15 November 1985
Relotius was born in Hamburg, and grew up in Tötensen with his father, a water engineer, and his mother, a teacher. He studied political and cultural studies at the University of Bremen, graduating with a Bachelor's degree. In 2008 he was employed as an intern at Die Tageszeitung ("taz") in Hamburg, and from 2009 to 2011 completed a Master's degree at the Hamburg Media School. During 2013 he worked as a freelance journalist in Cuba, supported by a scholarship from the Heinz Kühn Foundation of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.
As a freelance reporter, Relotius wrote for a number of German-language publications, including Cicero, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Financial Times Deutschland, Die Tageszeitung, Die Welt, Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, Die Weltwoche, Die Zeit and Reportagen.
In 2017, he became a staff journalist for Der Spiegel, which published almost 60 articles by Relotius since 2011. For his detailed reporting, Relotius received several awards, including the Deutscher Reporterpreis on four occasions and as recent as 2018. The award given by Reporterpreis to Relotius in 2018 was for "Best Reportage", delivered in Berlin in early December, for a story of "unprecedented lightness, density and relevance, which never leaves open the sources on which it is based." He was the German language CNN "Journalist of the Year" in 2014 for a story written for the Swiss magazine Reportagen, and won the European Press Prize in 2017. Reporting for which he was nominated or won prizes include articles about Iraqi children kidnapped by the Islamic State, a Guantánamo Bay inmate, and Syrian orphans from Aleppo who ended up as child slaves in Turkey. In 2017, Der Spiegel sent Relotius to Fergus Falls, Minnesota, for three weeks to write an article about Donald Trump supporters "to give readers better insight into Americans". These articles were all found to be made up. Relotius had also faked interviews with the parents of NFL footballer Colin Kaepernick.
Fabrication of stories
On 19 December 2018, Der Spiegel made public that Relotius had admitted that he had "falsified his articles on a grand scale", inventing facts, persons and quotations in at least 14 of his stories in Der Spiegel, an event now being referred to as Spiegelgate. The magazine uncovered the fraud after a co-author of one of Relotius's articles about a pro-Trump vigilante group in Arizona conducting patrols along the Mexico–United States border, the Spanish-born Spiegel journalist Juan Moreno, became suspicious of the veracity of Relotius's contributions and gathered evidence against him. About a year earlier, two residents of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, Michele Anderson and Jake Krohn, suspected that Relotius' portrayal of their hometown was inaccurate. For example, Relotius lied about seeing a hand-painted welcome sign by the city limits that read: "Mexicans Keep Out". They investigated on their own when efforts to contact Der Spiegel on Twitter came to nothing. They published their findings in a blog post on Medium, detailing 11 of Relotius' most egregious falsehoods. As Anderson put it, "In 7,300 words he really only got our town's population and average annual temperature correct".
Relotius' superiors initially supported him after he said the allegations made against him were false. They even suspected that Moreno was slandering him. However, in the face of mounting evidence of Relotius' deceit, Özlem Gezer, the deputy head of the magazine's Gesellschaft (society) section and Relotius' immediate supervisor, confronted Relotius and told him she no longer believed him. The following day, Relotius confessed, and Der Spiegel forced his resignation, calling him "neither a reporter nor a journalist". Relotius told his former colleagues that he was sick and needed to get help. Der Spiegel left his articles accessible for the time being, with a notice referring to the magazine's ongoing investigation into the fraud. In the wake of the scandal, Relotius returned four awards he received from Deutscher Reporterpreis, and CNN revoked his 2014 Journalist of the Year award. The awarded article on an Alzheimer patient in a California prison was marked by the Reportagen magazine as under investigation. The issue of Der Spiegel published on 21 December covered the Relotius case over 23 pages with a plain orange cover.
Richard Grenell, the US ambassador to Germany, wrote to the magazine complaining about an anti-American institutional bias (Anti-Amerikanismus) and asked for an independent investigation. Grenell wrote that "These fake news stories largely focus on U.S. policies and certain segments of the American people." American journalist James Kirchick accused Der Spiegel of long peddling "crude and sensational anti-Americanism".
