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  • Der Spiegel and the Relotius Affair

    Posted on December 25th, 2018 Helian No comments

    In case you’re reading this on another planet, the Relotius Affair is a particularly egregious instance of Fake News. Claas Relotius was a star reporter for Der Spiegel, the number one German news magazine. On December 19 an article appeared at the Medium website entitled Der Spiegel journalist messed with the wrong small town. It documented the fact that a story Relotius had written about a small town in Minnesota by the name of Fergus Falls was actually a pack of lies. An article admitting as much appeared at Der Spiegel’s website the same day.

    The lies in question were remarkably crude. For example, according to Relotius, who claimed to have arrived on the bus from Minneapolis,

    “After three and a half hours, the bus bends from the highway to a narrow, sloping street, rolling towards a dark forest that looks like dragons live in it. At the entrance, just before the station, there is a sign with the American stars and stripes banner, which reads, ‘Welcome to Fergus Falls, home of damn good folks.'”

    In the following quote from an article at Der Spiegel by Chief Editor Ullrich Fichtner, we learn that Relotius embellished this account as follows:

    In his story about Fergus Falls, Relotius tailored his report in a harmful and arrogant manner. To get the ball rolling, he told how he saw that a second sign had been set up right next to the welcome sign at the entrance to the town, half as high, but plainly visible. On this sign, made of thick wood driven into the frozen ground, stood in large, painted letters, “Mexicans Keep Out.”

    In the first place, it apparently never occurred to the editors at Der Spiegel to ask an actual American how likely it is that an expletive such as “damn” would appear in a welcome sign. I’ve driven hundreds of thousands of miles through all parts of the country, and have never seen anything of the sort. As far as the “Mexicans Keep Out” sign is concerned, the chances that it would be found “driven into the frozen ground” in Minnesota, home of the extreme left-wing Farmer Labor Party, of all places, is vanishingly small. More to the point, did it never occur to their fact checkers to do something as elementary as taking the bus ride into town themselves using Google Street View? According to Der Spiegel,

    Any text that appears in the weekly SPIEGEL, whether printed or digital, is read by many colleagues before its publication: by at least one department head and one editor-in-chief, by staff in editing and the legal department. But the heart of quality control is the in-house documentation. The more than 60 colleagues – physicists, historians, biologists or Islamic scholars – ensure that names, dates and facts are correct, they verify every word and every number. Hardly any other news medium makes such an effort to live up to the claim: What we write is true. In the days of Fake News, documentation is something we take very seriously.

    I hereby offer my services to Der Spiegel to replace all those “60 colleagues,” and I’ll even work for half of the total that was paid them! Using my extraordinary computer skills, I accessed Street View, something apparently unheard of among the “physicists, historians, biologists, and Islamic scholars” working for them. It took me all of a few minutes to find that on the bus route into town there are no forests and no dragons. As far as I could tell there wasn’t even a welcome sign, not to mention one with a smaller sibling advising Mexicans to keep out. As for the “bus station” it appears to share an address with a local Tesoro gas station.   If one exists at all, it would seem to be remarkably unpretentious. It’s more likely that the bus merely makes a pit stop in Fergus Falls.  

    The real Fergus Falls welcome sign shown in the Medium expose is not even on the bus route into town, unless the bus driver is in the habit of taking the “scenic route.” It sits next the to Applebee’s on Kennedy Park Road just off W. Lincoln. As seen in the accompanying image, it’s not exactly on a par with St. Louis’ Gateway Arch. You’d miss it if you happened to blink at the wrong time. If you squint you’ll see it just to the right of center in the image.

     

    Consider for a moment the above along with all the other lies documented in the Medium expose. The only fact checking it would have taken to debunk any of them would hardly have amounted to more than a few phone calls. Is it even barely credible that a reporter with an international reputation to protect, like Relotius, would have dared to try to get away with even one of these lies if he so much as suspected that anything even remotely worthy of the name of “fact checking” was going on at Der Spiegel? Would he have risked his career in that way if he thought there was even a slim chance that his employer would call him out on his lies? I think not. Indeed, he did get away with it as far as Der Spiegel is concerned. Relotius knew the Spiegel narrative by heart. He knew what the editors wanted to hear, and he delivered. The one thing he forgot is that the media in the US isn’t quite as firmly in the grip of their clones here as it is in Germany. When they realized they were going to lose control of the message, they threw him under the bus with alacrity.

