The fraudulence comes to Fergus Falls!


It was widespread long before:
We'll return tomorrow to Donald Trump's alleged bone spurs and to These Presidential Historians Today.

More specifically, we'll review what Michael Beschloss recently said. We think there's a point to be made.

That said, there are several obvious points to be drawn from the front-page report in today's New York Times concerning Fergus Falls.

Fergus Falls is a town of roughly 14,000 souls in west central Minnesota, trending toward the Dakotas. As is now being widely discussed, the fraudulence arrived in Fergus Falls in the aftermath of Donald J. Trump's 46 percent win in the 2016 White House election.

Warning! Trump got 64 percent of the vote in Otter Tail County, of which Fergus Falls is the county seat. This made Fergus Falls a natural target for the sort of fraudulence which is widespread among our race.

Matt Furber and Mitch Smith describe the fraud today. The fraudulence came from a major newspaper from Over There. The Times report starts like this:
FURBER AND SMITH (12/29/18): Claas Relotius, who spent weeks reporting in Fergus Falls last year for one of Europe’s most respected publications, could have written about the many residents who maintain friendships across partisan lines, about the efforts to lure former residents back to west-central Minnesota or about how a city of roughly 14,000 people maintains a robust arts scene.

To give a sense of the place, he could have described local landmarks like the giant statue of Otto the Otter. Or the Minnesota-shaped welcome sign next to the Applebee’s. Or the expansive prairie that surrounds the town.

But he did not.

Instead, Mr. Relotius invented a condescending fiction. On the venerated pages of Der Spiegel, a German newsmagazine, Mr. Relotius portrayed Fergus Falls as a backward, racist place whose residents blindly supported President Trump and rarely ventured beyond city limits. He made up details about a young city official. He concocted characters, roadside signs and racially tinged plotlines.
Relotius "invented a fiction" concerning "a backward, racist place." He concocted characters, roadside signs and racially tinged plotlines.

Needless to say, that isn't the fault of other journalists. But among the fictions Relotius published in Der Spiegel, he even offered this:
FURBER AND SMITH: When [Relotius] was exposed, the fact that his portrayal of Fergus Falls was false went public, too, as well as the efforts of some people in town to document what he got wrong.

Soon, the town found itself in the midst of an international furor that it did not ask to be part of. The American ambassador to Germany accused Der Spiegel of a pattern of journalistic malpractice. National and international news outlets have visited the city, about 175 miles northwest of Minneapolis. Painful memories of being lied about have resurfaced.


The fabrications in the article ranged from the trivial (an account of a foreboding forest that does not exist and a Super Bowl party that did not happen) to the personally devastating (the city administrator was falsely portrayed as a gun-obsessed, romantically challenged man who had never seen the ocean) to the downright inflammatory (Mr. Relotius claimed—falsely, residents say—that there was a sign that said “Mexicans Keep Out” at the entrance to town). He seemed to conflate and invent biographies for different Hispanic people and said “American Sniper” had been playing for months on end at the local movie theater, a claim rebutted by residents.
Surely, Der Spiegel obtained a photograph of that remarkable roadside sign before it published that accusation.

Well, apparently, no, it did not. Nor do Furber and Smith seem entirely willing to say that they know that this "fabrication" (their assessment) really and truly was "false."

Whatever! This report seems to chronicle the latest example of flatly fraudulent fictive "reporting," a type of journalistic malfunction which appears from time to time.

It also chronicles the efforts of some people in Fergus Falls to challenge the fraud. Three cheers for Michele Anderson, whose challenge to Der Spiegel apparently drew no response:
FURBER AND SMITH: Michele Anderson, who works for a local arts nonprofit, said she had been eager to read Mr. Relotius’s work and used Google’s translation service last year to convert the German text to English. The translation was imperfect, but it was immediately clear that the story was a fabrication. When Ms. Anderson saw someone praise the article on Twitter in April 2017, she replied that the story was false, a “hilarious, insulting excuse for journalism.” For more than a year, Der Spiegel did not respond.