The scandal was seized upon by critics of the mainstream media in Western countries, and was described as a moment of crisis for German journalism. Leaders of the German party Alternative for Germany (AfD) wrote that it confirmed their view of the media as a "lying press" (Lügenpresse).
On 23 December 2018, Der Spiegel magazine announced that it was filing a criminal complaint against Relotius. Relotius has been accused of embezzling donations intended for Syrian orphans he claimed to have met in Turkey. Relotius appealed to readers for donations, which were then paid into his personal bank account.
Der Spiegel published the final investigation report in May 2019, concluding that "no indications were found that anyone at DER SPIEGEL was aware of the fabrication, helped cover them up or otherwise participated in them", while stressing the urgent need for internal reform.
- Confirmation bias – Tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or values
- Media bias – Summarized analysis of various types of media bias.
- Fake news – False or misleading information presented as news
- Journalistic scandal
- Johann Hari – British-Swiss journalist
- Jayson Blair – American journalist
- Stephen Glass – American former journalist and paralegal (born 1972)
- Connolly, Kate (21 December 2018). "Der Spiegel reporter who faked stories returns awards". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
- Tassilo Hummel (20 December 2018). "Spiegel journalist who made up facts loses awards from Reporter Forum, CNN". Reuters.
- "Souveräner Neuling – Musikblog". Die Zeit: Tonträger (in German). 9 February 2011. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
- "Der Spiegel Reveals Internal Fraud". Spiegel Online. 19 December 2018. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
- Juan Moreno, Tausend Zeilen Lüge (Berlin: Rowohlt, 2019), pp. 29-31, 128. ISBN 978-3-7371-0086-1
- Moreno, Tausend Zeilen Lüge, pp. 4-18, 132.
- Löwisch, Georg (20 December 2018). "Taz Checks Relotius Texts". Die Tageszeitung (in German). Retrieved 19 August 2021.
- Moreno, Tausend Zeilen Lüge, pp. 24-6, 128.
- "CNN Journalist Awards 2014". CNN. 28 March 2014. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
- Connolly, Kate (19 December 2018). "Der Spiegel says top journalist faked stories for years". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
- "The Relotius Case: Answers to the Most Important Questions". Spiegel Online. 19 December 2018. Retrieved 22 December 2018.
- Ian Stewart (19 December 2018). "Celebrated 33-Year-Old German Journalist Adds A Line To His Resume: Fraudster". NPR. Retrieved 20 December 2018.
Earlier this month, the 33-year-old Der Spiegel writer was celebrated as Germany's top reporter.
- "Reporter Award 2018 From Ronan Farrow to Spiegel – these are the winners". Der Spiegel (in German). 12 December 2018. Retrieved 20 December 2018.
Die Beste Reportage schrieb nach Ansicht der Jury Claas Relotius. 'Ein Kinderspiel' erschien Ende Juni im Spiegel und beschreibt die Urszene des Syrienkrieges.
- "German Reporter Award 2018: These are the winners". Meedia (in German). 4 December 2018. Retrieved 20 December 2018.
On Monday evening, the German reporter prize was awarded [...] The best reportage in 2018 was Claas Relotius (Spiegel).
- "Journalist Claas Relotius returns reporter prizes". Süddeutsche Zeitung (in German). 20 December 2018. Retrieved 20 December 2018.
At that time, the jury, filled with important journalists, praised the story as a text 'of unprecedented lightness, density and relevance, which never leaves open the sources on which it is based'.
- Pham, Sherisse. "Germany's Der Spiegel says star reporter Claas Relotius wrote fake stories 'on a grand scale'". CNN. Retrieved 2018-12-30.
- "Claas Relotius". European Press Prize. Archived from the original on 19 December 2018. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
- "Syrian Orphans Trapped in Turkey". DeGroene Amsterdammer. 25 April 2017.
