Claas Relotius, a journalist for the German publication Der Spiegel, has been busted for making up stories for years. In the tradition of NY Times reporter Jayson Blair and New Republic journalist Stephen Glass, Relotious’ career was apparently based on story after story that turned out to be partially or completely fictional in nature. It is only icing on the cake that this is a guy that CNN named the “Journalist of the Year” in 2014. Because of course they did.
“Claas Relotius, a reporter and editor, falsified his articles on a grand scale and even invented characters, deceiving both readers and his colleagues,” Der Spiegel reported. “This has been uncovered as a result of tips, internal research and, ultimately, a comprehensive confession by the editor himself.”
The outlet said that they became suspicious of Relotius’ work after he filed a November story about an “American vigilante group that patrols the border between Mexico and the United States.” An author that helped Relotius on the story observed his behavior and detected something amiss. He eventually relayed his suspicions to the publication’s editors, and they confronted him about some of the problems found in the story.
“Claas Relotius committed his deception intentionally, methodically and with criminal intent,” Der Spiegel continued. “For example, he included individuals in his stories who he had never met or spoken to, telling their stories or quoting them. Instead, he would reveal, he based the depictions on other media or video recordings. By doing so, he created composite characters of people who actually did exist but whose stories Relotius had fabricated. He also made up dialogue and quotes.”
According to Der Spiegel, their star reporter admitted to fabricating parts of at least 14 stories over the years. This included a piece about an American woman who supposedly volunteered to watch death row inmates be executed, a fictious interview with the parents of Colin Kaepernick, and a story about a Minnesota town where a sign was erected saying: “Mexicans Keep Out.”
“I’m so angry, horrified, shocked, stunned,” tweeted Der Spiegel’s deputy foreign editor Mathieu von Rohr. “Claas Relotius faked, he cheated all of us.”
In their feature website story about the fakery, CNN said only this about the award they gave Relotius only a few short years ago: “Relotius was not associated with CNN, he never worked for the company and never had anything published on CNN platforms.”
Maybe it’s not fair to blame CNN for not knowing the unknowable: We don’t exactly expect them to vet every story they “award” to make sure the reporter isn’t just making stuff up in his basement. On the other hand, it’s just one more log for the fake news fire – a fire that CNN has kept burning more brightly than just about any other mainstream media company in the United States. They may not entirely deserve the headlines they’re getting over the Relotius story, but we can’t exactly summon much sympathy.