The wonderboy of German journalism tricked readers

FAKE NEWS: Claas Relotius tricked Der Spiegel's readers into fictional stories for years. Currently a self-examination and debate is underway in the German press.

Idea historian.
Published: 2020-02-03
Thousand lines of lies. The System Relotius and German Journalism
Author: Juan Moreno Rowolt
, Germany

The journalist who revealed the biggest press scandal in German post-war has now written a book: A thousand lines lie. Juan Moreno suspected the star reporter Claas Relotius when both were commissioned by news magazine Der Spiegel to cover immigration to Mexico from each side of the border. Relotius got in touch with the militia within days - something others had spent years accomplishing. Moreno finally proved that Relotius had popped up several people in Arizona he allegedly had talked to.

Grave Journalism

But the reveal did not come for free. Moreno's book Thousand lines of lies gives a lesson in dig journalism. He had to go to the United States for his own funds to check Relotius' sources, because the bosses in Der Spiegel countered him and defended Relotius. Moreno's criticism was perceived as an attempt to blackmail a colleague, to make a crap package. Moreno (b. 1972) was accused of being envious of the younger and successful Relotius (b. 1985), the wonderboy of German journalism. Despite his young age, he had already received 40 different journalist awards.

The standards for research, storytelling and verification were revised.

But Moreno didn't give up. He had his name on the reports they had made together. The scam could hit him in the long run. Moreno's struggle to cleanse himself and reveal the truth is a crime novel from reality. And the investigation yielded results: On December 19, 2018, Der Spiegel was able to reveal that Relotius had been fooling readers with fictional stories for several years.

Villains and heroes

Relotius had a unique ability to seem sympathetic. He was quiet, modest, and considerate. He read the expectations of those he spoke to and mirrored them: Relotius gave them what they longed to hear. His fictional reports aroused sentimental sentiment among the audience, and journalist prices hailed. All Relotius' articles are collected and posted on Der Spiegel's websites. There the magazine also tries to clean up what is the facts and fiction in Relotius' articles.

Relotius used a melodramatic storytelling technique with strong emotions, villains and heroes. He drew a picture in black and white where reality gained the traits of the adventure. In the book, Moreno highlights the article "The Last Witness" ...

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