Claas Relotius, who wrote for the German magazine Der Spiegel, was an impressive investigative reporter who had earned himself a spot on Forbes's "30 Under 30" list for European media and won CNN's "Journalist of the Year" award in 2014. He had composed over 60 articles for Der Spiegel and was largely lauded for his work. However, after an internal investigation, the magazine was shocked to discover the star reporter had fabricated at least 14 of his reports.
The scandal “marks a low point in the 70-year history of Der Spiegel,” according to the publication.
The piece that proved to be his "undoing" and exposed seven years of "large scale journalistic fraud" was his report on "Jaeger's Border," which focused on a group in Arizona conducting patrols along the border to Mexico. In his reporting Relotius had failed to reach out to some of the most prominent people in the story. No matter. He made up his own characters and quotes.
Claas Relotius committed his deception intentionally, methodically and with criminal intent. 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.
Another of his fabricated stories was his report on the town of Fergus Falls, Minnesota entitled, "Where they pray for Trump on Sundays." In his attempt to apparently make the town's citizens seem racist and sexist, Relotius even made up people that didn't actually exist.
What Relotius produced were "endless pages of an insulting, if not hilarious, excuse for journalism,” according to investigators.
A Minnesota Public Radio writer ripped apart Relotius's report point by point.
Here are just a few of the other reports Relotius published that are being investigated for suspicious content.
Several major features Relotius wrote for Der Spiegel that were also nominated for or won journalism awards are now under scrutiny, according to the magazine.
Among them, "The Last Witness," about an American who allegedly travels to an execution as a witness, "Lion Children," about two Iraqi children who have been kidnapped and reeducated by the Islamic State, and "Number 440," a feature about alleged prisoners at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Relotius's troubles with the truth got him fired from Der Spiegel, forced him to relinquish his CNN title, and seek mental help.
“I am sick and I need to get help,” Relotius reportedly told the magazine.
"It has now become clear that Claas Relotius, 33 years old, one of DER SPIEGEL's best writers, winner of multiple awards and a journalistic idol of his generation, is neither a reporter nor a journalist," Spiegel online said of the matter. "Rather, he produces beautifully narrated fiction."
Other journalists faced similar reckonings once their outlets found out they had been waging misinformation campaigns. Stephen Glass was fired from The New Republic magazine after they learned he had made up dozens of stories. Jayson Blair faced the same fate at the New York Times when editors learned he had plagiarized much of his material.