One thing about the age of the internet is that while it makes it easier to spread lies, it also makes it easier to out the people who tell them. Claas Relotius, a journalist at arguably the most well-known German publication, Der Spiegel, has faced that reality head-on as he’s now lost his job for making up large portions of at least 14 stories he’s written during his employment.
In response to his outing and subsequent firing, Relotius claims he’s “sick and I need to get help.”
Journalists getting caught fabricating stories is nothing new, however.
The movie Shattered Glass is a docu-drama recounting the real-life story of former journalist Stephen Glass, whose lies at The New Republic caught up with him in the late 1990s.
But that was when the world wide web was relatively new and people like Glass thought they could get away with it. Relotius was writing in the 2010s.
Relotius didn’t fabricate small details, either. There was an interview with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick that never happened. A woman who, of all things, volunteered to witness the executions of convicts on death row? She doesn’t exist either.
Claas Relotius even had an entire town mad at him and crying foul as he wrote about their small enclave of Fergus Falls, Minn. Two residents took apart the journalist’s fabrications in the story that ranged from the odd to the bizarre.
“Andrew Bremseth would like to marry soon, he says, but he was never together with a woman. He has also never seen the ocean,” Relotius wrote about the town’s City Administrator.
Except, as fellow residents, Michele Anderson and Jake Krohn point out in their takedown, Bremseth has been in a yearslong, co-habitational relationship with a woman and they include a photo of him with said girlfriend standing on the beach of an ocean.
And the town of Fergus Falls, Minn.’s welcome sign does not say “Home of damn good folks,” as Relotius claimed.
How Relotius got away for years telling such lies is astounding in 2018, but it’s a good reminder that it indeed does still happen. The good news is, his fabrications have been exposed, he’s hopefully getting the help he says he needs, and journalists thinking of doing the same are forewarned.