Germany: Der Spiegel says star reporter made up parts of stories

Claas Relotius a reporter and editor admitted to fabricating parts of at least 14 stories following the magazine’s investigation. The publication said the issue “marks a low point in the 70-year history of Der Spiegel.”

The world-renowned German news magazine "Der Spiegel" fired award-winning reporter and editor Claas Relotius admitted to falsifying his articles on a grand scale. Notably, the list of his stories that were proven to be at least partially fake included several pieces that had won journalism awards, including stories about Iraqi children kidnapped by Islamic State and prisoners in Guantanamo.

Claas Relotius, who worked at Der Spiegel as a freelancer for 6 years until receiving a staff position in 2017, seemed to be a paragon of modern journalism.

The publication said the matter came to light when Relotius' colleague Juan Moreno grew suspicious of the authenticity of an article on an American vigilante group that they were working on. Since 2011, just under 60 of his articles were published in DER SPIEGEL magazine or on SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Relotius initially tried to protect himself by producing fraudulent proof but as the evidence against him mounted, he eventually admitted his deceit.

The Hamburg-based publication, which has apologised to its readers, said it was "shocked" by the revelations, describing them as "a low point in Spiegel's 70-year history".

In his confession to his employer, he said: "It wasn't because of the next big thing".

Relotius told Der Spiegel that he was regretful and ashamed.

German news magazine Spiegel arranged on a table in Berlin
German news magazine Spiegel arranged on a table in Berlin

Earlier this month, he secured the German "Reporter Preis" (Reporter of the Year) for his story about a young Syrian boy, which the jurors praised for its "lightness, poetry and relevance".

"My pressure to not be able to fail got ever bigger the more successful I became".

Over the years, Relotius worked for about a dozen German news outlets, including the well-known Die Welt, Die Zeit and Financial Times Germany.

According to Relotius' report, many US prisons are struggling to provide care for long-term inmates suffering from dementia.

The magazine said Relotius's senior editors confronted him after a fellow journalist at the magazine voiced suspicions.

"Claas Relotius acted with intent, methodically and with a high level of criminal energy", Der Spiegel said, adding that he had written about and cited people he had never met or spoken to. "[His] colleagues are astounded and sad ... the affair feels like a death in the family".

Anderson and Jake Krohn, who co-authored the Medium piece, are receiving worldwide praise for their rebuttal article exposing the fraudulent Der Spiegel story. Meanwhile, the magazine's management has set up a special investigative commission consisting of what it calls "experienced internal and external persons" to look through all of the journalist's pieces and prepare recommendations to improve "safety mechanisms".

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