BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I’m Brooke Gladstone. Last year, German historian Harriet Scharnberg released a paper with some startling allegations about the Associated Press’ collaboration with the Nazis.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: She says the AP helped the Nazis portray a war of extermination as a conventional war.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: In turn, they remained the only Western news agency with access to the totalitarian regime.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Indeed, Scharnberg‘s paper showed that during and immediately preceding the war, the AP had engaged in a photo exchange with the SS, serving as a pipeline for photos from Nazi Germany to American news outlets and providing photos which the Nazis misused in internal propaganda. Last month, the AP released a lengthy detailed report of its own, countering some of Scharnerg's claims, copping to others and contextualizing its actions of 80 years ago.
Journalist and former AP correspondent Matti Friedman recently wrote a piece in Tablet called, “What the AP's Collaboration With the Nazis Should Teach Us About Reporting the News.”
MATTI FRIEDMAN: The AP allowed its photographs to be used in some of the worst race propaganda. Scharnberg writes that in a book called The Jews in the USA, which was a Nazi publication, the AP was the leading provider of photographs. In another book that was published by the SS called The Subhuman, also about Jews, the AP was number three on the list of photo providers. And, according to the AP’s own report, the AP didn't protest these arrangements. At the time, it was just part of what you needed to do to keep the office open in Germany.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In your article, the pamphlet called “Jews in the USA” features a photo of “famous New York Jew, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia.”
MATTI FRIEDMAN: [LAUGHS] Yes, I mean, it’d be funny in any other context, I guess, but you see La Guardia eating with his hands. He looks disgusting. He’s kind of shoving food into his mouth. And it was meant, of course, to make the point that these people were subhuman.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So can you tell me a little bit more about how AP’s collaboration with the Nazis, in order to maintain a reporting force in there, shaped Americans’ understanding of the war and the Nazi regime?
MATTI FRIEDMAN: That’s a great question, and Scharnberg, being an academic, is very careful about it because these things are, of course, very hard to measure. It's hard to know how photographs affected public opinion and whether it, you know, put off the American entrance into the war. But she does say that it's hard to believe that Americans weren't affected by images that showed the Germans as these triumphant warriors and their enemies as subhuman.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So how did the AP’s choices differ from those made by other publications at the time?
MATTI FRIEDMAN: Both Scharnberg's report and the AP’s counter- report mention the very different tacks taken by The New York Times in the mid-‘30s when the AP had to deal with the Nazi regime's new race laws, which required all the bureaus to get rid of their Jewish employees. The AP did that and The Times photo operation in Germany did not and they left.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
MATTI FRIEDMAN: So by the end of it, the AP was – Scharnberg calls it the “key channel” for German propaganda because they were the last man standing, in terms of Western media.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: They aided in the relocation of Jews, they said.
MATTI FRIEDMAN: They admit, yes, the Nazis demanded that we fire or we remove our Jewish employees from the photo bureau, and we did but, look, in retrospect, that was for the best. And, of course, it was, but I don't think that's really a justification for the decision. When you're faced with a regime making demands of you, you have two choices. You can maintain your integrity and leave or you can begin to compromise and stay, and it doesn't end with the first compromise because if you stay you know it's just gonna be compromise after compromise. And that’s, of course, what happened.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay, so you wrote that, quote, “The people in charge at the AP were wrong in 1935, and it matters today because they and their competitors are wrong now in similar ways.
MATTI FRIEDMAN: I see a lot of similarities in decisions made not only by the AP but by other news organizations who maintain offices in dictatorial regimes. And I give two examples in the article in Tablet. One is a fascinating exposé that came out in 2014 written by a veteran journalist named Nate Thayer who’s an old Southeast Asia hand. And he published a description of AP’s bureau in North Korea. The AP made an arrangement with the North Korean regime, which is, of course, one of the worst regimes on Earth, to open a bureau in North Korea. And Thayer writes in his exposé that the employees in the bureau are North Koreans who are paid by the AP but answer to the regime. The agreement that allowed the AP to open the bureau allows the AP to distribute North Korean propaganda images, like those beautiful choreographed rallies, at the same time, allows for the operation of a bureau inside North Korea that's clearly not an independent news-collecting organization because no such thing could possibly exist in North Korea.
And my own experience as a correspondent here in Israel for the AP involved a similar situation in Gaza where the AP has an office under Hamas rule in Gaza, and maintaining the office in Gaza requires accommodations and arrangements with Hamas that end up war being the coverage, and I experienced it firsthand as a reporter, and that kind of clued me into this issue.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In that case, certain rules were made clear to local staffers in Gaza, AP staffers, and they had to follow them and you, as an editor, would be warned not to put the Gazan staff at risk.
