Why do mirrors lie

The "Spiegel" reveals lies from its own reporter

The experienced reporter Juan Moreno doubted the truth of the story part of his younger colleague - and began to dig against internal resistance. The result: Relotius used his imagination for most of its almost 60 "Spiegel" posts. The graduate of the Hamburg Media School admitted the inventions in talks last week and quit on Monday, it said.

The case comes at a time when the “Spiegel” is in a state of upheaval. The previous "Manager-Magazin" boss, Klusmann, will head the editorial team from January, bringing together print and online editorial staff. That has caused considerable unrest in the past few weeks anyway. The previous print editors fear for privileges, the online troops for their autonomy from the parent company with its legendary cockfights.

"Certainly the case distracts from the organizational tasks with which we have enough to do," said Klusmann on Wednesday. Nevertheless, he is sticking to his plan to work in the new structures as early as January. After all, the scandal contained the chance that the “Spiegel” journalists would again discuss their self-image more than organizational issues.

Due to the dispute over the internal organization, attempts by several editors-in-chief to merge the editorial offices had already failed. Most recently, Klaus Brinkbäumer had to go to the top after three and a half years. For the 52-year-old Klusmann, however, the case has implications beyond the publisher.

Commission should regain confidence

He warned that the fraud case was "a great deal of damage to journalism". An internal three-person commission to investigate the Relotius case is to create new trust. Klusmann did not rule out that further employees from the editorial department or documentation who check the facts would have to leave in the course of the processing. So far, however, editor-in-chief and managing director Thomas Hass have presented the forgeries as the work of an “ingenious individual forger”.

Relotius had abused the trust that the "mirror" had placed in him. In the conversation he said that he thought he was sick and that he lacked internal control, it was said. The "Spiegel" managers want to minimize the damage to the credibility of their magazine through tough transparency. On Wednesday they published a comprehensive account of the case and its clarification online.

Klusmann wants this to be understood as a kind of "voluntary disclosure". The publisher has not yet taken any legal action against the ex-employee. Depending on the outcome of the commission's work, this is conceivable. He also did not rule out that those affected by the falsified reports could take legal action against the magazine.

Internally, he will check whether new specifications are necessary - for example, only to send reporters out accompanied by a photographer who is documenting the work. However, the commission should not, as a kind of secret service, place all reporters under general suspicion. The work of other journalists should only be investigated if there are concrete indications of misconduct, internally or externally.

The deputy editor-in-chief Ullrich Fichtner ruled out that Relotius had been put under too much pressure by superiors. However, he warned that young journalists are too fixated on journalist awards. Relotius has received numerous awards.

In Berlin he received the German Reporter Award three weeks ago for an article about a Syrian boy who believes that a child prank started the civil war in the country. At the award ceremony, the jury raved about the “unprecedented lightness, density and relevance” of the text, which “never leaves open on which sources it is based”.

Not the first journalist to manipulate

On Wednesday the cheer was gone, the jury published a bitter statement on the homepage. “We are horrified and angry about the downright criminal energy with which Claas Relotius has also deceived us - the organizers of the German Reporter Award, the jurors who have awarded him this award four times. The jury is now advising promptly how to proceed in this case - whether Claas Relotius will be deprived of its four reporter awards. ”Relotius is not the first journalist to manipulate. The Tom Kummer case caused a sensation in 2000. The Swiss journalist allegedly conducted interviews with all kinds of US stars, including Brad Pitt and Sharon Stone.

Most of the conversations, however, had sprung from his imagination, as it later turned out. Among other things, the magazine of the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" had printed his texts. Both editors-in-chief of the “SZ-Magazin”, Ulf Poschardt and Christian Kämmerling, were then dismissed.

The filmmaker Michael Born also sold several fake reports to German television stations in the 1990s, including about alleged machinations of the Ku Klux Klan in the Eifel. Günther Jauch, the editor-in-chief of “Stern TV” at the time, had to put up with the accusation of insufficient care when examining the material. “Stern TV” then changed its personnel policy and employed fewer freelancers.

The “Spiegel” itself was once the focus of a small media scandal. The current head of the “Spiegel” capital office, René Pfister, had described verbosely in a report published in 2010 about the CSU politician Horst Seehofer, his model railroad.

It later turned out that Pfister had not seen this run himself, but instead relied on descriptions by third parties. The Henri Nannen Prize, which had recently been awarded to him, was revoked.