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Der Spiegel journalist messed with the wrong small town


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Michele Anderson, Jake Krohn

Dec. 19 2018

In February 2017, my husband and I attended a concert at our local theater, and were sipping some wine in the lobby before the show started. Several people came up to us at separate times excitedly, and asked, “did you meet the German guy yet?!”

I hadn’t, but my spider senses perked up when I heard that he worked for Der Spiegel, a magazine based in Hamburg, and that he was writing about the state of rural America in the wake of Trump’s presidency.

I know I’m not the only rural advocate and citizen that is wary about the anthropological gaze on rural America in the wake of the 2016 elections, and has struggled with how or whether to respond to the sudden attention and questions, when before we really didn’t matter to mass media at all.


Knowing that Relotius’ purpose was likely to focus on a few of our many conservative voters, I still had an ounce of faith in journalism. Maybe, just maybe, since he was a professional, award winning, international journalist and was spending not one day here but several weeks, he would craft an interesting, nuanced story about how we all somehow manage to coexist with each other in Trump’s America without burning each other’s houses down.

But I also had a distinct gut feeling that his portrayal of this town could go very, very wrong.

What happened is beyond what I could have ever imagined: An article titled “Where they pray for Trump on Sundays,” and endless pages of an insulting, if not hilarious, excuse for journalism.

Not only did Relotius’exposé” on Fergus Falls make unrecognizable movie-like characters out of the people in my town that I interact with on a daily basis, but its very basic lack of truth and its bizarrely bleak portrayal of the place I love left a very sick, unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach.




I appears he got the name of the town right, after that......................?

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Der Spiegel Fires Award-Winning Writer, Citing Fabrication on ‘Grand Scale’

Alan Yuhas

Dec. 19, 2018

The German magazine Der Spiegel said on Wednesday that it had fired an award-winning journalist for fabricating “on a grand scale” in his articles, weaving invented quotations and characters into over a dozen major articles.

The reporter and editor, Claas Relotius, confessed to creating the falsehoods after an investigation by the magazine, Der Spiegel said in a statement. The magazine is one of Europe’s leading news publications.

The articles with false or manipulated material include several that were nominated for journalism prizes, or won them, including articles about Iraqi children kidnapped by the Islamic State, a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay, and Syrian orphans forced to work in a Turkish sweat shop.

“Claas Relotius committed his deception intentionally, methodically,” Der Spiegel said, inserting into his articles made-up dialogue, people he had never met and “composite characters of people who actually did exist but whose stories Relotius had fabricated.”


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The Relotius Scandal Reaches a Small Town in America

Claas Relotius, the DER SPIEGEL journalist outed this week for churning out fraudulent stories, wrote for the magazine about the U.S. town of Fergus Falls. Two locals fact-checked his reporting, and their verdict is devastating -- a perfect example of how DER SPIEGEL's editorial safeguards failed.

Dec. 21 2018

In March 2017, DER SPIEGEL published the story "In a Small Town." It was set in Fergus Falls, a town in Minnesota that was supposedly typical of the rural America that made Donald Trump president. The story was written by DER SPIEGEL editor Claas Relotius, who allegedly spent a month reporting in the town.

Two residents of Fergus Falls, Michele Anderson and Jake Krohn, read the story a week after it was published -- as they later described in an article they published online after the scandal broke.


DER SPIEGEL did not check the facts as carefully as dictated by its statutes. Editors and fact-checkers were too reliant on the supposed trustworthiness of the reporter. The magazine's internal fact-checking guidelines, according to which descriptions of places and landscapes only require limited verification, were applied too loosely.

But the initial review we have now conducted also shows that even if the whole story had been fact-checked according to the magazine's existing guidelines and all obvious mistakes and inaccuracies removed, large parts of the text could still have been fiction. DER SPIEGEL can only apologize to the residents of Fergus Falls. We are sorry.

Pending a full investigation, articles by Claas Relotius will remain available online, but marked with a notice, in part to encourage further research. Please send tips to hinweise@spiegel.de.

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