As the truth spread—that the story was not only largely false, but also deeply insulting—residents began weighing their options. City officials discussed whether they had any legal recourse. Ms. Anderson and a friend began compiling a list of the article’s inaccuracies. But unsure what options they had and not wanting to draw more negative attention, residents mostly kept their anger within city limits until Mr. Relotius’s broader misdeeds were exposed this month.
Someone had loved the report on Twitter! There's a lot of that going around!

The Der Spiegel report seems to have been the latest instance of flat-out, fraudulent journalistic invention. In this country, we've had major examples of this type of journalistic fiction in the past thirty years—from Jayson Blair at the New York Times and Stephen Glass at the New Republic, to cite two high-profile examples.

That said, our discourse is awash in commentary which falls just short of this level of fraud. Meanwhile, our upper-end "news reporting" has often been driven by such fiction-based writing, in ways which have changed the course of world history and taken many lives.

The twenty-month coverage of Candidate Gore fell just short of this level of fraud. That coverage sent George W. Bush to the White House and children in Iraq to their deaths.

The coverage of Candidate (Hillary) Clinton often adopted a similar cast. The New York Times' giant, sprawling "news report" about Uranium One fell just short of being outright fraud when it appeared in April 2015. We'd say this ridiculous October 2016 front-page report about the moral greatness of the truth-tellers Flowers and Hamzy didn't fall far behind, based mainly on the three million facts the news report chose to withhold.

The lunacy of this "news reporting" fell just short of outright fraud. That said, there's one big difference between those cases and the case of Fergus Falls:

The fraudulent treatment of Fergus Falls has now been widely debunked and discussed. By way of contrast, the fraudulence of the New York Times cannot be reported or discussed. Any such conduct would be forbidden by the tenets of Hard Pundit Law, by the unyielding code of silence observed within the guild.

Here at this site, we wrote for years, including for twenty months in real time, about the fraudulent coverage of Candidate Gore. But because the fraud was being conducted by the Washington Post and the New York Times, it was then, and it remains today, undiscussable within the system.

In one glorious exception, Vanity Fair published this October 2007 report by Evgenia Peretz, a report which was almost wholly based on our own earlier work. There it was, at full length, in a major publication.

No discussion ensued. For the criminal class which conspired to kill all those kids in Iraq, any such discussion would have constituted a violation of law.

How about that fraudulent report about Hillary Clinton and Uranium One? Here too, the fairly obvious fraudulence has never been discussed in public or explained by the Times.

It has been discussed in private (in effect)! In August 2017, Harvard's Berkman Klein Center published a lengthy, deracinated report beneath this intriguing title:
Online Media & the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election
Included deep within the report was a lengthy discussion of the role played by the Times report in making Uranium One a major part of anti-Clinton propaganda. That said, the Harvard reported appeared several years too late, and it was written in the abstractified style which seems intended to ensure that it will never be read or discussed by anyone in the outside world.

The authors did find time to praise themselves for their tireless, exhaustively-staffed, well-funded efforts. The report starts like this:
FARIS, ROBERTS, ETLING, BOURASSA, ZUCKERMAN AND BAKLER (8/17): This paper is the result of months of effort and has only come to be as a result of the generous input of many people from the Berkman Klein Center and beyond.

Jonas Kaiser and Paola Villarreal expanded our thinking around methods and interpretation. Brendan Roach provided excellent research assistance. Rebekah Heacock Jones helped get this research off the ground, and Justin Clark helped bring it home. We are grateful to Gretchen Weber, David Talbot, and Daniel Dennis Jones for their assistance in the production and publication of this study.

This paper has also benefited from contributions of many outside the Berkman Klein community. The entire Media Cloud team at the Center for Civic Media at MIT’s Media Lab has been essential to this research.

Natalie Gyenes and Anushka Shah provided research insights and Media Cloud expertise. Rahul Bhargava, Linas Valiukas, and Cindy Bishop built the platform that made this work possible. John Kelly and Vlad Barash provided important insights into the role of social media in the election, leading us to new hypotheses and ideas that shaped the paper’s development. Matt Higgins helped lay a firm foundation of thought and hypotheses upon which this work was completed. Philipp Nowak provided valuable early research assistance.

