A Letter from DER SPIEGEL Report on Relotius Fabrications Now Complete
In December 2018, DER SPIEGEL went public with the discovery that a journalist at the magazine had fabricated numerous stories and opened a probe into the fraud. The investigation may be complete, but the reckoning continues.
It has been a little more than five months since we disclosed the fabrications of our former reporter Claas Relotius. As promised, DER SPIEGEL has used that time to thoroughly investigate the fraud. A three-person commission has determined how it was possible for Relotius to circumvent all of our safeguards and it has examined how we explored the suspicions of fraud after they were initially voiced by our colleague Juan Moreno.
The good news is that no indications were found that anyone at DER SPIEGEL was aware of the fabrication, helped cover them up or otherwise participated in them.
The bad news is that we allowed ourselves to be deceived by Relotius and made mistakes of a magnitude that is unworthy of the standards we set for ourselves at this magazine. Furthermore, when the first doubts arose, we reacted much too slowly and continued to believe Relotius' growing web of lies for far too long. On the whole, the report paints a devastating picture.
For privacy reasons, we have anonymized certain sections of the report prior to publication in DER SPIEGEL and on SPIEGEL ONLINE, but in instances where we have already reported on the falsifications using full names, we have done so here as well. Even though Claas Relotius did all he could to cover up his deceit, some DER SPIEGEL employees nevertheless took responsibility for the fact that his duplicity could remain undiscovered for so long. The fact checker responsible left DER SPIEGEL of his own accord, and two of Relotius' former supervisors stepped down from their positions, one as section editor and the other as editor-in-chief.
In the last part of the report, several examples are included which are not explicitly fraudulent, but which reveal an insufficiently rigorous adherence to journalistic standards -- stories in which an extremely loose interpretation of event sequences or facts was used to develop an artificially dramatic storyline. Such an approach has long been far from unusual at other publications as well, but that doesn't make it any more legitimate and we will no longer tolerate it here.
What next? We are aware that, through the Relotius scandal, we have done significant damage to the image of quality journalism in Germany. That is why we are applying the lessons we have learned from it. From now on, we will be setting up our quality safeguards such that they work seamlessly. We will also establish an ombudsperson who will be responsible for investigating any and all indications of inconsistencies. And we are revising our reporting, fact-checking and narrative standards. The commission has formulated a long list of proposals and three additional DER SPIEGEL teams are likewise developing a new body of journalistic rules and standards for our brand.
If all of that makes DER SPIEGEL better, then perhaps the fraud perpetrated by Claas Relotius will turn out in hindsight to have been a beneficial shock. The closing report is an important step on that path, but the reckoning continues.
Thomas Hass, CEO; Steffen Klusmann, Editor-in-Chief
Editor's note: DER SPIEGEL and SPIEGEL ONLINE posted the commission's report in its entirety online today. The report is available now as a PDF download in German.