Swiss Daily BaZ: On Why German Spiegel Journalist Was Allowed to Fool The World For So Long

  1. Markus Somm of the Swiss Baseler Zeitung (BaZ) here has an interesting commentary on why Spiegel and CNN-award wining journalist Claas Relotius had been able to get away with writing totally made up stories for as long as he did.

Claas Relotius is the journalist who traveled to rural Fergus Falls, Minnesota, immediately after the inauguration of then president-elect Donald Trump in order to find out why rural America voted so heavily in favor of Trump. The reason in a nutshell, according to Relotius: because rural Americans are uneducated, blindly patriotic, gun-bearing, narrow-minded rednecks.

In his article he provided numerous examples to back it up. The problem, however: he made it all up! Today it has arguably become the biggest journalistic scandal in at least 10 years. Both Relotius and Spiegel have been disgraced.

Further investigation uncovered that Relotius had been writing phony news for years. The BAZ asks: How could this have happened and why hadn’t he been exposed much earlier?

What makes this scandal all the more oppressive to the media, however, is the fact that Relotius did so for years without ever being discovered. No documentation expert and no editor-in-chief noticed anything. Indeed, Relotius was flooded with journalist prizes for his many works of fiction.”

What was even more embarrassing is the fact that he wrote for Spiegel, probably one of the most renowned news magazines worldwide, and one that bragged about its investigative and fact-checking prowess. Somehow, quality control got thrown overboard along the way.

Agenda over truth

The Markus Somm at the BAZ suspects much of it had to do with the hard left-wing leanings of the Spiegel editorial board, who loathe conservative, rural Americans. The BAZ asks:

If Spiegel, left-liberal, often self-righteous, had been a bit more pluralistic, if there had been more people on its editorial board who were conservative – would Relotius have not been uncovered sooner?

In BAZ’s view, the answer to that question is ‘yes’:

The fact that he became a world star, has a lot to do with the prejudices the Relotius virtuoso served. Refugees are basically better people, war is a misery which is mostly blamed on the West, progressive people live in the city, the distressed in the countryside, and Trump is a disaster. Relotius wrote what they wanted to hear, he lied about what his superiors and colleagues already believed, and that’s why they felt so comfortable in affirming that reality seemed to conform to their prejudice. Nowhere is this perhaps more apparent than in a report on Fergus Falls.”

Relotius spent several weeks in Fergus Falls in order to gain a clear picture of the small town’s residents and how they lived. But what Relotius found was something in complete contradiction to the prejudices spread in Germany about rural America.

He just could not possibly return to Germany and tell Spiegel editors and America-loathing German readers: Hey, rural Americans are pretty hip and normal folks, and then ask Spiegel to reimburse all his travel expenses and pay for his fact-finding labor. So he just fabricated everything they wanted to hear.

10 responses to “Swiss Daily BaZ: On Why German Spiegel Journalist Was Allowed to Fool The World For So Long”

  1. Timo Soren

    Yep, those hick unsophisticated Fergus Falls folks, followed the foreign newspaper enough that they were ‘part and parcel’ of the exposing of the foreign writer.

    They read and then commented to the paper. Complained about the inaccuracy and published a story in “the medium” to highlight
    how badly the article lied.

    Then finally the Germans took notice.

    Yep those hick, un-educated midwestern, un-cultured Amurikans’

    1. Newminster

      Which suggests Relotius fell for his own hype. What sort of a journalist is so dim he can’t work out that people he insults in print are going to react, especially when they are normal, at least averagely intelligent human beings, and he is painting them as cretins?

      What a dork! Still, the more people like Relotius and publications like Spiegel get their comeuppance the more hope for the future of the rest of us!

  2. Ian

    Closing paragraph: Sounds like the 20,000+ attendees of the last two IPCC gatherings and ominous “Report”.

  3. Indur Goklany

    Combination of demonizing people you disagree with and back it up with fabricated evidence — the essence of confirmation bias on the part of both editors and readers.

