(Natural News) No matter how much it has been drilled into us that we can’t believe everything we read, many of us take for granted that news stories posted by legitimate outlets are factual. After all, they use fact checkers, right? A recent scandal illustrates a point that Natural News has been making for quite some time: Fact checkers are a complete joke.
An award-winning journalist for the respected German news magazine Der Spiegel, Claas Relotius, was recently exposed for having falsified several stories over the years. Der Spiegel was forced to admit the journalist had “made up stories and invented protagonists” in dozens of articles it published online and in print. They added that other outlets could be affected as well.
Relotius admitted to the scam and resigned from the magazine, where he had worked for seven years. During his time at Der Spiegel, he won several awards for investigative journalism. In 2014, he was named CNN Journalist of the Year.
Some of his awards were based on false stories. The Reporter of the Year in Germany award he won earlier this month – an award he has won four times in total – about a young Syrian boy was based on a story that we now know he made up. Other fraudulent stories he has come up with include one about football player Colin Kaepernick and one about a Guantanamo Bay prisoner from Yemen.
It’s hard to believe that such fraud could be carried out in this day and age, when we have so much information at our fingertips – yet that is also partly why he was able to get away with such a scam. After all, you don’t have to visit places in person to describe them in detail anymore; Google Earth can show you everything you need to know to make it seem authentic.
Separating fact from fiction?
What about the so-called fact checkers that many media outlets employ? They are supposed to separate fact from fiction, but as Politico points out, they’re also human. Perhaps they felt intimidated by the prospect of questioning such a decorated journalist, or maybe they felt it was so detailed that it couldn’t possibly have been concocted.
Many times, editors have preconceived notions about a topic and therefore won’t question articles that confirm their beliefs. This may have been the case with one of his fabricated and most celebrated articles, in which he talked about how people in the small town of Fergus Falls pray for President Trump on Sundays. The redneck picture painted here seems believable enough to those who already envision Americans acting this way, never mind the fact that it turned out the administrator of the town in question does not carry a Beretta 9mm to work as the story claims, nor does he even own one. The town also does not have a sign that says “Mexicans get out,” but it must have seemed believable enough to the fact checkers.
Relotius was only exposed after a colleague who worked on a story with him started to doubt some details. After contacting two of the alleged sources and finding out they had never met Relotius, only then was his work called into question.
Der Spiegel prides itself on having one of the best fact-checking departments in the business, so if it happened to them, it can happen anywhere. Fact checkers have biases – some might even argue that they are selected with this in mind to ensure the articles that are approved push whatever narrative the publisher wants people to see.
For example, a group of Facebook fact checkers recently came forward to express their dismay that rather than checking facts to identify inaccurate news, they were being used to remove honest information from Facebook that goes against their official narrative. They said they felt like they were involved in propaganda rather than journalism.
While the idea of fact checkers sounds good in theory, it ultimately provides a false sense of security. Fact checkers are people, and they, too, are prone to bias, laziness, and intimidation. The reality is that fact checkers simply can’t be relied upon to keep genuinely fake news out – not even in the “upper echelon” of the mainstream media.
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