Participants of Data & Society’s Propaganda & Media Manipulation Workshop in May 2017 provided valuable feedback and critical cross-examination that helped steer this paper to its final version. Thanks to Anthony Nadler for particularly helpful feedback on an early draft of this study.

This study was funded by the Open Society Foundations U.S. Programs. Media Cloud has received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations.
Who didn't fund this project? Meanwhile, the tireless authors worked "for months," helped by a cast of thousands.

We've worked for free for 21 years. Our debunking of the Times' Uranium One report appeared one day after it first appeared, not more than two years later.

(Two days before the report appeared, we offered these ruminations concerning the very strange business deal from which the report resulted. Such things can be done in real time, though the issues involved won't be discussed by our favorite stars on cable.)

Fergus Falls has had its day in court. The fraudulent report about the town has been identified, acknowledged, discussed.

The larger frauds under which we all live continue along under stifling codes of silence. Simply put, you aren't allowed to know many things. This is roughly the arrangement Chomsky describes as "manufactured consent."

One final point. The fraudulent Der Spiegel report worked from a much-loved novelistic framework. It was all about the racism of Those People, the ones in the other tribe.

Our contemporary liberal world runs on that fuel. Our liberal world runs on tribal loathing, on the loathing of The Others which has always routinely prevailed.

Are we humans really the rational animal? This depressing New York Times report about the inner workings of the Women's March provides a depressing answer to that question.

We humans just aren't all that sharp. In particular, we have a lot of trouble with the logical complexities of "some" versus "all."

This doesn't mean that anyone's evil. It means we're prone to self-defeat through painful error, even Over Here within our progressive tents.

It means we aren't all that sharp. Except when we're seeing ourselves from afar, the truth is, we never have been.

Charles Lane goes to Fergus Falls: Charles Lane was editor of The New Republic during the Stephen Glass era.

Earlier this week, he discussed the Fergus Falls case in the Washington Post. He also discussed the way we liberals love to drop our bombs.

Tomorrow: What Michael Beschloss (oddly) said to applause


  1. "The lunacy of this "news reporting" fell just short of outright fraud"

    Whoa, "just short of outright fraud". You're soooo nuanced, dear Bob.

    All you liberal zombies need is a simple 'narrative' confirming your zombie-cult's dogma. That's all. Whether it's a lunacy and/or outright fraud is irrelevant.

    And in any case, as courageous German journalist Udo Ulfkotte revealed (before meeting his untimely death), all the goebbelsian German media are controlled by the CIA anyhow...

  2. Whether Bob is right about media fraud and bias 20 years ago, they sure are demonstrating it today, with their over-the-top level of Trump hatred. Democratic law Professor Anne Althouse expressed my views in a recent blog post. Note especially her last paragraph.

    "[S]uch gratuitously negative reporting undermines the credibility of the press without Mr. Trump having to say a word."
    Writes the Editorial Board of The Wall Street Journal.

    They are talking about the first 2 paragraphs of the Washington Post's report on Trump's trip to Iraq:
    President Trump touched down Wednesday in Iraq in his first visit to a conflict zone as commander in chief, a week after announcing a victory over the Islamic State that his own Pentagon and State Department days earlier said remained incomplete.

    The president’s visit to Al Asad Air Base west of Baghdad, which was shrouded in secrecy, follows months of public pressure for him to spend time with troops deployed to conflicts in the Middle East and punctuates the biggest week of turmoil the Pentagon has faced during his presidency.

    In the words of the WSJ: "[C]an anyone reading those opening two sentences wonder why millions of Americans believe Donald Trump when he tells them that he can’t get a fair shake from the press?"

    I'll just add that I can barely read the news these days (and I absolutely cannot watch it on TV). The negativity toward Trump is so relentless, cluttering up everything. It's crying wolf times a thousand. If anything is worth taking seriously, I'm afraid I won't be able to notice.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly with what she says. Look at George W. Bush who lied repeatedly about the need for a war with Iraq which turned out to be an illegal disaster. Think of the sheer immorality of what he did and what he wrought not to mention the illegality and incompetence. He was much worse that Trump and Trump may turn out to be better than Obama when it comes to illegal foreign policy atrocities. The press were much less severe on both of them and, in the case of Bush undoubtedly, the crimes were so, so, so much more immoral and disastrous than anything Trump has hitherto affronted on the world.

