Placeholder while article actions load

In most accounts of the fight against Nazi Germany, the Americans and the British get to be the good guys. But in “The Newspaper Axis,” Kathryn S. Olmsted levels a damning indictment against six of the most powerful English-language publishers of the World War II era. Although they claimed to be patriots, they used their influence to downplay, condone and sometimes even promote Adolf Hitler’s rise.

The worst offender was Lord Harold Rothermere, publisher of London’s Daily Mail, a right-wing tabloid that sold more than 1 million copies a day. A supporter of Britain’s fascist Blackshirts, Rothermere gushed in print about how Hitler had “saved his country” from ineffectual leaders and had brought “immense benefits” to Germany (Rothermere was even more fawning in the private letters he addressed to “my dear Führer”).

Rothermere’s friend Lord Max Beaverbrook, whose Daily Express was the only British newspaper with a higher circulation than the Mail, also belongs in the newspaper axis, Olmsted says. Although he is generally celebrated for his role overseeing war industries for Winston Churchill’s government during World War II, Beaverbrook had previously insisted that Britain should stay out of Hitler’s way and that Hitler’s “exceptional astuteness” meant he wouldn’t launch a war. The bigger threat, Beaverbrook believed, was Churchill. The two were longtime friends, and Beaverbrook’s Evening Standard had employed Churchill as a columnist. But after Churchill’s speech denouncing Hitler’s annexation of Austria, Beaverbrook turned on him. Not content with canceling Churchill’s column, Beaverbrook also told one of his reporters to compile a file of Churchill’s statements that could be used to paint him as a warmonger, saying, “He must be stopped.”

Across the Atlantic, several influential American publishers agreed with Beaverbrook that (in Olmsted’s words) “those who wanted to resist the European dictators posed a greater danger to their own country than the fascist leaders themselves.” Three of them were relatives: Joseph Medill Patterson ran the New York Daily News, the highest-circulation newspaper in the country; his sister, Eleanor “Cissy” Patterson, was in charge of the capital’s best-selling paper, the Washington Times-Herald; and their cousin, Robert McCormick, published the Chicago Tribune, the nation’s top-selling broadsheet. Joining them in firm support of isolationism was William Randolph Hearst, whose media empire — newsreels, magazines, a wire service and 28 major newspapers — reached tens of millions of Americans.

Hearst went furthest in his dalliance with Nazi Germany. He allowed Hitler and his second-in-command, Hermann Göring (along with Italy’s Benito Mussolini), to write self-serving propaganda for his newspapers in the 1930s and paid them handsomely for it. After meeting with Hitler in Berlin in 1934, Hearst enthused about the way Hitler had restored “character and courage” to Germany. On that same trip, Hearst struck a film-swapping deal in which parts of his company’s newsreels would be shown in Germany, and in exchange, Hearst would place German newsreel footage — unfiltered Nazi propaganda — in the films shown to American audiences.

The Patterson siblings and McCormick had no affinity for Hitler, but they fiercely opposed any aid to Britain that might risk drawing the United States into war. They told their readers that instead of worrying about dictators overseas, they should focus on the would-be dictator at home, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who they warned was conspiring with his communist-leaning advisers to overthrow American democracy. The Pattersons, whose papers had supported FDR’s New Deal during the 1930s, were latecomers to this line of thinking — only when Roosevelt backed the Lend-Lease Act in early 1941 did they turn against him. But they made up for lost time by attacking FDR with the same ferocity that their cousin’s conservative Chicago Tribune had shown for years.

Even after the United States entered the war, Hearst, McCormick and the Pattersons continued to depict the Roosevelt administration and America’s allies (Britain and Russia) as the country’s “most insidious enemies,” Olmsted writes. The notion that the isolationists slinked away in shame after Pearl Harbor and that nearly all Americans rallied around Roosevelt is “mythology.”

So why were these publishers — who, apart from Rothermere, disliked fascism — so determined to either appease or ignore Hitler? The answer, Olmsted argues, is that they all subscribed to a deeply racist version of nationalism. The press barons were more than willing to use military force to establish or uphold their country’s dominion over non-White nations. Beaverbrook’s rationale for appeasing Hitler was that by doing so Britain could focus on maintaining its empire; Hearst and McCormick believed that American racial superiority meant that the United States should dominate Latin America.

The isolationist American publishers showed a hatred for Japan that they couldn’t seem to muster against Germany — and not just because of Pearl Harbor. Hearst had a long history of vicious anti-Asian racism, and Joe Patterson nursed a fear that with Whites distracted by their squabbles in Europe, the “yellow race,” led by Japan, might take over the world. The “vilest deed” of Nazi Germany, stated one Hearst editorial from 1943, was to ally “against its own white race with the yellow peril.”

Another unifying trait among the newspaper axis was their antisemitism. They espoused conspiracy theories about Jewish influence in government and believed that Jews themselves were to blame for antisemitism. So they had little sympathy for European Jews suffering at Hitler’s hands, and they suspected that American Jews were scheming to force the nation into war — an insinuation that appeared routinely in their editorials.

Olmsted, a professor of history at the University of California at Davis, sometimes overstates the case that these publishers enabled Hitler. Opposing the president in wartime isn’t the same as aiding the enemy, especially when the president truly is violating democratic norms (although the press barons were less concerned with FDR’s actual abuses, such as Japanese internment, than with their paranoid fantasies about him canceling elections). Also, many other American newspapers failed to take Hitler seriously in the 1930s, and nearly all of them vilified the Japanese more than the Germans (so did U.S. government propaganda).

Yet in many ways, the members of the newspaper axis were especially despicable. Not only were their editorials extremist to the point of being unhinged, their news coverage was slanted too — and given that they had the loudest megaphones, they had the most power to do harm.

It would be comforting to think that such irresponsible journalism is a historical relic. But the parallels with today’s right-wing media, on both sides of the Atlantic, are unavoidable: displaying apathy or sympathy toward brutal dictators (see Putin, Vladimir), deriding efforts to address legitimate threats (see pandemic, coronavirus) as schemes by liberal elites to control the population. The Hitler-enabling press lords, Olmsted writes, understood “how to sell suspicion and hatred to a mass audience.” Their successors apply the same techniques.

Matthew Pressman is an assistant professor of journalism at Seton Hall. He is researching a book on the history of the New York Daily News.

Six Press Barons Who Enabled Hitler

Source link

By admin

Malcare WordPress Security