  4. Coeur de Lion

    Journalists lie. Reporters report. ‘Investigative’ journalists funnel other people’s press releases.

    1. Mikky

      Maybe local reporters still just report, but these days most have decided or been told the story before they travel, then it is just a case of obtaining interviews and photos that back up the pre-ordained conclusion.

      This is the modus operandi of the BBC, which often provides free advance publicity for the demos that the editors have decided they will send people to.

    2. Bitter&twisted

      It’s more simple than that.
      Leftists lie. Period.

    3. Newminster

      I ought to take offence at that remark, CdeL! Real journalists do not lie; their entire ethos is based on ferreting out the truth. The modern breed of output from the university post-grad journalism courses is not a journalist but a gullible reader of press releases.

      This applies in spades to ‘Our [whatever] Correspondent’ whose principal qualification is that he/she has no experience whatever of their field of (supposed) expertise.

      Not one MSM Science or Environment Correspondent that I am aware of has ever challenged the accepted wisdom. Whether sympathetic towards that consensus or not, that is not journalism as any of the great journalists of the past (and most of the run-of-the-mill ones) understood it. They would not recognise Relotius as a journalist and would have found him out long ago.

  5. sasquatch

    Didn’t Garrison Keillor write it all down thirty years ago? Just go there to Lake Wobegon, just listen to Garrison’s Prairie Home Companion, then write the story. Good as anything.

    Watch ‘Fargo’. Interview Al Franken, the Minnesotan gone to Washington and out to lunch. lol

    What is wrong with Der Spiegel? Shark jumping gone wild.

    When make up stuff, you have to go whole hog.

    Might as well learn some of Mr. Peabody’s Improbable History and the obvious choice is to use his WABAC machine if you want an accurate history of Minnesota.

    11 Things You Should Know About Rocky & Bullwinkle

    “10. Pottsylvanian spy Boris Badenov—whose surname is a play on 16th-century Russian Tsar Boris Godunov—was revealed in an advertisement as an active member of Local 12 of the Villains, Thieves, and Scoundrels Union.”

    Snidely Whiplash was also a dues paying member, no doubt.

    Had Der Spiegel done its homework, they would have found the right answers straight from the moose, Bullwinkle will tell you like it is, the rest of the story as Paul Harvey would say.

    Could have gone to Frostbite Falls, MN instead of Fergus Falls. If you want to find out what should be told, go to Frostbite Falls and hear the story from Bullwinkle J. Moose, Governor of Moosylvania.

    Would have been a more accurate description of the Minnesotans Der Spiegel so wrongly portrayed. Boris and Natasha are spies from the eastern European nation of Pottsylvania, so a place like Frostbite Falls, Minnesota really is diverse, multicultural even more than believed.

    Minnesotans are closer to the cartoon characters from Frostbite Falls than they are living, breathing human beings. The state bird is the loon, proof enough right there. lol

    Der Spiegel knows you can make up stuff and it can still be true, even it is born from lies. Editor-in-chief Josef Goebbels always writes the right words, even if they are lies, they still make sense. Who cares? Nobody.

    Der Spiegel is trying hard to get the lies right but nobody will let them.

    Had Relotius watched the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show he would have known more about Minnesota and Minnesotans rather than traveling there to make up stories supposedly true about those loonie Minnesotans, too close to Canada where Dudley Do-Right lives, they’re loonie in Canada for sure.

    Claas would have had a better story had he bothered to trek up to Moosylvania. Done some more digging up there. Visited the Upsidaisium mine or something.

    If you are intent about making up stuff about Minnesota and Minnesotans, ask Rocky J. Squirrel, he can tell you all about how it’s done, it’s all been done already.

    Claas must have been overcome by the fumes of Goof Gas, always a cause somehow.

    Better luck next time.

    1. Yonason

      One thing for sure, he wasn’t a graduate of Wossamotta U.

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