    2. "Think of the sheer immorality of what he did and what he wrought not to mention the illegality and incompetence"

      My dear, if morality is what you seek, try church.

      In politics, which is a power struggle between various interests groups, morality is not the issue.

      When your claim 'illegality', you need to cite the relevant court decree. Otherwise, your claim is just bullshit.

      As for 'incompetence', to judge competence of the execution you need to be cognizant of the task. Not the declared one ('weapons of mass destruction' or some such nonsense), but the real strategic one, in the context of imperial strategy.

    3. Ok, the Iraq war was a legal, competent imperial power struggle between two groups. ;)

    4. Mao thinks of him self as a traditionalist but he's really obsessed with determinism.

      Wot a gud widdle Sam Hawwis podcast listener you are!

    5. I didn't say "two groups", dembot. Various groups.

      Also, 'legality', same as 'morality', is not part of the equation.

      You pursue the interests of your sponsor to the maximum extent possible. And if you hesitate because of your concerns about 'legality' or 'morality', then you'll be fired, someone will replace you, and do the job.

      Otherwise, yeah, you're catching on, dembot.

    6. "You pursue the interests of your sponsor or you will get fired" - you would of made a great Nazi jack off loser.

    7. No one could have foreseen Conservatives crying victimhood. It almost never happens all the time.

  3. “Are we humans really the rational animal? This depressing New York Times report about the inner workings of the Women's March provides a depressing answer to that question.”

    Really? The Times, which produced that slanted Uranium One story? Somerby doesn’t apply the same critical standards to this story. The same insinuating type of headline, the same slanted report to tarnish liberal leaning groups.

    But Somerby says it provides an “answer” to his question. Riiiight.

  4. What does Somerby actually tell us about the Berkman Klein report?

    That the authors thanked numerous people in the acknowledgment section (which Somerby quotes in its entirety).

    That the authors had funding sources.

    That they mentioned the Clinton Foundation in their report.

    What is Somerby’s attitude towards the report?

    Snark. Somerby did it for free in real time for 21 years. And he wasn’t even one of the multitude who got thanked!

    Forget that the report is a scientific study of the 2015-2016 campaign, looking at millions of stories from all over the media spectrum, including the impact of social media.

    And no, its conclusion is not “Our liberal world runs on tribal loathing, on the loathing of The Others which has always routinely prevailed.”

    1. TDH's criticism is not so much of the BK report but of the mainstream press. He says that the only piece that properly discussed the Uranium One story was the BK report, which was too late to do any good and which, in any case, buried the story "deep" within its pages. I think TDH's snark is reserved for reporters who didn't cover the Uranium One story, which they could have done contemporaneously and without extensive funding. Nowhere does TDH claim that the BK report says that the liberal world runs on tribal loathing. His claim is that the liberal world loves the stories like the one about Fergus Falls, courtesy of Der Spiegel.

      Did you actually read this blog entry?

  5. *** Public Service Announcement ***

    Mao in Cal is a troll. He has admitted here that his comments have no point other than to elicit a response. Don't feed him. Treat his comments as you do the comments that show up here from spell casters and Mumbai movers.

  6. *** Public Service Announcement ***

    David Cheng Ji is a moral and intellectual idiot. You may safely ignore anything that he posts. There is no right-wing source that he won't swallow whole and regurgitate here.

    Case in point: Anne Althouse, right-wing troll. For just one example of her dishonesty and disingenuousness, go here.

    1. Good to know. Turns out Ann Althouse is not a member of any political party as she notes in the About Ann Althouse section on her blog:

      "Please note that Althouse has an aversion to politics and belongs to no political party (or other organization) and never gives money to any candidates or causes. "

      Clearly she is a Trump supporter from her blog postings, makes sense since she supported Scott Walker (voted out in the massive WI blue wave) and voted for Bush in 2004.

      Defending the indefensible: Althouse on Trump’s blood libel

    2. Apparently my link identifying Althouse as a Democrat was incorrect. My apologies.

      OTOH I do not know that Althouse is a Trump supporter. One does not have to be a Trump supporter to criticize some of the ignorant, false, or exaggerated statements about Trump. One merely needs to be intelligent and principled, as is Bob Somerby.

