There’s a bit of excitement about Claas Relotius, a reporter for Der Spiegel who has the bad habit of making everything up. In one case, he wrote a ” tendentious, malicious portrait” of a small town in Minnesota ( Fergus Falls), one chock-full of falsehoods. A couple of the locals went to some effort to show that he lied: not sure whether that contributed to his downfall or not.

Of course this is not the same as repeating or contributing to those lies that everyone is supposed to embrace. That’s normal: you can get a Pulitzer for those..  Relotius, on the other hand, was sick: just ask him.

I am reminded of the time that Bella Stumbo, a reporter for the Los Angeles times, wrote an article about the small Midwestern town I grew up in.  My favorite bit was about the once-a-year trek of the farm families into town to buy supplies.






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52 Responses to Narratives

  1. teageegeepea says:

    Where in the midwest did you grow up?

  2. Frau Katze says:

    I’ve heard all about him. But I don’t foresee any longer term effects on the MSM.

    This has happened before, at NYT and, I think, the New Republic. The guys were fired, there was a few articles on it, then it was down the memory hole.

    No MSM outlet has any motivation to keep the issue alive. They are all worrying they’ll be next. Best to just move on.

    • albatross says:

      To be fair, the whole newspaper business is circling the drain. They used to be able to make enough money on ads to support papers in every little town in the US, along with the big players that could have foreign bureaus and such. But the internet basically destroyed their business model–online ads are way better than classified ads, Google and Facebook are much better ad platforms than paper newspapers, and the average age of people reading paper newspapers every day suggests not much future for that part of the business.

      So they’re in a dying industry. Budgets and headcounts keep getting cut, and more and more writing is done by unpaid interns whose parents are supporting them while they try to break into this industry. (That’s a pretty dumb investment, since the industry is dying.) Unless someone figures out some way to make reporting the news pay, the endpoint is probably that news is reported by government news organizations (BBC), private-subscription-supported organizations (NPR), or organizations propped up by big donors as a prestige project or to buy influence (Washington Post).

      • Frau Katze says:

        I think that NYT is also surviving. It might be a target for some rich tech guy to buy, given its high reputation.

        Mind you, I dumped after they hired Sarah Jeong, Not missing it at all.

  3. In 1974, Bella Stumbo described Sullivan, Illinois as “too bland, too utterly wholesome to offer any intrigue whatsoever, merely an enlarged spot in an endlessly flat road, surrounded on all sides by lush cornfields.”

    • dearieme says:

      ““too bland, too utterly wholesome to offer any intrigue whatsoever”: somebody hadn’t read Agatha Christie.

    • Weltanschauung says:

      That same endlessly flat road extends to Minnesota, but winter makes it sinister:

      Der Bus nach Fergus Falls fährt von Minneapolis nach Norden, vorbei an zugefrorenen Seen, vereisten Strommasten und Ackerland, flach bis an den Horizont.
      [The bus to Fergus Falls goes north from Minneapolis past frozen lakes, ice-covered power poles and cropland flat all the way to the horizon.]

      Note that flatness and straightness are design goals for the Interstate Highway System. But at the turnoff, a surprise:

      Nach dreieinhalb Stunden biegt der Bus vom Highway ab auf eine schmale, abfallende Straße, rollt zu auf einen dunklen Wald, der aussieht, als würden darin Drachen hausen. Am Ortseingang, kurz vor dem Bahnhof, steht ein Schild mit dem amerikanischen Sternenbanner, darauf steht: “Welcome to Fergus Falls – Home of damn good folks”.
      [After three and a half hours the bus turns off the Interstate onto an off ramp and approaches a dark forest that looks as if dragons might be lurking inside. At the entrance to the town, just before the station, stands a sign with the Stars and Stripes and the words “Welcome to Fergus Falls – Home of damn good folks”. ]

      Der Spiegel, to its credit, has kept the original article online, with a disclaimer in bold type added at the top:

  4. Relotius’ problem is that he included too many gross lies in his story instead of sticking to the usual journalistic technique of just ignoring anything that doesn’t fit the narrative. It’s amusing to read the ongoing invention for fairy tales at Der Spiegel in the interest of damage control. For example, according to the following article that just appeared on their website, the editors are “shocked, shocked,” that such fake news could have slipped through their “layers of editors and fact checkers:”

    The first paragraph reads as follows:

    “Any text that appears in the weekly SPIEGEL, whether printed or digital, is read by many colleagues before its publication: by at least one department head and one editor-in-chief, by staff in editing and the legal department. But the heart of quality control is the in-house documentation. The more than 60 colleagues – physicists, historians, biologists or Islamic scholars – ensure that names, dates and facts are correct, they verify every word and every number. Hardly any other news medium makes such an effort to live up to the claim: What we write is true. In the days of Fake News, documentation is something we take very seriously.”

    Now look through the list of gross lies documented in the new famous Medium article:

    View at

    As I’ve noted elsewhere, therein you will find set forth like ducks in a row virtually all of the crude, quasi-racist stereotypes of Americans the German media are so fond of cultivating. Americans as xenophobic racists? Check! Americans as prudes? Check! Americans as religious nuts? Check! Americans ignorant of the outside world? Check! Americans as militaristic? Check! Americans as thoughtless polluters of the environment? Check! and the list goes on. In short, Relotius’ “reporting” fits the narrative so well that one would have to be an imbecile not to see through it immediately – that or a denizen of the “layers of editors and fact checkers” at Der Spiegel.

    • Lutefisk says:

      If they employ Islamic scholars as fact checkers they have some huge issues with what “fact checking” means.

    • Jason says:

      “the usual journalistic technique of just ignoring anything that doesn’t fit the narrative”
      Yes, enforcing the narrative is exactly what those “layers of editors and fact checkers” are for. WaPo and the NYT are particularly bad in this area.

    • ASR says:

      “…the usual journalistic technique of just ignoring anything that doesn’t fit the narrative…” My experiences certainly confirm this.

      Back in the day, when I was doing research on homicide patterns, a reporter from the NYT contacted me for some background on the subject. We talked on the phone for about thirty minutes or so. The reporter spent the entire time attempting to have me agree, on the record, with assertions he made about homicides in the United States, which I thought were either completely false or egregious misrepresentations of reality. At some point, the reporter clearly grew frustrated with me and the conversation terminated.

      The academic colleague who had steered this reporter in my direction later learned of our conversation. He mildly berated me for losing a golden opportunity to achieve fame and fortune. If I’d only gone along with the program, other reporters would soon have come calling, radio and TV spots would have followed along with invited oped pieces, and soon I would have become a nationally recognized expert on crime, and a regular talking head in various venues.

      A grad school friend was an internationally recognized expert on migration and immigration. He regularly appeared on NPR and other venues to discuss issues involving the areas of his expertise. Then I noticed that he’d disappeared from the airwaves, magazines and newspapers. I asked him why and learned that his mortal sin had been to suggest that there might be disadvantages to unlimited immigration into the USA, e.g., lowered average wages and higher unemployment for unskilled workers. The p[eople whop had been interviewing him and inviting him to appaer on their programs and in their print media did not want to hear this and most certainly did not want their listeners, viewers and readers to consider these possibilities.

    • Karl says:

      Relotius’ problem is merely that he needs a new pseudonym. Then he’ll be able to keep writing as before. There is still a market for his stories

  5. egregious philbin says:

    July 30, 1974 LA Times, Bella Stumbo. Your town had that great “Little Theater” though! 🙂
    I’m from a bit north of there. In the military I had a friend from near there – our ritual greeting was I’d name a random small town from there & he’d say some other random small town name near there. good times! America once was mainly towns like that. As America changes, some of those small towns still remain like that. the variability between those small towns & the “new” America increases.

    • gcochran9 says:

      “that great “Little Theater” – guess why that existed.

      It led to weirdness like my brother;s third-grade teacher (whom he had a crush on) dating Forrest Tucker.

      • egregious philbin says:

        guessing the theater existed b/c the late Mr. Little wanted to bring high quality theater to east central IL (& maybe wanted to bring high quality “SWISH-er sweets” thru town?) just a hunch based on years of theater:) kudos to him for all his work, tho! his generation’s “don’t ask don’t tell” era was better for society than the current “pride parades/so brave” policy. of course, i guess quarantining’s off the table:)

  6. akarlin says:

    It’s also telling which of his fake news the Fake News (capitalized) did not deign to highlight.

  7. sam57l0 says:

    Can you say “Typical Standard Bad Journalism”, boys and girls? Yes I KNEW you could.

  8. Gringo says:

    David’s Medienkritik, dedicated to exposing anti-American bias in German media, has been inactive for years, but recently published on the Relotius firing.SPIEGEL Reporter Fired for Inventing Stories – Some with Anti-American Tilt.

    Well – that paragon of high journalism and integrity – Der Spiegel – beacon of honest, objective, and above-all “expert” reporting on the United States apparently has a problem. One of its reporters has been fired for inventing facts – and actually getting caught doing so….
    Mr. Relotius is perhaps just the most overt of Spiegel liars, caught and sacked for being too brazen in his journalistic malpractice. But make no mistake: The lies of omission, spin and bias that have tainted Der Spiegel and Spiegel Online for decades continue unabated on an industrial scale. Some things never change…

    “Inaccurate” German reporting on the US is old news. From 2007, David’s Medienkritik had a brilliant take-down of another German journalist’s ignorant, inaccurate, deceitful characterization of the Amis. Markus Günther: Hypocritical Americans Suppressing Memories of Slavery-Other Injustices.

    German journalist Markus Guenther believes that the United States and its people are hypocrites. Why? Because – according to yet another supreme German media “expert” – the people of the United States conspicuously suppress their own injustices while busily memorializing distant tragedies. In an article entitled “Commemorating and Suppressing,” (that appeared on the Passauer Neue Presse and Maerkische Allgemeine websites as well as in the “Politics” section of the Donauwörther Zeitung,) Guenther argues that, while Americans busily erect monuments to the victims of Communism and virtually everything else, they allegedly refuse to acknowledge the darkest chapters of their own history. He specifically brings up the legacies of slavery and the fate of the Native Americans. As “proof” that Americans are hypocrites, he claims that there is no museum documenting the plight of the Native Americans and no statue dedicated to the victims of slavery in Washington.

    The article goes on to refute the ignorant,lying German journalist.

  9. The takedown on Medium was excellent, right up until the end, when the politically liberal authors revert to mostly believing the stereotypes about Trump supporters and making sure that the takeaway was “We’re not all like that here.” They actually did a little better than that, but it’s in there, and I am old and grouchy.

  10. cthulhu says:

    There’s been a couple of books written about the small south-mid-central-west town I grew up in; one captured well the smarmy hypocrisy of the sanctimonious bible thumpers who dominated the social landscape; the other one praised them as the unsung backbone of America. But neither author just made shit up.

    • gcochran9 says:

      What’s the big beef with hypocrisy anyhow. Does everyone prefer open, unashamed evil?

      • Yudi says:

        As our leftist friends might say, it’s not hypocrisy (a common human failing) that’s the problem, it’s hypocrisy + power. I live in an area where progressives have cultural hegemony, and being expected to smile and nod about their love of diversity even as they vent prejudices about rural whites is galling.

        When a sufficient number of members are hypocritical about their group’s high ideals, it’s a tacit admission that those ideals are unobtainable or probably not desirable. Instead, they continue to push them in order to get accolades for their virtue; in other words, to gain further power.

        Simple hypocrisy, or not being able to see how some of one’s actions belie one’s ideals (this is hard to do well) is not such a big problem.

      • Thiago Ribeiro says:

        Most people prefer goodness. Evil does not become good just because its authors can hide.

  11. Coagulopath says:

    We all knew a kid at school whose dad works at Nintendo, who knows a secret ninja move called “the touch of death”, and who’s dating Miss Teen USA (you’ve never seen her because she goes to another school!) Sometimes that kid becomes a journalism major.

    Once, you could blatantly make stuff up (“restaurants in Taiwan serve human fetuses!”) and nobody would ever catch you. I mean, who fucking knows what happens in Taiwan, right? The internet has made it easy to fact check stuff. But now that I think about it, the human fetus thing spread over the internet too…

    • gcochran9 says:

      If restaurants in Taiwan start serving human fetuses ( stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled) we will know who to blame. Offtimes, the only thing holding back evil is that the potential perps are too unimaginative to conceive of the crime.

  12. I must admit that I have personally witnessed something that tends to support what Relotius wrote. True, it was mere anecdotal evidence, but, as I was driving out West, I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Montana is full. Go home!”

  13. Janet says:

    Did anybody notice the irony that, when the German reporter wanted to find the worst-of-the-worst racists in America, he went to… the part of the US with the highest proportion of German ethnics? Because about half of the population there is of German descent (and most of the rest are Swedes or Danes).

    Those Germans. They screw up EVERYTHING.

  14. E. Olson says:

    Why is it always Leftist reporters who make up stories? Is it because 90+% of reporters are Leftists, or is it because the Leftist narrative is so far removed from the reality of human nature, science, and economics that they have to make up stories in order to have something positive (from their point of view) to report?

    • Zeinish says:

      Yeah, I too remember when the leftists pushed stories about Iraqi WMD. Damn the leftists, all of them.

      • Gringo says:

        Democrat Quotes on Iraq Weapons of Mass Destruction

        Saddam Hussein has spent the better part of this decade and much of his nation’s wealth not on providing for the Iraqi people but on developing nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them.”
        — President Bill Clinton (State of the Union Address), Jan. 27, 1998

        “One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That is our bottom line.”
        –President Bill Clinton, Feb. 4, 1998

        “If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program.”
        –President Bill Clinton, Feb. 17, 1998

        “No one has done what Saddam Hussein has done, or is thinking of doing. He is producing weapons of mass destruction, and he is qualitatively and quantitatively different from other dictators.””Iraq is a long way from [here], but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face.”
        –Madeline Albright, Feb 18, 1998

        “He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times since 1983.”
        –Sandy Berger, Clinton National Security Adviser, Feb, 18, 1998

        “[W]e urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.”
        Letter to President Clinton, signed by:
        — Democratic Senators Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, John Kerry, and others, Oct. 9, 1998

        “Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.”
        -Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), Dec. 16, 1998

        “Hussein has … chosen to spend his money on building weapons of mass destruction and palaces for his cronies.”
        — Madeline Albright, Clinton Secretary of State, Nov. 10, 1999

        “There is no doubt that … Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status. In addition, Saddam continues to redefine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies.”
        Letter to President Bush, Signed by:
        — Sen. Bob Graham (D, FL), and others, Dec 5, 2001

        “I mean, we have three different countries that, while they all present serious problems for the United States — they’re dictatorships, they’re involved in the development and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction — you know, the most imminent, clear and present threat to our country is not the same from those three countries. I think Iraq is the most serious and imminent threat to our country.”
        — Sen. John Edwards (D, NC) Feb. 24, 2002

        “We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandate of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and th! e means of delivering them.”
        — Sen. Carl Levin (D, MI), Sept. 19, 2002

        “Iraq’s search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power. We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country.” ”
        — Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002

        “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein’s regime is a serious danger, that he is a tyrant, and that his pursuit of lethal weapons of mass destruction cannot be tolerated. He must be disarmed. We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction.”
        — Sen. Edward Kennedy (D, MA) Sep. 27, 2002

        “Now let me be clear — I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.”
        — State Senator Barack Obama (Democrat, Illinois) Oct. 2, 2002

        “The last UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in October of 1998. We are confident that Saddam Hussein retains some stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and that he has since embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical and biological warfare capabilities. Intelligence reports indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons…”
        — Sen. Robert Byrd (D, WV), Oct. 3, 2002

        “My position is very clear: The time has come for decisive action to eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.”
        — Senator John Edwards (D, NC), Oct. 7, 2002

        “We stopped the fighting [in 1991] on an agreement that Iraq would take steps to assure the world that it would not engage in further aggression and that it would destroy its weapons of mass destruction. It has refused to take those steps. That refusal constitutes a breach of the armistice which renders it void and justifies resumption of the armed conflict.”
        — Sen. Harry Reid (D. NV) Oct. 9, 2002

        “I will be voting to give the President of the United States the authority to use force — if necessary — to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security.”
        — Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Oct. 9, 2002

        “There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years … We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction.”
        — Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D, WV), Oct 10, 2002

        “He has systematically violated, over the course of the past 11 years, every significant UN resolution that has demanded that he disarm and destroy his chemical and biological weapons, and any nuclear capacity. This he has refused to do”
        — Rep. Henry Waxman (D, CA), Oct. 10, 2002

        “I come to this debate, Mr. Speaker, as one at the end of 10 years in office on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was one of my top priorities. I applaud the President on focusing on this issue and on taking the lead to disarm Saddam Hussein. … Others have talked about this threat that is posed by Saddam Hussein. Yes, he has chemical weapons, he has biological weapons, he is trying to get nuclear weapons.”
        — Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D. CA) Oct. 10, 2002

        “In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members … It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.”
        — Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002

        “We are in possession of what I think to be compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein has, and has had for a number of years, a developing capacity for the production and storage of weapons of mass destruction.”
        — Sen. Bob Graham (D, FL), Dec. 8, 2002

        “Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime … He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation … And now he is miscalculating America’s response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction … So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real…”
        — Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Jan. 23. 2003

        “People can quarrel with whether we should have more troops in Afghanistan or internationalize Iraq or whatever, but it is incontestable that on the day I left office, there were unaccounted for stocks of biological and chemical weapons.”
        — Ex President Bill Clinton, Jul. 22, 2003 (Interview with CNN Larry King)

        I asked very direct questions of the top people in the CIA and people who’d served in the Clinton administration. And they said they believed that Saddam Hussein either had weapons or had the components of weapons or the ability to quickly make weapons of mass destruction. What we’re worried about is an A-bomb in a Ryder truck in New York, in Washington and St. Louis. It cannot happen. We have to prevent it from happening.
        — Rep. Richard Gephardt (D, MT) Nov. 2, 2003

        • albatross says:

          The wonderful thing about being in the elite is that you can be 100% wrong, make disastrous decisions, leave a trail of destruction behind you, and you still only fail upward.

          • Jim says:

            Assuming that the above quotes represented the actual beliefs of the individuals quoted at the time they made the statements it is an astonishing record of stupidity.

  15. The Z Blog says:

    Merry Christmas Greg!

  16. Yudi says:

    This scandal reminds me of a nice essay by John Derbyshire, “Journalists are Scum”:

  17. tfoydel says:

    interestingly, the CNN site has not a single mention of this guy when you search his name. They once named him Journalist of the Year.

  18. MEH 0910 says:

  19. Ilya says:

    Happy New Year!

    Off-topic: am curious about your thoughts on this, by N Taleb:

    View at

    • Frau Katze says:

      Steve Sailer had an article on it at Takimag. He would have a blog post too.

      • Ilya says:

        Thanks. I liked Steve’s take. Thought our dear leader/host might get his dollar in as well.

        Taleb has a few wrong ideas: being anti-GMO, claiming nationality/nationalism are vacuous ideas (they’re not, but he’s being a typical Levantine about it, failing to see the need for intermediate layer between clan/tribe and humanity), and now this (IQ) and lack of race clustering.

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