    However, in spite of their ruthless reckoning with Relotius, it would seem the Spiegel editors have never heard the good advice to stop digging if you find yourself in a hole. Instead, they have invented a whole new fairy tale according to which a newly anointed Sherlock Holmes by the name of Juan Moreno, who works for them, was the “real” knight in shining armor who exposed Relotius. Evidently this threadbare lie is intended to prop up the myth that their system is “self-correcting.” Unfortunately, a couple of alert citizens of Fergus Falls who happened to notice the hit job on their town, and probably swallowed their gum in the process as they read through all the lies, have published a timeline on Twitter documenting the fact that they brought the matter to Der Spiegel’s attention as far back as April. They were stonewalled until the editors realized that the story was going to come out whether they liked it or not. That’s when their “Sherlock Holmes” appeared on the scene.

    Of course, since they are obviously unconcerned with fact checking, this begs the question of what all those department heads, editor’s in chief, lawyers, physicists, historians, biologists, and Islamic scholars at Der Spiegel actually do. The answer is obvious enough. If you’ve read Der Spiegel for any length of time, you should have no trouble seeing that each one of Relotius’ lies supports at least one of the quasi-racist stereotypes of Americans that are a prominent part of the favored narrative there. The imaginary “Mexicans Keep Out” sign emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes actually kills several of those birds with one stone, portraying us as obnoxiously patriotic, racist, and xenophobic all at once. All the other favorite Spiegel stereotypes appear like so many ducks in a row. Americans as gun nuts? Check! Americans as religious fanatics? Check! Americans as prudes? Check! Americans as thoughtless polluters? Check! Americans obsessed with violence? Check. The fact that these bigoted stereotypes have been enduring themes at Der Spiegel for many years is documented in a collage of Spiegel covers that appeared on the Davids Medienkritik website more than a decade ago. In short, it is far more likely that what all these “fact checkers” really do is make doubly sure that nothing slips by that doesn’t fit the narrative. Presumably this also conforms to the definition of “fact checking” favored by the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review, which recently praised Der Spiegel for having the largest “fact checking” apparatus in the world. The CJR describes itself as “the voice of journalism,” which, given the current state of the art, is entirely plausible.

    It is hardly true that all Germans hate the United States. There, as here, however, the mainstream media is under the firm control of the “progressive” Left, and scorn for the United States and its people, with the exception of their fellow leftists and a few favored identity groups, forms a prominent plank in the ideological box they live in. It is one of the markers that defines their ingroup, if you will. Indeed, in spite of the German fantasy that they have “one of the most free presses in the world,” the reality isn’t even close. There is no equivalent in Germany of prominent conservatives on talk radio and TV with huge audiences, influential websites that push back against leftist propaganda such as Instapundit and Breitbart, or major news outlet that don’t always play along with the narrative, such as Fox. The Left has almost complete control of the message. No matter where you turn, whether to Spiegel, Focus, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, ARD, ZDF, or what have you, the message on such critical international issues as immigration is virtually identical. 

    The same, of course, is true of the MSM in the United States, but they enjoy nowhere near the hegemony of their German equivalents. However, the leftist narrative is virtually identical whether here or in Europe, and one often finds stories in MSM outlets in the US such as CNN and The New York Times that are as similar to their European equivalents as so many peas in a pod. Indeed, these organizations are as committed to the narrative and as indifferent to the truth as Der Spiegel, as evidenced by their award of prestigious prizes to Relotius for “excellence in journalism.” What Marx said of the proletariat is certainly true of the globalist media; they have no country. Their “country” is their ideology, and that is where their true loyalty lies.

    Regardless, it has certainly been amusing to watch Der Spiegel squirm and struggle in a futile attempt to restore its lost journalistic virginity. “Schadenfreude” is the appropriate German expression. Of course, virginity is hard to restore once it’s lost, and no one capable of taking a step outside the leftist ideological box referred to above is likely to believe the now familiar cant about “layers of editors and fact checkers” at this point. At some level, even the editors at Der Spiegel must suspect that the rest of the world sees them for the bold faced liars they so obviously are. A large part of the German population has been aware of the fact for some time. I’m sure many more will swallow the red pill in the aftermath of this affair. For that, perhaps, we should be grateful to Herr Relotius.

    UPDATE: Apparently the Spiegel fans have an even bigger problem with the truth than even I imagined. I was locked out of Twitter overnight after posting this story.