MATTI FRIEDMAN: Your staff is at the mercy of the regime, so I think that journalists tell themselves that they have the upper hand in this relationship, that they're going to, you know, maneuver inside the rules and get the story out to the extent possible. But in a relationship like the one that the AP has in Gaza or in North Korea or that it had in Germany, the regime always has the upper hand. And instead of getting the story out, what you end up doing is lending your brand to some of the worst players on Earth and misleading your readers about what's going on, giving your readers an illusion of coverage, rather than doing the honest thing, which is telling them, listen, our hands are tied and we can’t cover this place.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let us stipulate that it’s not just the AP. I mean, I remember a very notable example around the time of the Iraq War when CNN conceded that maintaining a bureau in Saddam Hussein's Iraq meant making enormous compromises in the reporting, in order to protect the lives of their staff. So the question I guess is, what you getting in exchange for maintaining a bureau in places like those?
MATTI FRIEDMAN: I would argue that you lose much more than you get because you end up providing your readers with the pieces of the puzzle that the regime wants to get out and you end up leaving out so much that I think it's not a stretch to call this kind of coverage – a lie.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Give me a little more on that. Why is part of the story worse than none of the story?
MATTI FRIEDMAN: Let's just take this as an example. Dave and Mike go into a house, Mike pulls a knife on Dave and Dave shoots Mike. I report it like this: Two guys go into a house and Dave shoots Mike. I haven’t lied to you, right?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm –
MATTI FRIEDMAN: I’ve told you what happened and I haven’t invented any details but I've left out what might be the most important detail in the story, which is that Mike pulled a knife on Dave before Dave shot Mike.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Can you get me an example from real life, maybe from when you were editing reports from Gaza where leaving out part of the story left the opposite impression?
MATTI FRIEDMAN: Sure. During the fighting there in 2014, there was a bank of international cameramen standing outside the Shifa hospital, which is the big hospital in Gaza City, getting footage of ambulances bringing in casualties. When ambulances brought in civilians, the cameramen filmed and when ambulances brought in fighters, Hamas fighters, an official at the hospital signaled to them that they needed to turn off their cameras, and they did.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm.
MATTI FRIEDMAN: Again, not just the AP, all of the international cameramen who were, who were at the hospital. Now, you broadcast the footage and the footage of wounded civilians is, of course, not a fabrication, right? That footage is real but you’re helping Hamas give the impression that only civilians are dying, which is the impression that they want to give. So you haven’t lied, but you're giving your viewers a story that is essentially a false story.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Right, but the AP said in a statement attached to its report that it never compromised its independence or standards.
MATTI FRIEDMAN: They're not admitting that standards have been compromised. Anyone who has been involved in any kind of coverage like that knows that your standards are history and you'll end up compromising them further to obscure the compromises that you've made.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What are the options for journalists, rather than compromising themselves?
MATTI FRIEDMAN: There are two options. One is to make the compromises but explicitly explain to your readers what you're doing. So you say, okay, I’m in Iran. The rules of reporting in Iran are A, B, C, and that would be attacked to every article coming out of the place like that. That’s one way to do it.
The second option is to think about this in a completely different way and say, okay, I can't cover this country but what I can do is I can locate staff in a place outside that country where I can look in, and that’s an easier and easier as the movement of information becomes freer. You know, to take North Korea as an example, take the money that the AP is spending to maintain essentially a fictional bureau inside North Korea and put it into a bureau in South Korea that covers North Korea, that works intelligence sources – spies, refugees, dissidents. And you’ll get a picture that is not perfect, of course, but it will be an honest picture and then you can tell your readers the constraints that you're working under.
The AP in Germany, for example, could have pulled its people out of Germany and put them in Spain. There were a lot of spies in Spain because it was a neutral country that was near all the combatants. And governments in exile were coming in out of Spain, refugees and people coming from other parts of Europe. And if you had really smart people in Spain trying to understand what was going on in Germany, you might have ended up with a much more accurate picture. There's an automatic bias in favor of access that actually ends up misleading readers more than you would do if you had really smart people outside those countries looking in and trying to figure out what's going on.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Matti, thank you very much.
MATTI FRIEDMAN: Thanks so much, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Matti Friedman is a writer and journalist. His latest book is called Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier’s Story, and it’s a memoir of war.
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John Daniszewski is the vice president and editor-at-large for standards at the Associated Press. He oversaw and edited its internal report on the AP in Nazi Germany. He says the substance of Scharnberg’s paper is correct but her conclusions are those of an academic, not a journalist whose primary mission is to report the news on which the whole world relies, even if that means firing your Jewish employees.
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Yes, the AP was told in 1933 to get rid of its Jewish employees. It fought that order quite vigorously and tried to enlist the US Embassy to help, resisted for as long as they could and then, when it could no longer be resisted, found ways to find jobs for these people in the United States and France and Austria and in places where they would be safe.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Austria?
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, at that time and that year, Austria was considered safe. And then when the Nazis came in to Austria, they arrested that photographer again, and the AP, again, intervened to get him released.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: So there was a lot of care. There was a lot of anger on the part of the AP bureau chief being forced to follow what he said was a ridiculous and cruel and senseless order.
But it’s different for a news agency, which has a responsibility to cover a country for the entire news media in the United States to simply pull out of Germany when there was so much essential and vital news and the whole world was hanging on, what was going on in Germany and fears of war were coming and the anti-Semitism and the preparations for the Holocaust, all of which we reported in detail. So if we had decided, well, we can’t be in that country, the information would have been lost.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I just don't understand why AP didn't terminate its photo service. That would have cost AP some revenue. The SS were, quote, “good customers.” But when you saw that these pictures were being used in a way that provided propaganda, wouldn't it have been worth closing the bureau so as not to become a party to that kind of distortion?
