Robert Grözinger

Robert Grözinger, born 1965 in Western Germany, editor-in-chief of 'equity & freedom.' Economist, author and translator. He lives in Somerset, England.

Source: IgorGolovniov / Shutterstock.com Fake news: Claas Relotius knew how to tell a tall story

Award-winning fake news at ‘Der Spiegel’:
The ‘Entitlement’ to Lie

The main cause is a strong and all-pervading, interfering state

What a Christmas present ‘Der Spiegel’, a leading German mainstream media outlet, has dropped on the doorstep of every libertarian and conservative skeptic of the mainstream! One of its leading journalists and editors, winner of numerous awards, including ‘CNN Journalist of the Year’ 2014, one Claas Relotius, was uncovered as a fraud, a forger of stories. This revelation has sent huge shockwaves through the German mainstream media. It has not yet visibly implicated the German establishment, but that may just be a matter of time.

‘Der Spiegel’ printed more than 50 stories of Relotius. “Many of them are partly or wholly invented, distorted or faked.”, ‘Der Spiegel’ now contritely admits. Many other mainstream outlets published further stories by him. They are presently all under intense investigation as to their factualness.

As an example, the stories Relotius fabricated included one published in June 2018 about a boy in Syria, whose insulting graffito, Relotius claimed, triggered the Syrian war. Relotius claimed to have talked to the boy, who was apparently by then fighting Assad’s forces from a town called Daraa, via WhatsApp. Sometimes even by video. Nobody asked him: How did you find him? How did you check the claims? How can it be that he’s still alive? Was he never caught by the authorities?

What is significant for us here at “equity and freedom” and other alternative news outlets is this: Relotius’ stories always and invariably fed into and supported the mainstream, establishment-supportive narrative. This meant, if he was reporting from the US, his stories were invariably anti-Trump. For example his story about Fergus Falls in Minnesota, which he claims voted 70.4 percent for the president. (The true number now turns out to be 62.6.) He depicts it as a town full of rednecks and hillbillies. As ‘Der Spiegel’ now writes in a contrite report, “Relotius had painted a tendentious, malicious portrait of the small, rural town and, in doing so, he had leaned heavily on ugly, misleading prejudices.” According to Relotius, Fergus Town had a gun-toting city administrator who at 27 was still a virgin, and that the population there was obsessed by the movie ‘American Sniper.’ More details can be found in a link below. As in the earlier example, it would have been easy to check the facts. For example, the claim that the road from the highway to Fergus Falls leads through a forest. It doesn’t. One look at Google maps would have proved that. But no-one in Der Spiegel’s documentary department did.

This points to a much wider problem that the mainstream media have with facts. They have always scoffed at the accusation that they often peddle ‘fake news’. That their political stories are at best tendentious, if not outright lies. That even their non-political stories are often given a politically desired bias, for example by mentioning alleged man-made climate change whenever there is an extreme weather event anywhere in the world.

When finally confronted, a few days ago, with undeniable facts, Relotius confessed to his bosses, and added: “I’m sick, I need help.” That may be true, but what is certainly true is that the whole mainstream media is sick, and so it attracts sick people. The media have always been a gathering place of the intellectuals, or at least of people who consider themselves to be one. Intellectuals tend to be envious of people who are successful in the free market, because that success is based on serving customers instead of lecturing them from on high. The exception here are intellectuals who have fully grasped the meaning and importance of the free market for peace and prosperity. Lecturing is what comes naturally to intellectuals. Without a healthy dose of moral guidance, they tend to disdain people who don’t follow their argument. And in extreme cases even act on the basis of that disdain.

In our day and age, certainly in western Europe, moral guidance is dispensed not by churches and rarely by families, but mainly by the state, through publicly funded schools. Whatever the state doesn’t cover is conveyed by the mainstream media. One look into that cesspool will give you an idea what they understand by moral guidance. The state in particular will convey a moral guidance that serves its purposes. It is all about exerting power by some, obviously only to “do good”, and about never questioning the basic assumptions of what this “goodness” entails. Currently, it means saving the world from Trump, the (western) patriarchy, man-made climate change and inequality. With such ‘noble’ aims in mind, those that strive for power are unlikely to learn the value of, say, humility.

In such an environment, many intellectuals, actually most of them, are tempted to support a state or other kind of enforcement system. They hope that with the help of the state they will be able to mold society into a shape it ‘should’ be, according to them. The state naturally tends towards this kind of enforcement agenda anyway, because this agenda tends to increase its scope of power. Those in power can never have enough of it, certainly if they don’t believe in another, higher authority. Democracy and constitutional rule of law alone have often proven to be too weak to curb the aspirations of the powerful.

When the state listens to the intellectuals – and of course it listens to them when they say things it likes to hear –, they, the intellectuals, have the best of both worlds: Power without responsibility. This, in turn, is the recipe for what economists call ‘moral hazard,’ which is “when someone increases their exposure to risk when insured, especially when a person takes more risks because someone else bears the cost of those risks,” as Wikipedia defines it. Relotius felt ‘insured’ in a system that readily believed his lies. So he kept telling them. He was only unmasked when for a certain article on the situation at the US-Mexican border he was assigned to work with a colleague who didn’t know him that well, and so was not already too enamoured by his manifold reputed charm and charisma. This colleague voiced concerns about suspicious inconsistencies in the final text which was published under his co-authorship.

Apart from moral hazard, there is another, more fundamental dynamic at work that led to the current troubles at ‘Der Spiegel’. Inappropriate trust levels, coupled with a tendency to look the other way when people do questionable things, is the rule as long as these people are, apparently, ‘well-intentioned’ and on the ‘good’ side. That’s how, in very similar cases, Jayson Blair got away with his tall stories in the ‘New York Times’ until 2003, and Johann Hari with his in the London ‘Independent’ until 2011.

“Journalistic malpractice of this kind is confined almost exclusively to the liberal-left,” writes James Delingpole on ‘Breitbart’ about the Relotius case. There is some truth in this claim. Constructivism, the belief that it is right to mold whole societies into a shape they ought to be in the eye of the beholder, is a left-wing tendency, and supports centralisation and thus rule by variations of Plato’s philosopher king– something many intellectuals dream of being. On the other hand, allowing a decentralised discovery of solutions, in other words individual freedom and the free market, is the hands-off approach of libertarians and true conservatives.

However, would conservatives and libertarians behave differently if they had the hegemony, backed by the state, which the cultural and intellectual left currently enjoy in the media? That, as usual, is the crux of the matter. There is simply too much statism around, causing a plethora of fake money, fake news, and mental illnesses. Over Christmas, as libertarians and conservatives consider this unexpected present from their grinch-like neighbor, they should reflect on the statist cause of the predicament ‘Der Spiegel’ currently finds itself in.

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