Claas Relotius, a reporter and editor, falsified his articles on a grand scale and even invented characters, deceiving both readers and his colleagues. This has been uncovered as a result of tips, internal research and, ultimately, a comprehensive confession by the editor himself.
How was the fraud discovered?
The first suspicions emerged following the publication in November 2018 of the article "Hunter's border" about an American vigilante group that patrols the border between Mexico and the United States.
Juan Moreno, who reported the story together with Relotius for DER SPIEGEL, grew distrustful of his colleague. Moreno also reported his concerns to DER SPIEGEL. He didn't relent, and he took advantage of a trip to the U.S. for reporting on another story to gather incriminating information about Relotius -- and also in order to take steps to protect himself, given that his byline had also appeared on the article.
After initially denying the allegations, Relotius finally confessed at the end of last week. It has emerged that he invented entire passages -- not only in the article "Hunter's border," but also in a number of other articles.
What did Relotius fabricate?
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.
Which articles are in question and how many were there?
Relotius first wrote for DER SPIEGEL as a freelancer, but he was employed as an editor for the past year and a half. Since 2011, just under 60 of his articles were published in DER SPIEGEL magazine or on SPIEGEL ONLINE. By his own admission, there are at least 14 articles in question that are at least in part fabrications. Is he to be believed? Could that figure actually be considerably higher? The only thing that can be stated with certainty right now is that the work in uncovering that has only just begun.
Among the articles in question are major features that have been nominated for or won journalism awards. For example:
"The last witness," about an American who allegedly travels to an execution as a witness. The "Lion Children," about two Iraqi children who have been kidnapped and re-educated by the Islamic State. And "Number 440," a story about alleged prisoners at Guantanamo.
Have other media organizations also been affected?
That cannot be ruled out at this point in time. Relotius also worked for other media organizations in Germany and abroad. During his time as a freelance journalist, his work got published by other media including Cicero, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung am Sonntag, the Financial Times Deutschland, Die Tageszeitung, Die Welt, Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, Weltwoche, Zeit Online and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.
What steps is DER SPIEGEL taking in response?
Until the allegations have been sufficiently clarified, articles available online that have been written by Relotius will be left unaltered in the archive, but with a notification about this development, until the matter has been sufficiently investigated -- in part to help facilitate transparent research into the issue. If you have any relevant tips or information, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The management of DER SPIEGEL will set up a commission of experienced internal and external persons to investigate the indications of falsification. DER SPIEGEL will also report publicly on their findings and recommendations for improving safety mechanisms.