Christmas came early for the #FakeNews bunch in the form of a German reporter getting his comeuppance for years of false reporting, including a web of lies he weaved upon a visit to Trump country back in the spring of 2017.
‘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’s how Der Spiegel’s top editor Ullrich Fichtner described the work of Claas Relotius, a journalist who spun his yarns at the German paper for seven years before it all came crashing down earlier this month.
Relotius apparently “made up stories and invented protagonists” in at least 14 out of 60 articles appearing in print and on the website.
The story that ultimately led to his undoing was titled “Jaeger’s Border,” which was a mishmash of mistruths about a vigilante group conducting patrols along the border between Arizona and Mexico. It turned out to be “one fabricated story too many,” and the career of the decorated reporter, once dubbed “a journalistic idol of his generation,” came to a screeching halt.
“I am sick and I need to get help,” he told Der Spiegel. “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.”
One of the many awards bestowed upon Relotius was CNN’s “Journalist of the Year,” which provided plenty of red meat for Trump supporters who relish any opportunity to give the network a black eye. In fact, “Journalist of the Year” was trending on Twitter TWTR, -11.05% thanks to tweets like these:
About right. World's most celebrated Fake News journalist who just made crap up out of thin air, was CNN's Journalist of the Year. Karma! https://t.co/zGvA0ZiZVT
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) December 20, 2018
The story linked in that last one, in particular, struck a chord.
In it, Michele Anderson recounted how Relotius “messed with the wrong small town” when he spent a few weeks in Fergus Falls, Minn., back in February of 2017. He would go on to write a story about “the state of rural America” post-Trump’s election win that was allegedly riddled with fake news.
Anderson, a “die-hard liberal,” described his tale as “endless pages of an insulting, if not hilarious, excuse for journalism” that painted a town living up to “deplorable” stereotypes. “In 7,300 words he really only got our town’s population and average annual temperature correct,” she wrote in a Medium post.
The truth he missed, according to Anderson, is much more complex: “That die-hard liberals like me can still magically live alongside conservative Republicans — that sometimes we even find some common ground and share a meal together, and take the time to try to understand each other’s viewpoints.”