,273 characters, five pages and one column of it, published in DER SPIEGEL 10/2018, pages 58 to 63. Even for someone in his league, that must be some kind of a record. “
Awarded the 2018 German Reporter Prize three weeks ago, on Monday, Dec. 3, as the best feature of the year. The story is about a boy who sprayed an anti-Assad message on a wall in Daraa, possibly helping to trigger the mass protests that ensued, and it appeared in DER SPIEGEL on June 23, 2018. Unfortunately, like so many other pieces from Relotius' workshop, it is full of fabrications.Juan Moreno, whom Claas Relotious, intentionally framed, defamed, slander and with malice set him up as the liar.
It is difficult to separate fact from fiction, it is difficult to determine who Relotius was actually in contact with
He borrowed material from old newspapers and obscure blogs. He assembled all these pieces and splinters and shreds and crumbs to create his characters. Chris Jaeger, Gayle Gladdis, Neil Becker from Fergus Falls, Nadim and Khalid in Kirkuk, Ahmed and Alin from Aleppo, Mohammed Bwasir from Guantanamo, they were not human beings made of flesh and blood. They only live on paper, and their creator was Claas Relotius
I watched the face book video linked below, with the audio off and read the english subtitles