Fake News Hits Fergus Falls: CNN Award-Winning Journalist Fired for Fabricating His Story

The small town of Fergus Falls, Minnesota is in the news because Class Relotius, the recently-fired journalist for the German publication Der Spiegel, completely lied when writing portions of his story about the Minnesota town, and many other stories he has written over the last several years.

In a hilarious twist of irony, Relotius won CNN’s “Journalist of the Year, 2014. Talk about some serious schadenfreude.

The Washington Post (yes, that Washington Post) reports:

“Relotius wrote that city administrator Andrew Bremseth had never been with a woman and had never been to the ocean, claims that were easily debunked by a photo on Bremseth’s Facebook page that showed him standing next to the ocean with his long-term girlfriend. Relotius mentioned looking through the windows of a local diner and seeing a power plant billowing out steam, which would have been impossible since the plant in question is hidden behind a tall hill more than two miles away. And he described a sign at the entrance to town that said, “Mexicans Keep Out” — something that community members didn’t recall ever seeing.

On Wednesday, they were vindicated. Der Spiegel announced that Relotius had “falsified his articles on a grand scale” since at least 2016 and had resigned after admitting that he had fabricated quotes and invented fictional details in more than a dozen stories, including his dispatch from Fergus Falls.”

According to an article in Medium written by two Fergus Falls residents who spent more than a year fact-checking the slanderous article by Relotius:

“In 7,300 words he really only got our town’s population and average annual temperature correct,” Anderson wrote, noting that the piece had contained so many outright fictions that she and Krohn had decided to highlight the 11 most absurd lies.”

If you’re interested in learning more about this situation, I’d encourage you to read the article about the fabrications for yourself. But the  insight from Fergus Falls residents in Medium article may be the most insightful. According to the article:

“This is just a hunch, but it seems to me that Relotius’ overseas readers might appreciate knowing that small American towns are more complex than they imagine — that die-hard liberals like me can still magically live alongside conservative Republicans — that sometimes we even find some common ground and share a meal together, and take the time to try to understand each other’s viewpoints.”

This is a key point in the article. People in small towns and rural are exposed to a wider degree of intellectual and financial diversity than people who live in the Twin Cities, who are much more likely to live in social silos of their own design. Conservatives and liberals get along because they have to see, and work with, people who they may not agree with all the time.

You have to learn to live and let live in small towns, but that’s not necessarily the case in larger population centers where you may not interact with people who have different opinions in your day-to-day life. At least that’s the impression I get.