Harriet Scharnberg, German historian and Ph.D. student at the Institute of History of the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg made waves yesterday with the release, in the journal Studies in Contemporary History, of her paper, Das A und P der Propaganda: Associated Press und die nationalsozialistische Bildpublizistik.
The paper finds that, prior to the expulsion of all foreign media in 1941, the AP collaborated with Nazi Germany; signing the Schriftleitergesetz (editor’s law) which forbid the employment of “non-Aryans” and effectively ceded editorial control to the German propaganda ministry.
These are claims which the AP vehemently denies:
AP rejects the suggestion that it collaborated with the Nazi regime at any time. Rather, the AP was subjected to pressure from the Nazi regime from the period of Hitler’s coming to power in 1933 until the AP’s expulsion from Germany in 1941. AP staff resisted the pressure while doing its best to gather accurate, vital and objective news for the world in a dark and dangerous time.
AP news reporting in the 1930s helped to warn the world of the Nazi menace. AP’s Berlin bureau chief, Louis P. Lochner, won the 1939 Pulitzer Prize for his dispatches from Berlin about the Nazi regime. Earlier, Lochner also resisted anti-Semitic pressure to fire AP’s Jewish employees and when that failed he arranged for them to become employed by AP outside of Germany, likely saving their lives.
Lochner himself was interned in Germany for five months after the United States entered the war and was later released in a prisoner exchange.
Regardless which finding present a more accurate historical truth, I find this controversy quite fascinating.
According to the Guardian, the AP was the only was the only western news agency able to stay open in Hitler’s Germany, while other outlets were kicked out for refusal to comply with Nazi regulations.
This exclusivity lends credence to the claim they the news agency did, in some way, collaborate – since it seems improbably that the Nazis would have allowed them to continue without some measure of compliance. It also suggests a shameful reason for this compliance: choosing to stay, even under disagreeable terms, was a smart business decision.
But it also highlights the interesting challenge faced by foreign correspondents covering repressive regimes.
For German news media, it was a zero-sum game: either comply with the Schriftleitergesetz or face charges of treason – a charge that would likely have serious repercussions for one’s family as well.
The AP, from what I can tell, seems to have skirted some middle ground.
By their account, the AP did work with a “photo agency subsidiary of AP Britain” which, in 1935 “became subject to the Nazi press-control law but continued to gather photo images inside Germany and later inside countries occupied by Germany.”
While images from this subsidiary were supplied to U.S. newspapers, “those that came from Nazi government, government-controlled or government–censored sources were labeled as such in their captions or photo credits sent to U.S. members and other customers of the AP, who used their own editorial judgment about whether to publish the images.”
The line between collaboration and providing critical information seems awfully fuzzy here.
Critics would claim that the AP was simply looking out for it’s own bottom-line, sacrificing editorial integrity for an economic advantage. The AP, however, seems to argue that it was a difficult time and they did what they had to do to provide the best coverage they could – they did not collaborate, but they played by the rules just enough to maintain the accesses needed to share an important story with the world.