When news broke out of Germany that an award-winning reporter for Der Spiegel had been exposed as a serial fabricator, my first inclination, before delving into the details, was to assume a certain way the story would unfold. It would involve a writer reporting from a leftist viewpoint in a highly literary, as opposed to fact-driven, manner.
Check and check. Claas Relotius, honored in 2014 as CNN’s “Journalist of the Year,” was especially adept at a stylized form of “reporting” that read like good fiction. His articles often featured lazy anti-American stereotypes that serve as easy comfort food for European leftists: vigilantes on the Mexican border, death penalty eyewitnesses. Relotius provided himself a lively palette from which to paint his biased fiction.
Relotius will go down in shame with other famous journalist hoaxers, yet the people who most enabled his betrayal of the reader will likely avoid similar ignominy. Which is head-scratching because if a criminal profiler were to come up with a pattern for these kinds of frauds, they would find one constant: editors who were hoodwinked because their fake reporters were writing exactly what they wanted to read.
The original black eye to the mainstream leftist journalism machine came in 1980 with the infamous Janet Cooke caper at The Washington Post. Cooke, a 26-year-old reporter, won the Pulitzer Prize for an article on an 8-year-old heroin addict named Jimmy. The article featured that same literary style of reporting that reads like a good book instead of an informative news article. And it fit perfectly into a liberal editor’s wheelhouse with its stirring, highly-personalized account of a minority social crisis in need of a solution, as written by a black woman.
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