He was an editor for Der Spiegel, selected as CNN’s 2014 Journalist of the Year and 2014 Print Journalist of the Year, Germany’s 2018 Reporter of the Year (and recipient of the award in 4 separate years), and nominated for and won awards for his fabrications:
In recent years, DER SPIEGEL published just under 60 articles by reporter and editor Claas Relotius. He has now admitted that, in several instances, he either invented stories or distorted facts.
Claas Relotius committed his deception intentionally, methodically and with criminal intent.
With a circulation of 840,000 weekly readers, Der Spiegel is the largest such publication in Europe.
Think of the role that fictional news plays in shaping public opinion, and its sharing on social media as part of propaganda campaigns. The lies he told about one Minnesota town are scrutinized here. Nearly all but the city name was fabricated. This is what passes for award winning journalism in the new Internet era, where being first is more important than facts and logic. Layers and layers of fact checkers and editors failed to detect that nearly every thing in the article was untrue.
Now, everything he ever did is considered suspect – but over four years he was selected as Germany’s Reporter of the Year by other journalists, calling in to question the entire concept of journalism.
The media knows its credibility is low and that actions like this drop their credibility even lower. Their normal response has been to elevate their field to sanctimonious elite status while proclaiming themselves more virtuous than others.
The way to respond to accusations of fictional news reporting is to double down on accuracy, objectivity and remaining calm. Unfortunately, the news industry continues to harm itself through self destructive behavior typical of middle school drama. This behavior is bewildering.
Update: Der Spiegel is now seeking criminal embezzlement charges against their former editor, alleging he created fictitious Syrian orphans, started a fund raising campaign to assist them, but pocketed the money himself.
Der Spiegel now says they assume all of his news reports were fiction.
Der Spiegel says it is shocked how this could have happened as they had layers and layers of editors and fact checkers, claiming every word and every number was cross checked. A related problem is that Der Spiegel disabled comments on most stories written by Relotius such that readers could not crowd source detect obvious problems. (The media does not like it when non-journalists point out their errors.)
The problem may have been that they, like their reporters adopted “mean world syndrome” and glossed over stories that fit their preferred narrative.When entire stories are works of fiction, how do you explain your complete break down of fact checking? The problem may be that Der Spiegel’s news room (like perhaps many) lacks diversity in thought and became an echo chamber. Many readers say Relotius’ articles frequently focused on “bashing” America and this may be a theme that Der Spiegel liked.
Der Spiegel says it is conducting an investigation and may undergo a significant reorganization – perhaps firing layers and layers of fact checkers who failed.
Comments to the Der Spiegel column about their systemic failure say the paper is a mess and their reporting relies on emotions rather than facts. The focus of Der Spiegel, many say, is entertainment and it is no longer a news operation.
As this blog has documented, propaganda is about targeting emotions and hooking your fast acting System 1 thinking style. The media does the same, we presume, for their fundamental business purpose of selling advertising. Arguments rely on facts and logic – the elements of System 2 thinking – but such stories are not as likely to help sell products and services versus stories that get you riled up.