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Der Spiegel says top journalist faked stories for years
December 20, 2018, 5:30 pm

Vaunted German news magazine Der Spiegel admitted with “profound shock” that its multiple award-winning journalist Claas Relotius had, “made up stories and invented protagonists” in at least 14 of the 60 articles that were published over the past seven years in print and online.

Der Spiegel, the Hamburg-based magazine founded in 1947 and renowned for its exhaustive investigative pieces, said Relotius had committed journalistic fraud “on a grand scale”. Describing the episode as “a low point in Spiegel’s 70-year history” the magazine said that an in-house commission had been set up to examine all of Relotius’ work for the weekly.

After initially attempting to dodge accusations of faking news, Relotius, 33, resigned from the news magazine last week. In his letter of resignation, the reporter said he regretted his actions and was deeply ashamed. “I am sick, and I need to get help,” he was quoted as saying.

The reporter, who had been recognized for his investigative-style journalism over the years, had been the recipient of numerous awards, including CNN Journalist of the Year in 2014. In early December, he won Germany’s prestigious Reporterpreis (Reporter of the Year) award for his story about a Syrian refugee boy, which the awarding jury praised for its ‘lightness, poetry and relevance”. Since then, it has been discovered that all the sources attributed to the story were fictitious or, at best, doubtful, and that he had made up the entire story.

Other fraudulent stories discovered so far included one about a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, and one about the American football star Colin Kaepernick. In his confession to his employer, Relotius said: “It wasn’t because of the next big thing. It was fear of failing. My pressure to not be able to fail got ever bigger the more successful I became.”

The integrity of his stories began to be questioned, when a colleague who worked with Relotius on a recent story of migrants along the US-Mexican border raised suspicions about the veracity of some of the details in the report. The colleague, Juan Moreno, eventually tracked down two alleged sources quoted extensively by Relotius in the article; both of them claimed they had never met Relotius. A subsequent investigation found that Relotius had also lied about seeing a hand-painted sign that read “Mexicans keep out”.

Following the admission of its reporter’s guilt, the weekly published a lengthy article, saying it was “shocked” by the discovery and apologizing to its readers and to anyone who may have been the subject of “fraudulent quotes, made-up personal details or invented scenes at fictitious places”.

 The avowal by Der Spiegel that its star-reporter had been faking stories over the years, comes at a time when the reliability and trustworthiness of news, and the credibility of news media in general, is at an all-time low around the world.




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