    3. *** Public Service Announcement ***

      ... I do not know that Althouse is a Trump supporter.

      David Cheng Ji is a moral and intellectual idiot. No one needs to read past the bold words in his sentence quoted above.

      His friend Annie is also a big fan of torturing our enemies. She's quite upfront about her moral and intellectual judgments. You may check out her blog, to which I decline to link.

    4. “Mao in Cal is a troll”

      “David Cheng Ji is a moral and intellectual idiot”

      Heh heh. At least Mao doesn’t write IMHO, or OTHO all the time, sort of refreshing when you’re reading the writings of Siamese twins, joined at the noggin.

      You made the observation about the two some time ago, and their posting patterns seem to bear it out. Except Mao must be the Alpha in that relationship, he’s always right on time, David just follows up, right on cue.

      It was good to see Somerby quoted in the Vanity Fair article, which I’d never seen before.


    5. My play on the nyms is my (snarky) way of saying that the two are equivalently useless. They may actually be the same person, of course, but in that case he (or perhaps she) presents different personas.

      Mao could be an AI program that's failed the Turing test. Just think the words libzombie and dembot and you've got every Mao comment ever made. He's as predictable as the spell casters. As for David, there's no right-wing twaddle so outrageously wrong that he won't rush here to tout. If memory serves, he has the moral idiot distinction for supporting torture, just like Annie, his latest BFF. I've lost track of the number of silver oak leaf clusters that adorn his intellectual idiot award.

      Mao's clockwork contributions to the commentariat are, I suspect, prompted by the provided feed.

    6. @deadrat
      Congratulations for appointing yourself comment moderator. Aside from Mao and David, the “commentariat” consists of various Anonymous commenters who run the gamut from right-wing extremist anti-Semite to Bob critics, some of whom call Bob an asshole, others who merely take issue with his ideas. And then there’s you, deadrat, and possibly Leroy. Otherwise, Somerby never established a consistent ‘commentariat’, and most of his regulars have abandoned ship.

    7. Anonymous @8:37P,

      Thanks, but I lack any authority to moderate. I’m just providing a public service with my announcements in the hope that people won’t waste their time on the malignantly stupid and the stupidly malignant and in the fonder hope that limiting useless response threads might attract a better class of commenters.

      Alas, I think you’re correct that the word commentariat as applied to this blog should have scare quotes applied. I have enjoyed TDH’s role as an obsessive jeremiah to the liberal press, but I’m mystified by his insistence that to call Trump a liar is wrong because we can’t access his interiority but that to fail to discuss whether Trump is mentally ill is also a trespass. And there’s TDH’s refusal to learn any science or math, his attraction to poseurs like Harari, and his fascination with Wittgenstein.

      I’m sure TDH as an individual is a good person, as most people generally are. TDH as a blog, currently sucks.

      And now that I think about it, I don’t think most people are generally good.

    8. "Congratulations for appointing yourself comment moderator. "

      Hey fella. All due respect, get your own dembot stalkers and lecture them. I like mine just as they are, thank you very much.

  7. deadrat -- no doubt Anne Althouse is more right-wing (or less left-wing) than you. But, by the standards of ordinary Americans, she's a liberal. She is a member of the Democratic Party. She voted for Barack Obama.

    1. So Anne Althouse isn't a fan of sexual predators. Who knew?

  8. Following being hoisted like a baked Pillsbury Doughboy into a non combat zone military base (formerly nicknamed Camp Cupcake), Trump set about betraying one of our secret Seal teams, broadcasting their faces to the ungodly sounds of Lee Greenwood (CA native and thrice divorced former blackjack dealer.)

    He preceded that treasonous act by showing off his jelly roll while deceiving our troops about their pay rate.

    In Iraq visit, Trump makes false claims about military pay again

    Madtv Clops

    1. Tsk, de-licious.

      Dembot twisting and squirming in hatred is a beauuutiful thing...

    2. *** Public Service Announcement ***

      Mao in Cal is a troll. Thanks for not feeding him.

    3. Fuck you.faggor

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