Fake news in Germany: Der Spiegel’s award-winning reporter admits to fabricated content and interviews

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Der Spiegel, one of Germany's leading news magazines, has relieved one of its award-winning journalists of his employment after evidence emerged that he committed journalistic fraud "on a grand scale" over a number of years, the publication said Wednesday. The case, which is still being investigated, "marks a low point in the 70-year history of Der Spiegel," the magazine said.

Der Spiegel published a lengthy report on its website after conducting an initial internal probe of the work of Claas Relotius, a 33-year-old staff writer known for vivid investigative stories. "The management of Der Spiegel will appoint a committee of internal and external experts," Der Spiegel said, adding that the results will be published.

The magazine said Mr. Relotius resigned Monday after admitting some of his articles included made-up material from interviews that never happened. Mr. Relotius acknowledged fabricating parts of at least 14 stories, including a piece about an American woman who he said volunteered to witness the executions of death row inmates, such as one in Texas at the beginning of the year. Mr. Relotius contributed almost to sixty articles published in print or online since 2011, first as a freelance writer before being hired full-time last year. The reporter previously worked for other German and Swiss publications and won numerous awards, including CNN Journalist of the Year in 2014.

Der Spiegel said concerns about Mr. Relotius' work first were raised in November by a fellow reporter who worked with him on a story about a border militia in Arizona and discovered that supposed interviews had never taken place. Further fabrications by Relotius included a phone interview with the parents of American football player Colin Kaepernick, who protested police brutality by kneeling during the pre-game singing of the national anthem, Spiegel said. Another was reporting that a sign on the edge of a Minnesota town read "Mexicans Keep Out," Spiegel said.

The German Journalists' Union DJU called the case "the biggest fraud scandal in journalism since the Hitler diaries" that Germany's Stern magazine published in 1983 and were later found to be forgeries.