- Alan Yuhas (19 December 2018). "Der Spiegel Fires Award-Winning Writer, Citing Fabrication on 'Grand Scale'". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 December 2018.
several that were nominated for journalism prizes, or won them, including articles about Iraqi children kidnapped by the Islamic State, a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay, and Syrian orphans forced to work in a Turkish sweat shop.
- Kelly Smith (20 December 2018). "German journalist admits to fabricating 2017 article on Fergus Falls". Star Tribune. Retrieved 20 December 2018.
Relotius traveled to Fergus Falls, a city of 13,000 residents in Otter Tail County, and spent three weeks there, hoping to interview voters in one of the rural Minnesota counties Trump won. Der Spiegel said it sent Relotius to write an article to give readers better insight into Americans.
- Antonia Noori, Farzan (21 December 2018). "A reporter's dispatch from Trump country featured a 'Mexicans Keep Out' sign. But he made it all up". The Washington Post. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
- "Award-winning journalist at Der Spiegel admits making up stories including interview with Colin Kaepernick's parents". The Independent. 20 December 2018.
- "A German journalist's fake stories about America are being weaponized by the far right". Quartz. 25 December 2018. Retrieved 26 December 2018.
- "The inside story of Germany's biggest scandal since the Hitler diaries". the Guardian. 2019-12-09. Retrieved 2020-08-26.
- Warren Henry (December 20, 2018). "CNN Journalism Award Winner Exposed As Massive Fraud". The Federalist. Retrieved December 24, 2018.
- How a Spanish journalist unmasked the ‘Der Spiegel’ forgery scandal, El País, Ana Carbajosa, 1 March 2019
- Yuhas, Alan (20 December 2018). "Der Spiegel Fires Award-Winning Writer, Citing Fabrication on 'Grand Scale'". The New York Times.
- Anderson, Michele (19 December 2018). "Der Spiegel journalist messed with the wrong small town". Retrieved 13 January 2019.
- "Der Spiegel reporter Claas Relotius sacked over 'invented' stories". BBC News. 19 December 2018. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
- "Der Mörder als Pfleger". Reportagen (in German). 2013-02-13. Retrieved 2019-01-02.
- "Der Spiegel to run 23-page special on reporter who faked stories". The Guardian. Agence France-Presse. 21 December 2018. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
- Connolly, Kate; Le Blond, Josie (23 December 2018). "Der Spiegel takes the blame for scandal of reporter who faked stories". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
- "US-Botschaft wirft "Spiegel" "eklatanten Anti-Amerikanismus" vor" (in German). Die Welt. December 22, 2018. Retrieved December 22, 2018.
- "Der Spiegel to press charges against reporter who made up article about Fergus Falls, Minnesota". Star Tribune. 24 December 2018. Archived from the original on 12 April 2019. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
- James Kirchick (3 January 2019). "Germany's Leading Magazine Published Falsehoods About American Life". The Atlantic. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
Though it is respected abroad as an authoritative news source, Der Spiegel has long peddled crude and sensational anti-Americanism, usually grounded in its brand of knee-jerk German pacifism
- Bennhold, Katrin (20 December 2018). "After German Journalism Scandal, Critics Are 'Popping the Corks'". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 December 2018.
- Elizabeth Schumacher (December 23, 2018). "Der Spiegel files suit against ex-star reporter Claas Relotius". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved December 25, 2018.
Germany's Der Spiegel magazine announced on Sunday that it was filing a criminal complaint against disgraced journalist Claas Relotius over suspicions he set up a phony donation campaign to help Syrian children he claimed to have met in 2016.
- "Der Spiegel 'fake news' reporter could face charges". BBC News. 23 December 2018.
- SPIEGEL, DER (24 May 2019). "What We've Learned from the Relotius Fabrications - DER SPIEGEL - International". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 2020-08-26.
- "Der Fall Relotius. Abschlussbericht der Aufklärungskommission" (PDF). Der Spiegel. 25 May 2019.