Claas Relotius, 2014 Journalist of the Year according to CNN, at least 14 articles since 2011 had been fabricated. One especially rancorous bit of fake news involved a piece in Der Spiegel, one of the most read and respected European papers, are at the heart of a scandal rocking European media currently. The fabrications were so severe that they didn't resemble reality but served as perfect propaganda in the article about the rural Minnesota town of Fergus Falls.
Michele Anderson and Jake Krohn raised a fuss
, initially, in a Medium essay entitled Der Spiegel Journalist Messed With The Wrong Small Town. This couple of liberals from Fergus Falls who fancy themselves rural advocates of a sort defending their city pride pointed out just how far off the mark the original article was:
In 7,300 words he really only got our town’s population and average annual temperature correct, and a few other basic things, like the names of businesses and public figures, things that a child could figure out in a Google search.
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The bulk of the article was apparently manufactured by Claas whole cloth out of his imagination and since it matched up to the bigoted opinion of readers and resonated with the audience as a result, nobody bothered to question it. There were too many examples offered in the article linked above to bother trying to mention each, but some of the highlights do deserve being skimmed over at least.
Claas lied about the percentage of support for Trump in the election, claimed the town's entrance sign read: "Welcome to Fergus Falls, home of damn good folks" and "Mexicans Keep Out" when it actually only said, "Welcome to Fergus Falls."
Many examples of the lies passed off as truth are cartoonish caricatures of what severely disconnected elitists might think of rural folks and working class people. Supposedly the City Administrator had never seen the ocean and "was never together with a woman" despite the fact that he produced a selfie of himself in front of the ocean with a live-in girlfriend of many years.
Many of the outlandish claims were easily debunked through a simple phone call. The article claimed Clint Eastwood's film American Sniper had played for two years straight. As it turns out, the run lasted just over a month. A picture of "Israel Rodriguez" was featured. Israel was a bullied high school student who was picked on for being Hispanic but whose mother "saw Trump as a savior." Compelling stuff, eh? Except it's all fiction. The kid was actually a college student named Pablo who saws Roletius never interviewed him, just asked him to pose for a single shot. He said, however, he was never bullied for being Mexican. There was quite a bit more, but you get the point.
A couple natives of the town set the record straight on Medium. As Jim Goad put it at Taki's, "A pair of non-journalists from Podunk, USA did far better journalism than CNN’s 2014 Journalist of the Year."
The pair of non-journalists, Michele Anderson and Jake Krohn, had this to say:
"Suddenly we do matter, but only because everyone wants to be the hero pundit that cracks the code of the current rural psyche. There are only two things those writers seem to have concluded or are able to pitch to their editors — we are either backwards, living in the past and have our heads up our asses, or we’re like dumb, endearing animals that just need a little attention in order to keep us from eating the rest of the world alive."
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This wouldn't be the first time something of this nature had happened either. Sacha Baron Cohen, the man behind the Borat movie and the Showtime series Who Is America? was called out for having misrepresented the small town of Kingman
and falsifying a segment that supposedly was held in the community library despite the library having no record of any such event on that day and time. In addition to this, it has been alleged that certain people on camera "representing" Kingman wasn't even from Kingman and could have been plants.
In the segment, citizens opposed the proposed building of the largest mosque outside of the Middle East in their town. Kingman, Arizona by the way, already has a mosque in its city limits.
Sadly, people want to believe what they want to believe whether there is any basis for truth in it or not. The site Vox asked whether Cohen's humor is warranted at a time in which there is already so much division. I doubt that or the concern about the ill effects of lying to scapegoat a whole group of people will alter the trend of fake news and propaganda aimed at demeaning rural and working-class Americans.