1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Spiegel admits star reporter falsified stories

December 20, 2018

Claas Relotius, the winner of the German Reporter Award 2018, admitted to cheating and resigned. Der Spiegel said the incident marked a "low point in the 70-year history" of the magazine.

Spiegel-Reporter Claas Relotius
Image: picture alliance/Eventpress

Germany’s weekly news magazine Der Spiegel revealed on Wednesday that one of its star reporters had for years falsified stories "on a grand scale."

Less than three weeks ago, Claas Relotius, a 33-year-old staff writer at Der Spiegel, won the German Reporter Award 2018 in the category "best reportage" for a story about a young Syrian boy.

After the fraud came to light, following an in-depth internal investigation, the journalist admitted to cheating and resigned last week.

According to Der Spiegel, Relotius' actions came to light when he collaborated on a story at the US-Mexican border with another journalist — Juan Moreno — who both recognized and called out his deception.

Read more: Germany's 'Bild' falls for hoax, unleashes debate on fake news

According to Relotius, "it was not about the next big thing, it was the fear of failure" that made him invent quotes and manipulate the contents of his articles. He claimed the pressure only grew as he won more accolades.

The fact that Relotius' "fraudulent quotes, made-up personal details" and "invented scenes at fictitious places" remained undetected for years, makes one ask "questions of the internal organization that must be addressed immediately," wrote Spiegel Online.

It said the incident marked a "low point in the 70-year history" of the magazine.

Relotius gives up some awards, stripped of others

Other media may also be affected, since the journalist worked as a freelancer for a string of well-known outlets, including several high-profile German publications and also outlets abroad.

Several of Relotius' articles were about the United States, including alleged abuse in a Florida reform school, an execution in Texas, a border militia in Arizona and a small town in Minnesota. In 2014, he won a CNN Journalist of the Year award for an article about US prisons. It is not clear whether the item in question was genuine.

The Reporter Forum in Hamburg said Thursday that Claas Relotius was giving back his four German Reporter Awards (GRA). The journalist contacted the GRA-jury by sending a text message, before the group took action themselves. The jury had been deliberating on consequences since Wednesday.

The reporter was also being stripped of two awards he received in 2014 from CNN International. The independent panel of judges who awarded Claas Relotius the CNN Journalist of the Year and Print Journalist of the Year awards four years ago decided unanimously to remove them following revelations about his fraud.

Der Spiegel is a German weekly news magazine published in Hamburg with a circulation of roughly 840,000 copies. It is among the country's leading political publications.

ev/msh (Reuters, AP)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.