There is nothing new about journalists in the mainstream media suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome. Watching supposedly respectable commentators like Rachel Maddow break down practically weeping when Trump won the election was sobering, to say the least.

The coverage of Trump in traditional media has been measured in studies which found that over 90% of stories are hostile towards him. I don’t remember any president since Nixon being so on the nose with journalists; and Nixon was on the verge of impeachment for wiretapping the Democratic Party.

Admittedly, Trump can be somewhat abrasive, and he is clearly his own man. However, he hasn’t made any stupid blunders so far and there is plenty to find in his record which is positive.

The US economy is absolutely booming, as is the stock market. Wages are up and inflation is modest. Unlike all his predecessor’s since Gerald Ford, Trump hasn’t embroiled the US in any stupid wars. Prior to his election the media was telling anyone who would listen that he would start World War 3.

If they really wanted to, the media could find plenty of positive things to write about the Trump presidency. The fact that they don’t suggests that the media in America really is biased against him.

However, it is not just America which has this problem. The recent scandal involving a German journalist from Der Spiegel is a glaring example of the hatred that many in the press display, not just for Trump, but for the many ordinary, decent people who voted for him.

Claas Relotius was sent to the US by Der Spiegel to report on stories during the Trump presidency. He wrote a number or articles which included sensationalized or entirely fabricated accounts of a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo and vigilante groups along the U.S.-Mexican border, among others.

CNN were so impressed by his work that they awarded him their Journalist of the Year prize in 2014.

The article which brought Claas undone however, was his expose on a small town which had voted majority for Trump in the 2016 election.

Claas visited a small town in Minnesota called Fergus Falls and interviewed some of the residents and took photographs.

He then seems to have imagined a caricature of the most backward, redneck, inbred town of deplorables and wrote a hit piece in German for Der Spiegel which matched his imagined “horror town.”

The point of the piece seems to have been to convince readers that the Americans who voted for Trump were a bunch of half-witted, racist, gun toting, six fingered banjo players who didn’t deserve to be allowed to vote.

Claas probably never imagined that any of the town’s residents could speak German, and he was probably right. However, even in Fergus Falls, people have access to the internet and Google Translate works pretty well in German.

Two of the town’s residents, who were anti-Trump liberals by the way, took the time to look up the article and translate it. They were horrified by what they read.

Consequently, they sat down and wrote a piece detailing 10 (which blew out to 11) of the worst fictions in the original piece.

I have cut and pasted these points below as an example of some of the worst and most blatantly false anti-Trump rhetoric in all of Fakenewsdom.

I have to say that I do sympathise with Der Spiegel to some extent.

The great thing about being a right-wing news outlet is that we don’t have to make up stories about Lefties being dumb, violent and dangerous.

What Was Wrong With Claas Relotius' Hit Piece

1. The Sleeping Dragon

“After three and a half  hours, the bus bends from the highway to a narrow, sloping street, rolling  towards a dark forest that looks like dragons live in it. At the entrance, just  before the station, there is a sign with the American stars and stripes banner,  which reads: “Welcome to Fergus Falls, home of damn good folks.”

Fergus Falls is located on the prairie?—?which means our landscape mostly consists of tall grass and lakes. While we have trees, we do not have any distinct forests in our city limits, and definitely not in the route that the bus Relotius would have taken from the Twin Cities. And sadly, our welcome sign is quite mundane in its greeting.

Photo: Signworks, Fergus Falls

2. The gun-toting, virgin City Administrator

“Andrew Bremseth would like  to marry soon, he says, but he was never together with a woman. He has also  never seen the ocean.”

Relotius chose to put the spotlight on Fergus Falls city administrator, Andrew Bremseth, as the main character in his article. We have spoken to Bremseth at length regarding the parts of the story that feature him, and Relotius got three facts right:

Bremseth’s age (27)

That he grew up in Fergus Falls

That he went to university in South Dakota

Everything else, from the claim that Bremseth carries a Beretta 9mm on his person while at work (“I would never ever wear a gun to work, and I don’t even own a Beretta.”), his disdain for a potential female president, his comment that Trump would “kick ass” (“Never said that”), and even his college-era preference for 18th century French philosophers (“Never read them”) and the New England Patriots (“I’m not a fan of them at all”), is complete fiction. Says Bremseth, “Anyone who knows anything about me, this [portrayal] is the furthest from what I stand for.”

Perhaps the oddest fiction in a list of many is Relotius’ depiction of Bremseth as someone who “would like to marry soon…but he has not yet been in a serious relationship with a woman. He has also never been to the ocean.”

