On December 19th, der Spiegel reported that Claas Relotius, one of its star reporters, for writing fake stories on a “grand scale.”
An article, answering the most important questions regarding the situation was also published in English.
Internal evidence and research in recent days mounted the suspicion against Claas Relotius – who has now admitted to falsifying stories and interviews and has left the outlet. Other media could also be affected.
“I’m so angry, horrified, shocked, stunned,” the magazine’s deputy foreign editor Mathieu von Rohr tweeted. “Claas Relotius faked, he cheated all of us.”
Ich bin so wütend, entsetzt, schockiert, fassungslos. Claas Relotius hat gefälscht, er hat uns alle betrogen: seine Leser, den SPIEGEL, vielleicht auch andere Medien. Danke an den Reporter Juan Moreno, der das alles aufgedeckt hat. @DerSPIEGEL entschuldigt sich bei allen Lesern. https://t.co/XWAZIDWPrS
— Mathieu von Rohr (@mathieuvonrohr) December 19, 2018
Initially, suspicions began following a publication in November 2018 of the article “Jaeger’s Border” about an American vigilante group that patrols the border between Mexico and the US.
Juan Moreno, who reported the story in co-operation with Relotius grew suspicious of him and shared his concerns to der Spiegel.
Moreno then undertook to investigate, and he took advantage that he was in the US to report on another story, to gather incriminating information on Relotius. Naturally, he wanted to protect himself too, since he was a part of that article.
After initially denying the allegations, Claas finally admitted to his misconduct at the end of the week of December 10th – 16th. It emerged that he had invented entire passages, not only in his most recent article, but in many others.
Probably, most significantly, Relotius, according to the jury of the German Reporter of the Year 2018, wrote the best reportage of the year. About a Syrian boy, who lives with the belief that he was involved in a civil war in the country. The jurors appreciated a text of “unprecedented lightness, density and relevance.”
It turned out that all sources for the article were hazy. Most of it is a well-conceived lie. Quotes, places, scenes, supposed people of flesh and blood were all fake.
Essentially, according to der Spiegel, what Relotius did was:
“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.”
Overall, by his admission around 14 articles that were published in der Spiegel or Spiegel Online are partially fabricated. He mostly worked as a freelancer with the outlet, but was employed as an editor since mid-2017.
Several of the fabricated articles are major features that were nominated for or won awards:
““The last witness,” about an American who allegedly travels to an execution as a witness. The “Lion Children,” about two Iraqi children who have been kidnapped and re-educated by the Islamic State. And “Number 440,” a story about alleged prisoners at Guantanamo.”
According to der Spiegel, the work on uncovering if all of his articles were compromised just started.
It is also possible that other media organizations were affected, since Claas Relotius worked for other media outlets in Germany and abroad. His work was published in “Cicero, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung am Sonntag, the Financial Times Deutschland, Die Tageszeitung, Die Welt, Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, Weltwoche, Zeit Online and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.”
All of his work in those outlets also most likely will undergo a review.
Relotius was also the author of an article published in the Swiss magazine Reportagen, for which he received two CNN Journalist Awards in 2014, including Journalist of the Year. CNN stripped him from both those titles, after the 2014 awards jury held a meeting after Der Spiegel went public with its investigation.
Forbes also identified Claas Relotius as a top reporter in 2017, including him in their 30 under 30 list for European Media.
While the investigation is on-going, all of Relotius articles will be left unchanged in der Spiegel’s archive, mostly to facilitate transparent research into the issue.
“The management of DER SPIEGEL will set up a commission of experienced internal and external persons to investigate the indications of falsification. DER SPIEGEL will also report publicly on their findings and recommendations for improving safety mechanisms.”
Furthermore, this may be a good example of MSM integrity in reporting.