Michael S. Swisher
Michael S. Swisher is chairman of the board of Religion and Society, the foundation that publishes The St. Croix Review.
Bugaboos of the Chattering Class — Anti-Americanism
Fergus Falls is a small Minnesota city of some 13,000, about 3 hours’ drive north and west of The St. Croix Review’s offices in Stillwater. It rarely attracts the attention of newspapers in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, much less that of the international press. Yet this past December, Fergus Falls became the focal point of a journalistic scandal having repercussions half-way around the world.
Claas Relotius, a writer for the German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel, was sent by his employers in 2017 to Fergus Falls to report on the attitudes, manners, and mores of a town in “flyover country” that voted in the 2016 presidential election for Donald Trump. He did not disappoint either his masters at Der Spiegel, a publication which, according to The Atlantic, “has long peddled crude and sensational anti-Americanism”, nor German readers, eager for confirmation of their antipathies.
Relotius reported that upon arrival in Fergus Falls, he “was greeted by a sign that read ‘Mexicans Keep Out.’” He described the movie “American Sniper” as a popular long-running picture at the local movie theater; it hadn’t been playing during the time Relotius was there. The city administrator, Andrew Bremseth, was described as “wearing a pistol holstered to his belt while at work.” Yet the city administrator indicated that he doesn’t carry a gun at city hall.
Other Fergus Falls residents were also falsely characterized. Relotius also wrote about Bremseth watching the Super Bowl at a brewery, but the brewery was closed on Sundays. A Western-themed party that the reporter described never occurred, and neither did a high school field trip to New York, where Relotius said students skipped the Statue of Liberty to visit Trump Tower.
Some individuals on whom Relotius supposedly reported were completely fictional. He described a local coal miner named Neil Becker. There is no coal mine anywhere near Fergus Falls, nor any Neil Becker.
All of this, and more, was exposed by two local bloggers, Michele Anderson and Jake Krohn. They write:
“Not only did Relotius’ ‘exposé’ on Fergus Falls make unrecognizable movie-like characters out of the people in my town that I interact with on a daily basis, but its very basic lack of truth and its bizarrely bleak portrayal of the place I love left a very sick, unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“There’s really nothing like this feeling — knowing that people in another country have read about the place I call home and are shaking their heads over their coffee in disgust, sharing the article on Facebook and Twitter, and making comments on the online article like ‘creepy,’ and ‘these are the people who don’t believe electricity exists.”’ 
Relotius was forced to resign from Der Spiegel after the exposure of his hoax. Investigation by another Der Spiegel reporter, Juan Moreno, found evidence that numerous other news articles published by Relotius were partly or wholly fabricated.
Journalistic fraud is an old phenomenon. There have been many examples, ranging from the humorous and harmless, such as the “Great Moon Hoax” of 1835, to the evil of Walter Duranty’s whitewash of Stalin’s genocide in the Ukraine. The purpose in each case may vary widely. The Moon Hoax was intended to sell newspapers; Duranty’s fraud, to spread Soviet propaganda. The intent Relotius had was both commercial and ideological, and reflects the rise of “narrative journalism” in which facts are secondary to the “narrative,” an explanation of events that satisfies the prior opinion of its consumers. One German editor wrote of the Relotius case that “the imaginative author simply delivered what his superiors demanded and fit into their spin.”
Readers, no less than editors, have prejudices and confirmation bias. There is a strong vein of anti-Americanism in Europe. It goes beyond disagreement with the policies of the United States government to contempt and even hatred of the American people, reflecting a mixture of envy for America’s material wealth and snobbery about Americans’ presumed crudity, ignorance, and socially retrograde attitudes.
Europeans of this stripe are the kind that make snarky comments about how the United States is alone among “industrial democracies” because it doesn’t have socialized medicine — but then, when they are sick, the same people waste no time and fly (in private jets if possible) to the Mayo Clinic or a similar American facility rather than entrust their care to their own inefficient and understaffed national health services.