We can attest that Bremseth has indeed been to the ocean, by his account, “many times” and is currently happily involved in a multi-year, cohabitational relationship with a woman named Amber. In fact, here’s a picture of the two of them in front of, all things, an ocean.

Photo from Bremseth’s Facebook page

Relotius also decided he could get away with telling his readers that Bremseth is the only Fergus Falls resident that subscribes to national publications, painting the community as the perfect villain around which to frame the rest of his horror story about rural America.

3. The town obsessed with American Sniper

“There is also a cinema  outside of town, where fast food stores are lit up. In this cinema, a flat,  rectangular building, there are two films on a Friday evening. The one, “La La  Land”, running in empty rows, is a musical, a romance about artists in Los  Angeles. The other, “American Sniper”, a war film by Clint Eastwood, is sold  out. The film is actually already two years old, almost 40 million Americans  have seen it, but it still runs in Fergus Falls.”

This anecdote that supported Relotius’ exaggerated story of an immigrant-fearing, gun obsessed small town one was the easiest to fact check and yet the strangest, most random lie for him to craft. American Sniper definitely has not played in Fergus Falls since its first and only run in 2015. To be sure, we even reached out to Isaac Wunderlich, the manager of Westridge Theatre.

4. Neil, the coal plant employee that doesn’t exist

“Doug Becker” who is actually Neil Becker (Photo from original Der Spiegel article)

“There is nothing on the cap  of Neil Becker. Becker, a man with strong shoulders, blond hair and big, clear  eyes, asks, “Have you lost your mind?” Neil Becker is 57 years old, married, a  man with a deep voice and a face in which seldom find any questions. He is not  a farmer, he works next door in the coal-fired power plant, his hands are  always black.

The man Relotius describes has an accompanying photo in the Der Spiegel article, and we all know that guy. It’s the one and only Doug Becker, who works for UPS and ran the Fergus Falls Fitness Center for years, which is possibly the only place in Minnesota where you could listen to a vintage record collection while lifting weights. While we have not yet been able to sit down with Doug to discuss his conversations with Relotius, we know enough about him (it’s a small town after all) to make his depiction seem very suspect.

5. The mixed-up case of Israel and Maria

“Maria Rodriguez, a mother  and local restaurant owner from Mexico, who came to the USA years ago, also saw  Trump as a savior.”

One of the most exploitative aspects of Relotius’ story was his depiction of the employees at Don Pablo’s, a much-beloved Mexican restaurant in the heart of downtown. Relotius weaves together the story of Maria, restaurateur turned Trump supporter whose treatment for kidney disease becomes increasingly expensive under Obamacare, and that of her 15-year old son Israel, who faces prejudice at the hands of his Fergus Falls classmates. It’s riveting stuff, but, as is par for the course, an utter lie.

This was confirmed through a lengthy conversation we had with Maria’s son, Pablo Rodriguez, dubbed Israel, in Relotius’ story. “None of that story is true,” said Rodriguez. In fact, he had never talked to Relotius at all. His only interaction with the journalist was when he was stopped and asked to pose for a picture outside of the restaurant, which later appeared in the article.

“Israel” who is actually Pablo Rodriguez (Photo from original Der Spiegel article)

In Relotius’ telling, “Israel” was a 15-year-old high school student, when in reality Pablo was in his second year of college. There is an Israel in the Don Pablo’s universe, a waiter in his late 20’s, who likely served Relotius a meal and lended his name to this fictional character, but little else.

Maria Rodriguez, as pictured in the story, is indeed Maria Rodriguez in real life, but that is where the truth ends. She does not own the restaurant (she is a waitress there; her sister-in-law Teresa is the owner), has never suffered from kidney disease, and, most tellingly, never even sat for an interview with Relotius. Says Rodriguez, “He just wanted to take a picture of me. He never talked to me about anything.”

6. The view from the Viking Cafe

“You can see the power plant  where he works when you look out the window of the Diner, six tall, gray towers,  from which rise white steam clouds.”

The Viking Cafe is Fergus Falls’ most treasured downtown establishment?—?over 60 years old. One of the reasons we Minnesotans all like it so much is that it has a cozy, underground feeling. Why? Because there are literally NO WINDOWS in the interior of this restaurant. Sure, you can see a little bit out the small front windows, but nothing beyond the shops across the street. The power plant Relotius refers to is almost 2 miles away on the northeast edge of town, blocked from view by a neighborhood on a large hill, and sports a single smokestack. Relotius’ imaginings are dramatic for the movie version of Trump’s America someday, but is it accurate and true? Not in the least.

