Reporter For German Magazine Falsified Articles, Including One About Trump Supporters
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
After Donald Trump unexpectedly won the presidency, journalists here and abroad set out to discover what made the so-called rural Trump voter tick. One of those journalists was a young star reporter from the German magazine Der Spiegel named Claas Relotius. He decided to write about Fergus Falls, Minn. Resident Michele Anderson had high expectations for the piece.
MICHELE ANDERSON: I had hoped that it would actually be a really interesting article about kind of the nuances and complexities of a rural community at this point in time.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Relotius' article was nothing like that. Almost everything he wrote about Fergus Falls was a lie concocted to make the town look radically conservative. This week, Relotius resigned from Der Spiegel because of that and many other fabricated stories. And Anderson has co-written her own piece fact-checking his falsehoods.
ANDERSON: Right from the start, just the way he describes Fergus Falls was completely wrong. He described our welcome sign and said that it was decked out in, like, "The Star-Spangled Banner" and that it said, welcome to Fergus Falls, home of damn good folks. Our welcome sign is green and white, and it just says, welcome to Fergus Falls and nothing else.
CHANG: Nothing about damn good folk.
ANDERSON: No. It just went on and on from there. So he said that "American Sniper," which came out in 2015 had been showing at our movie theater for two straight years because we loved that movie so much. There were a lot of little things like that that just sort of supported the story he already wanted to tell about this really bleak...
ANDERSON: ...Alien kind of country.
CHANG: I mean, just to offer two more examples, he writes of a dark forest that looks like a dragon lives in it. But Fergus Falls is on the prairie. There are no forests around.
CHANG: He described your city administrator as a guy who has never seen the ocean and has never been together with a woman. But then there was this photograph that you produced of your city administrator with his longtime girlfriend in front of the ocean.
ANDERSON: Right, right.
CHANG: Putting aside that it is absolutely unethical journalism to fabricate facts, you say that there was something much more personal about these lies that left you with what you call a very sick, unsettled feeling. Tell me what was so incredibly hurtful about these lies.
ANDERSON: Well, I think he came with a very specific story that he wanted to tell. And he could have told such a more interesting story if he actually had sat down and looked for more diverse perspectives. So I think it just, for me, was so telling overall of kind of how rural America is viewed by people who don't live here or understand.
CHANG: Yeah. This was just a gross misperception of people in rural America by someone who's German. But did it remind you of how you think some Americans misunderstand people in rural areas?
ANDERSON: Yeah, a little bit. I mean, there's kind of just this narrative of decline and racism and bigotry. But the real story here is how people live in rural places and work across those divisive political views to keep their communities strong. And I think Fergus Falls is such a great example of that. And we have a lot to be proud of, and we also have a lot to work on. But we're not going anywhere either.
CHANG: Michele Anderson is a resident of Fergus Falls, Minn. You can read her fact-check at medium.com. Thank you very much.
ANDERSON: Thank you.
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