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December 21 2018

The Fake News From Fergus Falls: An Award-Winning Reporter Fabricates a Picture of American Life

by Charlotte Hays

Quote of the Day:

Suddenly we do matter, but only because everyone wants to be the hero pundit that cracks the code of the current rural psyche.

--Michelle Anderson, resident of Fergus Falls,  Minnesota

An award winning journalist for the German news magazine Der Spiegel has just resigned after admitting to being the purveyor of genuine fake news.

Former Der Spiegel star reporter Claas Relotius copped to having "made up stories and invented protagonists” in at least 14 articles. He had written about 60 articles for the German news outlet. Relotius won a CNN journalist of the year award in 2014.

Hot Air has a terrific report on the Relotius affair.

Among Relotius' reports was one on Fergus Falls, Minnesota. I don't read German but from what I can gather from snippets in translation, Relotius' take on Fergus Falls was not dissimilar to that of many American reporters were writing about similar towns in the wake of the shocker elevation of Donald Trump to the presidency by voters who live in such places.

No, I'm not accusing American reporters of fabricating. I've worked as a reporter and anybody who's ever been on the news side of a small town newspaper knows that accidental mistakes don't pass of eagle-eyed local readers, who will call your editor if you have a minor lapse.

I'm just saying that Relotius' condescending view of small-town Americans fits well with the smilar views of our mainstream media.  

In "Der Spiegel Journalist Messed with the Wrong Small Town," Fergus Falls resident Michelle Anderson compared the Fergus Falls she knows to the one Der Spiegel version.

I am going to quote Ms. Anderson at some length because--well, because it's hilarious. I am quoting a format Hot Air used, with Relotius in bold, followed by Anderson refutation:   

“Andrew Bremseth would like to marry soon, he says, but he was never together with a woman. He has also never seen the ocean.”

Relotius chose to put the spotlight on Fergus Falls city administrator, Andrew Bremseth, as the main character in his article. We have spoken to Bremseth at length regarding the parts of the story that feature him, and Relotius got three facts right:

Bremseth’s age (27)
That he grew up in Fergus Falls
That he went to university in South Dakota
Everything else, from the claim that Bremseth carries a Beretta 9mm on his person while at work (“I would never ever wear a gun to work, and I don’t even own a Beretta.”), his disdain for a potential female president, his comment that Trump would “kick ass” (“Never said that”), and even his college-era preference for 18th century French philosophers (“Never read them”) and the New England Patriots (“I’m not a fan of them at all”), is complete fiction. Says Bremseth, “Anyone who knows anything about me, this [portrayal] is the furthest from what I stand for.”

Perhaps the oddest fiction in a list of many is Relotius’ depiction of Bremseth as someone who “would like to marry soon…but he has not yet been in a serious relationship with a woman. He has also never been to the ocean.”

We can attest that Bremseth has indeed been to the ocean, by his account, “many times” and is currently happily involved in a multi-year, cohabitational relationship with a woman named Amber. In fact, here’s a picture of the two of them in front of, all things, an ocean.

Even before she read the fabricated story, Anderson was onto Relotius--she knew he was coming to write condescendingly about Fergus Falls. Anderson writes:

I know I’m not the only rural advocate and citizen that is wary about the anthropological gaze on rural America in the wake of the 2016 elections, and has struggled with how or whether to respond to the sudden attention and questions, when before we really didn’t matter to mass media at all.

Suddenly we do matter, but only because everyone wants to be the hero pundit that cracks the code of the current rural psyche. There are only two things those writers seem to have concluded or are able to pitch to their editors — we are either backwards, living in the past and have our heads up our asses, or we’re like dumb, endearing animals that just need a little attention in order to keep us from eating the rest of the world alive.

Relotius got caught making things up.

Many American reporters who visited towns like Fergus Falls in the wake of 2016 merely had their vision clouded by their own smugness.

And Relotius knew what his editors wanted, what they already "knew" about small-town America.

He gave it to them. He only got caught while covering a different story with another journalist who realized he was faking.

Anyone who doesn't condescent to ordinary Americans might have picked up on the fabrications in the Fergus Falls story.

A gun-toting incel city official who'd never seen the ocean--didn't ring any alarm bells?





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