Google satellite image showing the power plant in relation to the Viking Cafe. 

7. Library lies

“In the library, which used  to be a kindergarten, pensioners meet for knitting. A couple of buildings away,  in the town hall, City Administrator Andrew Bremseth, who believes in breaking  away, is leading a seminar called ‘iPad for Beginners,’ four locals are  participating. He also organizes a TV series quiz night once a month, his  favorite series is called ‘Game of Thrones.’

One of our writers, Jake, is married to the Fergus Falls Public Library’s youth librarian, so we feel this is a great place to quote him. “No,” he says, “the building was built in 1986 and has only functioned as a library.”

There has never been an iPad for Beginners class at City Hall. Classes like that are the library’s domain and taught by one of the librarians there. And as to Bremseth’s “Game of Thrones” quiz night? As with everything else related to our city administrator, a complete lie. Says a laughing Bremseth, “I don’t have cable, I’ve never seen Game of Thrones, and I don’t even know what it’s about.” Never seen Game of Thrones? In this case, truth is (just about) stranger than fiction.

8. High School security

“Anyone who enters it must  pass through a security line, through three armored glass doors, and a weapon  scanner.”

Although we haven’t tested the strength of the doors fronting our high school, we are quite sure that “armored” is an exaggeration, and there are two, not three, sets of doors; their real purpose is to keep the cold January air out of the school more than automatic weapons. That is not to say our grounds are not secure?—?all doors are locked during the school day and visitors must pass through the school office to receive a visitor’s pass before entering. While this picture of a hardened school is undoubtedly true elsewhere in the U.S., it’s simply not the case in Fergus Falls.

9. Secret Super Bowl viewing at the Brewery?

“The pub around him is  crowded with men, hanging from the ceiling garlands, the Super Bowl is on TV,  and Andrew Bremseth is sitting on a stool, in front of him is a dark beer, he  likes it warm in the winter.”

The Super Bowl was on Sunday, February 5th. Union Pizza wasn’t open on Sundays at that time. Therefore, Bremseth and Relotius definitely couldn’t have watched the Super Bowl there and talked politics. To confirm this, we talked briefly to our Mayor, the owner of Union Pizza, just to make sure he didn’t have some kind of private Super Bowl party. “Was the restaurant open for the Super Bowl? Did you have it open just for friends and family?” His response to both queries: “No…?”

Bremseth confirmed this, saying, “I didn’t watch the Super Bowl at Union Pizza and I certainly wouldn’t have watched it with this guy. And I like my beer light and cold.”

10. The awesome “Western Evening”… that no one was invited to.

“That evening, Bremseth says  the people of Fergus Falls love are big, extravagant festivals. It was last  summer, he says, they were celebrating a Western evening here in this bar. They  poured sand and straw on the porch, grilled marinated beef halves, and played a  country band. All women, including Maria Rodriguez, danced in old-fashioned  clothes, all the men, among them Neil Becker and his regular friends, wore hats  or cowboy boots.”

We find this hilarious, if not a little inspiring for a future event idea, especially since all of the characters Relotius portrayed in this article just happened to show up at this “Western evening” in Fergus Falls. The nice thing about a small town is that none of us would have missed this, especially if our city administrator, the non-owner of our Mexican restaurant, and our non-existent power plant worker Neil knew about it and attended. Again, we confirmed with Mayor Schierer, just in case we were somehow too busy to miss this, or just not invited. “No western-themed parties here,” he said.

11. The High School New York Trip

“The bus reaches New York at  midnight, the towers of Manhattan light up. The students move into a hostel on  the outskirts of the city, only the next morning take the subway to Times  Square. None of them ever went underground, and their parents have never been  to New York. On their first day, they head through the streets, head hanging  back to their necks. They spit from the Rockefeller Center and ride a boat  across the Hudson River. They do not go to Liberty Island, the Statue of  Liberty, but they visit the Trump Tower.”

We reached out to several sources on this one, and no one recalls a busload of high school students traveling to New York. We asked two high school students, an assistant principal, and a teacher who is tuned in to all the happenings at the school, and all cited an every-other-year band trip that goes to New York, but 2017 was an off year. We searched our local newspaper archives for mention of a trip by any of our 29 churches or a service clubs but came up short. We couldn’t find our fictional friend “Israel,” who went on the trip and we even reached out to our network of Facebook contacts to see if anyone recalled such a trip happening, but no one had. As with many other vignettes painted by Relotius, this one, too, appears to be complete fiction.

Complete article is here: