Claas Relotius, a former writer for the German magazine Der Spiegel, won CNN's "Journalist of the Year" award in 2014. However, after an investigation found he had fabricated over a dozen reports, he was forced to relinquish his title, as well as some other accolades.
Relotius made up characters, created quotes, and changed the narratives of at least 14 stories to fit his agenda. One of those fabrications was a ridiculous report about the small town of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The town includes a hefty share of President Trump supporters so it's no surprise it was a prime target of the media. Relotius arrived in Fergus Falls in 2016 with an angle in mind. However, after spending some time with the citizens, he discovered there was no there there. These were normal people who just happened to appreciate Trump's message and his policies.
Instead of giving up on the story and returning to his office as one should, Relotius took matters into his own hands and let his imagination run wild.
“I tend to want to have control,” he said. “And I have this compulsion, this drive, to somehow make it happen. Of course, you don’t make it happen. You make a fabrication.”
Some of his more entertaining embellishments about Fergus Falls included how there was a sign next to the town's welcome sign that read, "Mexicans Keep Out.” No, that sign did not exist. He also described how most high school students at the John F. Kennedy high school chose Donald Trump as their "role models for the American Dream." That wasn't true either. He also wrote a profile on Neil Becker, a coal mine worker who does not exist.
The town saw right through him, according to writers Michele Anderson and Jake Krohn, who exposed Felotius's agenda in a report for Medium.
In 7,300 words he really only got our town’s population and average annual temperature correct, and a few other basic things, like the names of businesses and public figures, things that a child could figure out in a Google search. The rest is uninhibited fiction (even as sloppy as citing an incorrect figure of citywide 70.4% electoral support for Trump, when the actual number was 62.6%), which begs the question of why Der Spiegel even invested in Relotius’ three week trip to the U.S.,” wrote Fergus Falls resident Michele Anderson in the Medium article.
His effort to paint the town as backwards backfired, they proudly concluded.
Minnesota Public Radio contributor Bob Collins piggybacked off the Medium report by ripping apart more of Felotius's asinine assertions.
"No, the town is not obsessed with American Sniper (it played for one month in 2015, Anderson and Krohn said), the library is not a former kindergarten and there was never an iPad for beginners class, there are no armored doors at the town hall, there was no Super Bowl viewing party at the pizza shop. And on and on," he said.
Fergus Falls Mayor Ben Schierer also weighed in on the controversy to shake his head at Felotius.
"The narrative didn't fit what he had in his mind so I guess he decided to make it up," he said in an interview on Fox News.
Felotius's fall from grace actually began after a colleague exposed his fabrications in a story titled "Jaeger's Border." The lengthy piece focused a group in Arizona conducting patrols along the border with Mexico. However, Felotius's failed to interview the group's leaders.
As Anderson, Krohn, Collins and other proud Fergus Falls residents continue to debunk all of Felotius's falsehoods, they have a message for the disgraced journalist, "Don’t mess with Fergus Falls, freund."