An award-winning journalist that was named “CNN Journalist of the Year” in 2014 has been fired after being found committing journalist fraud “on a grand scale” over a number of years.
The journalist, who worked for one of Germany’s leading news outlets, Der Spiegel, has left the weekly magazine after admitting he was regularly faking sources, interviews, and entire stories.
The made up sources included fake supporters of President Donald Trump intended to make conservatives look foolish, the parents of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and more.
Spiegel published a lengthy report on its website after conducting an initial internal probe of the work of Claas Relotius, a 33-year-old staff writer known for his popular investigative stories. The magazine said Relotius resigned Monday after admitting some of his articles included made-up material from interviews that never happened.
Relotius contributed almost to 60 articles published in print or online since 20. The reporter previously worked for other international publications and won numerous awards, including “CNN Journalist of the Year” in 2014.
Spiegel said Relotius acknowledged fabricating parts of at least 14 stories, including a piece about an American woman who he said volunteered to witness the executions of death row inmates, such as one in Texas at the beginning of the year.
Relotius didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
The case, which is still being investigated, “marks a low point in the 70-year history of Der Spiegel,” the magazine said.
It said concerns about Relotius’ work first were raised in November by a fellow reporter who worked with him on a story about a border militia in Arizona and discovered that supposed interviews had never taken place.
Further fabrications by Relotius included a phone interview with the parents of Kaepernick, whose anti-American protest of kneeling during the national anthem caused international controversy, Spiegel said. Another was reporting that a sign on the edge of a Minnesota town read “Mexicans Keep Out,” Spiegel said.
“What happened is beyond what I could have ever imagined: An article titled ‘Where they pray for Trump on Sundays,’ and endless pages of an insulting, if not hilarious, excuse for journalism,” wrote investigators. According to Fox News, the article “doesn’t contain any truth except for the town’s population, the average temperature, and names of the businesses or public figures.”
“Nearly everything else, including a coal plant employee named Neil Becker, who doesn’t actually exist, or quotes from a restaurant employee, who was falsely called the owner of a restaurant and whose son was given a fictional illness, was made up,” Fox News reported.
Relotius has confessed to the fabrications and said they were an attempt to avoid failure.
“The management of Der Spiegel will appoint a committee of internal and external experts,” the publication said, adding that the results will be published.
Spiegel’s revelations echoed past instances of journalistic fraud by reporters elsewhere, including Jayson Blair of The New York Times, Christopher Newton of The Associated Press and Janet Cooke, whose 1980 piece about a child addicted to heroin won The Washington Post writer a Pulitzer Prize before it was exposed as untrue.
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The Associated Press contributed to this article