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article imageSpiegel apologises in cover story on faked news scandal

By AFP     Dec 21, 2018 in World

German news weekly Der Spiegel publishes on Saturday a 23-page special report on how one of its award-winning reporters faked stories for years, dealing a blow to media credibility.

Claas Relotius, 33, resigned after admitting to making up stories and inventing protagonists in more than a dozen articles in the magazine's print and online editions.

The US ambassador to Germany on Friday called for an independent investigation in a letter to the weekly, pointing that many of the stories Relotius fabricated focussed on American life.

Since the scandal revealed by the magazine on Wednesday, other mainstream German outlets such as Die Welt and Die Zeit which once used Relotius as a freelancer, have also begun poring through articles that he wrote for them.

"Tell it like it is," wrote Spiegel on its latest magazine cover page, an allusion to the publication's motto by its founder Rudolf Augstein that also hangs at the entrance of its headquarters in Hamburg.

In its editorial, the magazine said the scam, involving subjects including Syrian orphans and a Holocaust survivor, is the "worst thing that can happen to an editorial team".

It also apologised for the mistake and promised to "do everything to boost our credibility again."

- US concern -

The US embassy in Berlin Friday expressed concern at the news.

"The recent revelations of completely fabricated stories and fraudulent details in 'Der Spiegel' over the last 7 years are troubling to the US Embassy, particularly because several of these fake stories focused on US policies and certain segments of the American people," it said.

Ambassador Richard Grenell had written to the weekly's management calling for "an independent and transparent investigation", the statement added.

Relotius had written for the magazine for seven years and won numerous awards for his investigative journalism, including CNN Journalist of the Year in 2014.

Richard Grenell  US ambassador to Germany  has called for an independent and transparent investigati...
Richard Grenell, US ambassador to Germany, has called for an independent and transparent investigation
Daniel Bockwoldt, dpa/AFP

The cheating came to light after a colleague who worked with him on a story along the US-Mexican border raised suspicions about some of the details in Relotius's reporting.

The colleague eventually tracked down two alleged sources quoted extensively by Relotius in the article, which was published in November. Both said they had never met Relotius.

Spiegel said it was "lucky that one of our employees managed to uncover this case."

But for others, the damage was already done, particularly at a time when disinformation campaigns are posing a constant challenge to the credibility of mainstream media.

"The losers are all the journalists in the country who carry out their research in difficult or dangerous circumstances, as well as members of the editorial teams, who check through texts for quality and accuracy," said Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an editorial.

It noted that politicians in the far-right party AfD had immediately seized on the case as "evidence of the dysfunctionality of the quality media".

The AfD, whose supporters often attack mainstream media as "lying press", has been gloating over the scandal.

One of its MPs, Goetz Froemming wrote on Twitter: "Ironically, the #Spiegel -- the self-claimed leading media outlet that likes to slag off Trump, AfD and Co., has been for years delivering the best #FakeNews via #Relotius."

Amid the damaging atmosphere, public broadcaster Deutsche Welle appealed to the people not to condemn all mainstream media because of the "dangerous, isolated case".

"Before him there have also been other fraudsters who have fuelled the accusation of a lying press. But THE lying press doesn't exist. Most of us are honestly, sincerely doing our work to give children like Alin and Ahmed from Aleppo a voice."

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