German weekly Der Spiegel has fired an award-winning journalist for faking news stories for years, the publication said Wednesday. “Claas Relotius, a reporter and editor, falsified his articles on a grand scale and even invented characters, deceiving both readers and his colleagues,” Der Spiegel disclosed.

Claas Relotius, who was named ‘CNN Journalist of the Year’ in 2014, “made up stories and invented protagonists” including a March 2017 story portraying Trump supporters as being racist and backward. The reporter faked characters, quotes, and places to push a false narrative, Der Spiegel wrote.

The journalist admitted to “partial fabrications in at least 14 of nearly 60 articles” he wrote for the weekly, media reports say. His now-defunct stories include fabricated interviews with a Guantanamo Bay prisoner, the 99-year-old anti-Nazi resistance fighter Traute Lafrenz, and a group of ‘Syrian orphans’.

German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported how a fake story about Trump voters in Fergus Falls, Minnesota finally led to the journalist’s downfall:

Germany’s weekly news magazine Der Spiegel revealed on Wednesday that one of its star reporters had for years falsified stories “on a grand scale.”

Less than three weeks ago, Claas Relotius, a 33-year-old staff writer at Der Spiegel, won the German Reporter Award 2018 in the category “best reportage” for a story about a young Syrian boy.

After the fraud came to light, following an in-depth internal investigation, the journalist admitted to cheating and resigned last week.

According to Der Spiegel, Relotius’ actions came to light when he collaborated on a story at the US-Mexican border with another journalist — Juan Moreno — who both recognized and called out his deception.

The German reporter was outed by two locals, Michele Anderson and Jake Krohn, who wanted to push back against the falsified report tarnishing the image of their small town. They published a lengthy post on the online publishing platform Medium, detailing multiple fabrications and factual inaccuracies published by Der Spiegel in its March 2017 article.

On Friday, Der Spiegel finally admitted wrong-doing and apologized to the residents of Fergus Falls, MN:

DER SPIEGEL did not check the facts as carefully as dictated by its statutes. Editors and fact-checkers were too reliant on the supposed trustworthiness of the reporter. The magazine’s internal fact-checking guidelines, according to which descriptions of places and landscapes only require limited verification, were applied too loosely.

But the initial review we have now conducted also shows that even if the whole story had been fact-checked according to the magazine’s existing guidelines and all obvious mistakes and inaccuracies removed, large parts of the text could still have been fiction. DER SPIEGEL can only apologize to the residents of Fergus Falls. We are sorry.

German tabloid Bild described the fall from grace of Germany’s much-celebrated reporter as the “biggest scandal of the German media industry.”

Der Spiegel recalled the trialblazing career of its star reporter who just recently received the 2018 German Reporter Prize for the “best feature story of the year”:

His “masterful works of feature writing, transformed him into one of the most successful journalists in Germany in recent years. It earned Relotius the German Reporter Prize on four different occasions, the Peter Scholl Latour Prize and the Konrad-Duden, the Kindernothilfe and the Catholic and Coburger media awards. He was named CNN “Journalist of the Year,” he was honored with the Reemtsma Liberty Award, the European Press Prize and he even landed on the Forbes magazine list of the “30 under 30 – Europe: Media.”

CNN, which gave two journalism awards to Relotius, tried to put as much distance between itself and the disgraced reporter, saying, “Relotius was not associated with CNN, he never worked for the company and never had anything published on CNN platforms.” The network hurriedly summoned a meeting of the 2014 awards jury and stripped him of both awards.

U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell called for an independent inquiry into the scandal given the magazine’s hostile attitude towards the United States.

Ambassador Grenell found the revelations “troubling to the US Embassy, particularly because several of these fake stories focused on US policies and certain segments of the American people.”

Like most of the establishment media in Europe, Der Spiegel has been adversarial in its coverage of the U.S. President Donald Trump, with the magazine’s February 2017 cover showing him beheading the Statue of Liberty. Klaus Brinkbaeumer, magazine editor-in-chief, defended the illustration saying: “On our cover the American president beheads the symbol which has welcomed migrants and refugees to the United States since 1886, and with democracy and freedom.”

“We stand by that cover. It’s tough, but we believe that one has to be tough against Trump,” magazine’s deputy chief editor, Susanne Beyer, told CNN last month.

Der Spiegel‘s deputy foreign editor, Mathieu von Rohr, explained the magazine’s continued obsession with the U.S. President: “It’s been a 24/7 news cycle regarding Trump. He is dominating Twitter, he is dominating the news. And he has, of course, dominated our Spiegel Online news website.”

Following the latest revelations, the magazine struck a conciliatory tone. “We apologize to all American citizens who have been insulted and denigrated by these reports. We are very sorry. That should never have happened,” Der Spiegel’s Dirk Kurbjuweit said.

The mainstream media is now busy portraying Relotius as a ‘lone wolf’ and mentally disturbed. “I am sick and I need to get help,” media reports quoted him saying. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is that he gave his media bosses and liberal readers exactly what they were clamoring for. The accolades and awards showered on him for these fabrications are a testament to the mainstream media’s desperate urge to see its deep-seated prejudices validated.

[Cover image via YouTube]


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