New­shawks in Berlin: The Asso­ci­at­ed Press and Nazi Germany

  • Review
By – March 5, 2024

It might have been Aeschy­lus, the ancient Greek trage­di­an, or per­haps it was Hiram John­son, gov­er­nor of Cal­i­for­nia in the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry who came up with the words – the three authors of this illu­mi­nat­ing new book can’t agree. But the epi­graph that opens this his­tor­i­cal text sums it up per­fect­ly: In war, truth is the first casualty.”

And thus begins the deep and com­pelling dive into news report­ing from Berlin in the time of Hitler that shapes the nar­ra­tive of New­shawks in Berlin, a dive that proves to be not only com­pelling and infor­ma­tive, but shock­ing to its intri­cate core.

As the Nazi par­ty was ris­ing to pow­er, jour­nal­ists the world over depend­ed on the news reports that came from the high­ly respect­ed Asso­ci­at­ed Press Berlin bureau to try to under­stand the often unimag­in­able events tak­ing place in Europe, tak­ing for grant­ed that what they read was true and objec­tive. But in this well-researched report about the peo­ple who ran the AP bureau in Ger­many and the prac­tices that drove their report­ing and edit­ing, the dark under­bel­ly of truth – and the desire to spread that truth or sub­vert it – is revealed.

While a glob­al audi­ence looked to the AP for the real news, reporters and edi­tors worked under unthink­able pres­sure to get around the cen­sor­ship that was imposed on them by the Nazis. They had to throw off the restric­tions that were put on their work and fight against threats of ret­ri­bu­tion as they cov­ered the war as it devel­oped with hon­esty. One of the most dif­fi­cult truths to report was the bru­tal way in which the Nazis strove to elim­i­nate the entire Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion, often result­ing in extreme fail­ure on many lev­els as reporters and pho­to­jour­nal­ists who labored to bring the real sto­ry to the pub­lic often found their work destroyed by the gov­ern­ment before it could reach its audience.

Numer­ous archtyp­i­cal sto­ries that were writ­ten to be sent out through the news ser­vice are exam­ined in this book in depth, as the authors detail what was report­ed, how arti­cles were writ­ten, what their pur­pose was, and whether the copy reached its goal or was redact­ed before it could leave the bureau. How the AP func­tioned in a time and place where the rules were set by a dic­ta­tor who con­trolled the press with an iron fist makes for espe­cial­ly impor­tant read­ing, because it helps explain how news ser­vices deal with the con­ces­sions they must make even today. As we know, ethics and oper­a­tions can some­times con­flict even in a demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­ety ded­i­cat­ed to telling the truth, and even in a world where for­eign jour­nal­ists have greater pow­er to report remote­ly on dic­ta­tor­ships than ever before, thanks in part to access to dig­i­tal evidence.

Was there col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Nazi gov­ern­ment dur­ing the war? Did the AP agree to omit mate­r­i­al that might weak­en views of Hitler’s pow­er? Was the infa­mous Nazi pro­pa­gan­da min­istry close­ly tied up with the func­tions of the AP? Heinz­er­ling, Her­schaft and Coop­er cast a scrupu­lous eye on each of these ques­tions, delv­ing into diaries, archives, let­ters, man­u­als and mem­os to search for answers. The choic­es the AP made in their report­ing from Nazi Ger­many had a mon­u­men­tal effect on the world’s reac­tions to their actions, and the way they han­dled the strict cen­sor­ship that was imposed on them is crit­i­cal to under­stand­ing the chal­lenges they were forced to overcome.

The coher­ent writ­ing style of the authors makes the sto­ry flow from one event to the next with a good amount of con­nec­tive tis­sue pulling all the parts togeth­er. Crisp prose keeps the read­er alert and inter­est­ed. Chap­ters deal specif­i­cal­ly with Kristall­nacht, the Blitzkreig, the shock­ing expo­sure of the Holo­caust and numer­ous events in between, along with the inter­nal machi­na­tions of the AP bureau as it attempt­ed to man­age the news and bal­ance its oblig­a­tions to the truth with the dan­ger it faced by report­ing it.

The book leads us to a crit­i­cal under­stand­ing the real­i­ty of life in the news­room in wartime under a high­ly repres­sive regime, cast­ing a clear light on the pres­sures that fol­lowed reporters and edi­tors through the work­day and into their night­mares as the sun went down on yet anoth­er day in a hor­ri­fy­ing war.

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

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