The European mixture of envy and snobbery with respect to America is quite similar to that found on many college campuses, where professors decry capitalism for a variety of recondite reasons, but in reality, mainly because a free economy rewards people they consider their intellectual and moral inferiors better than it does themselves.
Communism, socialism, “social democracy,” and similar manifestations of the same ideas are endemic among the intelligentsia because they appeal to their moral vanity and sense of unrewarded virtue. Of all kinds of envy, that of intellectuals — or people who fancy themselves intellectuals — is the most pernicious.
Do not our domestic intelligentsia have their own preconceptions, their own confirmation bias, and their own contempt and hatred of their fellow countrymen, quite as virulent as the anti-American sentiment that is rampant in Europe?
One recent example we’ve witnessed in 2019 is the case of a group of young students from the Covington, Kentucky, Catholic High School. While attending the 2019 March for Life in Washington, D.C., they were confronted at the Lincoln Memorial by an alleged “tribal elder,” one Nathan Phillips, who claimed to be a Vietnam War veteran. The boys were wearing red baseball caps embroidered with the slogan “Make America Great Again.” Phillips began beating a drum close to one boy’s face, as a group of so-called Black Hebrews verbally assailed them.
Yet, as this was presented to the public, the boys were the offenders. They were pilloried by the mainstream media and even defamed by the bishop of the Diocese of Covington — all before the circumstances had been thoroughly investigated. Most disturbing was the reaction of the pundits at National Review, a nominally conservative magazine known for its hatred of President Trump. One of the magazine’s writers, Nicholas Frankovich, compared the behavior of the boys as akin to “spitting on the cross.”
As the facts began to be discovered it became apparent that the boys did nothing improper; that Phillips, the self-described Vietnam vet, had never seen combat, but served stateside as a refrigerator mechanic, went AWOL on more than one occasion, and may have received a less than honorable discharge. National Review took down the original Frankovich piece and published a lukewarm and incomplete apology to the boys.
Of course we know what Barack Obama thought of “bitter clingers,” and what Hillary Clinton thought of the “basket of deplorables.” At this point, can it really be doubted that the soi-disant intelligentsia at National Review share the disdain that their left-wing Acela-corridor colleagues feel for the red-hatted members of the conservative base? It is not just Trump they detest, but his supporters as well. They are of the same mentality as the avid readers of Claas Relotius’s purple prose, and just as ready to believe fabrications about half of their fellow citizens.
As an example of how they view their countrymen, here’s Max Boot:
“If only we could keep the hard-working Latin American newcomers and deport the contemptible Republican cowards — that would truly enhance America.”
Here’s Bret Stephens:
“Bottom line: So-called real Americans are screwing up America. . . . Maybe they should leave, so that we can replace them with new and better ones: newcomers who are more appreciative of what the United States has to offer, more ambitious for themselves and their children, and more willing to sacrifice for the future.”
And here’s Bill Kristol:
“Look, to be totally honest, if things are so bad as you say with the white working class, don’t you want to get new Americans in?
“Basically if you are in a free society, a capitalist society, after two, three, four generations of hard work, everyone becomes kind of decadent, lazy, spoiled, whatever.
“Then, luckily, you have these waves of people coming in from Italy, Ireland, Russia, and now Mexico, who really want to work hard and really want to succeed, and really want their kids to live better lives than them, and aren’t sort of clipping coupons or hoping that they can hang on and, meanwhile, grew up as spoiled kids and so forth. In that respect, I don’t know why this moment is that different from the early 20th century.”
The contempt and disdain of these people for Americans of old stock is breathtaking. American history, and the historic American people, are valued at nothing. We are inured to this from the left, but it is exceedingly disheartening to hear almost the same thing from persons calling themselves conservative. *
 Taylor, S.J. Stalin’ s Apologist: Walter Duranty, The New York Times’ Man in Moscow. 1990: Oxford University Press.