  • Minnesota in 1854: An Account by a Remarkable Englishman

    Posted on June 16th, 2010 Helian No comments

    The easy availability of a vast library of books is not the least of the Internet’s many gifts. If you find a reference to some interesting volume published before 1922, you are more than likely to find it among the online collection at Google books. Recently, for example, I happened to see a reference to an account of the Earl of Elgin’s mission to China and Japan in the years 1857-59 by one Laurence Oliphant. It was mentioned in one of the great British literary reviews of the 19th century, and described in such favorable terms as to pique my interest. In searching the author’s name at Google Books, I found not only the work in question, but any number of others attributed to the same author, including descriptions of travel in the southern regions of Russia, describing conditions there in 1852, just before the onset of the Crimean War, Palestine, and of no small interest to myself, as I grew up in Wisconsin, an account of an expedition through Canada to our neighbor state of Minnesota by way of Lake Superior in 1854.

    I was pleased to find the book as entertaining and skillfully written as the earlier work about the Far East described in the British review, and highly recommend it to the attention of the interested reader. There are many insightful comments about social, economic, and political conditions in the U.S. at the time. Midwesterners will enjoy the many details and anecdotes about the rough and ready life in Wisconsin and Minnesota at a time when the region was still considered the “far west.”

    For example, when Oliphant and his three companions climbed off their steamer at Superior, Wisconsin, they discovered that the only hotel in town was a large barn, which doubled as a carpenter shop and land office. Guests were expected to bring their own shavings to sleep on, should they be lucky enough to find an unoccupied spot. The author gives an interesting account of an expedition with a local realtor to have a look at some promising building lots in the growing metropolis:

    …we commenced cutting our way with billhooks through the dense forest, which he called Third Avenue, or the fashionable quarter, until we got to the bed of a rivulet, down which we turned through tangled underwood (by name West Street), until it lost itself in a bog, which was the principal square, upon the other side of which, covered with almost impenetrable bush, was the site of our lots.

    Oliphant goes on to describe a harrowing journey with two Canadian voyageurs in a birch bark canoe through swamps and over rapids to the headwaters of the Mississippi, from which they descended to St. Paul, the up and coming capital of the Minnesota territory. They were pleased to find it a great deal more civilized than Superior, with a hotel that was passable, even by European standards. Oliphant recounts that the guests would rush through their evening meal in typical American fashion. The process of digestion, however, was another matter. The men would retire to the front porch, where they would lean back in chairs, criticize the passers-by, and pontificate on the politics of the day at their leisure.

    Among the topics of conversation was the issue of slavery, and while latter day Marxists and sentimental writers about “southern heritage” have “proved” that the Civil War was not really about slavery using any number of facile and unconvincing arguments, there was no confusion about the matter at the time, whether among opponents or proponents of slavery or European observers. Oliphant described an exchange on the subject between an eastern Yankee and a scowling Texan, and observed,

    Whatever may be the views of Americans upon the great question of slavery, which seems destined, before long, to split the Union, they do not scruple to avow themselves annexationists.

    The great question of slavery will lead to an explosion which it is to be hoped will not terminate in a Kilkenny-cat process.

    The author and his friends took a river steamboat to Galena, Illinois, a point which was already connected to the rest of the country by rail. Apropos railroads, he notes in passing,

    …we have no business to question the engineering performances in a country in which there are already 21,310 miles of railway laid down, or about 2500 miles more than the whole of the rest of the world put together.

    The story of Oliphant doesn’t end with travel stories. Strangely enough, this obviously intelligent and articulate writer later went completely off the deep end as an adherent of the then-fashionable “spiritualist” craze. Among the collection of his works available at Google Books, one will also find a remarkable production entitled, “Scientific Religion, or Higher Possibilities of Life and Practice through the Operation of Natural Forces.” Published in 1888, it is full of revelations about “dynaspheric forces, the vital atomic interactions between the living and the dead, the transmutation of material forces by conversion of moral particles, Magnetic Conditions in the Holy Land,” and any number of similar ravings, all of which have so far failed in their author’s evident intent of enlightening future generations.

    Those who pique themselves on the supposedly high intelligence of humankind would do well to read such stuff occasionally. Oliphant was a man of no mean intellect, possessed of remarkable insight and powers of analysis in his description of life in the United States of his time, and the political affairs then current. He also published ravings about “spiritual forces” that even a child would laugh at today. Those who consider themselves infallible would do well to recall that they belong to the same species (starting, of course, with me).

    Steamboats docked at St. Paul, 1858