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, there were newsworthy photos that were being produced and they were eagerly sought in the United States. They were being reviewed by editors in Germany, reviewed again by editors in London and they were reviewed again by editors in New York for their news value. We discarded photos that we saw as propaganda, but scenes from the battlefronts, Hitler’s rallies, things like that, it's news that people need to see.
There were times when I think people did make bad judgments, which we do outline in the report.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: But as the true horror of the Hitler regime came through, there was more and more emphasis on making sure that we were portraying it accurately, both in photos and in words. And nothing in our research led us to believe that any of this was about making money. It was about getting the news, getting the photos.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: They did say that the SS were good customers and that they would lose revenue. I'm not going to say that was the number-one concern but it was certainly cited at the time.
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: There was one incident in which that was mentioned, and that person shortly thereafter was relieved of his position.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In 1941, the Nazis took over the photo bureau and entered into a photo exchange arrangement with the AP. By that point, the AP was part of a pipeline for Nazi propaganda. As far as I understand it, there was no longer even a non-Nazi AP presence on the ground. Can there be any justification for that kind of cooperation?
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: In 1941, the AP staff was arrested, held for five months and then exchanged in a prisoner exchange. As you said, the AP Photo Service was taken over by the Nazis. And during the deportation of the AP bureau chief on a sealed train, the Nazi who got possession of the service said that they would exchange photos with the AP before the war and there had been a lot of discussion, how will we continue to get photos out of occupied Europe if the United States enters the war? This played into the decision to exchange photos.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Those images were approved by the Nazis, supplied by the Nazis.
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Any photos coming out of Germany were labeled as coming from German sources or Nazi-approved photos or Nazi- censored photos but, just as we get photos from different sources now, the importance is transparency. The editors at The New York Times, Washington Post, would say, this is the German version of events. In the context of the time, when photos from every country were being controlled, there wasn't such a thing as pictures of Hitler that were being taken by freelance stringers or something like that. It just didn't exist. So these were important photos. They showed things, like the first bombing of Berlin. They showed Germans retreating across Germany as the war went on.
Even today, as we sometimes get photos from sources inside Iran or inside Syria, we say, this is what we know about this photo, this is how we got it. And that was the same practice they had then.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Your report makes clear that the AP should have done more at the time to officially protest German officials misusing its images for propaganda. The report also suggests that the AP should have refused to employ German photographers with active political affiliations to the Nazis. So let me raise with you Matti Friedman's principal issue, the one that he thinks media organizations need to rethink. This is a very different world, with regard to media, obviously. There are sources and images coming from everywhere. When reporting fully and fairly would put their own staff at risk, wouldn’t it be better to simply report from nearby and offer the best story you can from there, rather than a partial story from within, which may serve to mislead inadvertently rather than inform the audience?
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, I don't think it's an either/or. You can be inside a country getting what you can and, at the same time, reporting from outside and getting what you can there. And, actually, that's the typical thing we do. Whether it’s in Syria, Iran, North Korea, we always seek a wide net of sources to give us a full picture. So when Matti says, well, in North Korea, the bureau is prescribed you should be talking to spies and exiles, well, you know, we do. That’s what most of our reporting about North Korea is. In Syria, when it was not safe for reporters to go in, we used telephones, Skype, IM to get accounts from people inside. We spoke to people who were fleeing the scenes and put together the story that way. There is value in being there. And in North Korea, where we have very little freedom to move about, we can still see things that are happening there that have value for us.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What you're going to see from Korea is precisely what the government wants you to see.
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: It is sometimes of value to know what the government puts out about itself. People think that we have North Korean staff who are contributing the news to the AP. What we have is international staff that go in there regularly on a monthly basis. Their words are not censored. Their images are not censored.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: There is always a concern for the safety of reporters, not ones that fly in and out but who are based in repressive regimes. And there are sometimes deals struck in order to ensure their safety. Do you worry about those kinds of compromises?
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Yes, we do. We don't want to put our journalists in danger. As I'm sure you know, we've lost 30 people in AP’s history covering the news. I know the Gaza war is a subject that’s very important to Matti because he was there.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: He had to pull punches when he was at the AP to protect the reporter based in Gaza.
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Right, I saw that he wrote that. I think editors have to make judgments on things like this. And the AP certainly, in every piece of copy it ever moved out of that war, talked about Hamas firing rockets into Israel, showed video of rockets being fired into Israel. So I don't want it to be suggested that the AP did not cover the crimes of Hamas in that war.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I guess Matti has less confidence in that judgment from where he sat in Gaza than you do, and I guess it's up to every individual news consumer to gauge their level of confidence.
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Yes, and that’s why the transparency is important and why it's important for editors to be discriminating and for news consumers to be discriminating.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: John, thank you very much.
JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Thank you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: John Daniszewski is the vice president and editor-at-large for standards at the Associated Press.
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BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, enough with reality, time to move on to augmented reality.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media.