By James Risen
The Intercept (8/16/18)
When Adolf Hitler came to power, after the Nazis had shut down all of Germany’s independent newspapers and magazines and ended press freedom in the country, Hermann Ullstein, a member of a highly regarded German publishing family, fled to New York and wrote a penetrating memoir of the rise and fall of his family’s media empire.
His father, Leopold Ullstein, a Jewish newspaper dealer, had founded Ullstein Verlag, the family publishing house, which at its pre-Nazi peak owned some of Germany’s most important publications, including the Vossische Zeitung newspaper. But when Hitler stole their press holdings, Hermann Ullstein and other family members fled, and by World War II, the Ullstein presses were being used to print Das Reich, a newspaper created by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
Too cautious, too late, too familiar
From his refuge in New York, Hermann Ullstein wrote critically of the failure of the German press to confront Hitler more aggressively when it still had a chance — before he came to power. In his 1943 book, Ullstein chastised the mainstream press in Germany for being too cautious in the pre-Nazi years, especially in comparison to the aggressive right-wing media that was rising during the late 1920s and boosting Hitler’s political fortunes. He lamented the weak response of “the loyal press,” his phrase for the pre-Nazi mainstream press “whose efforts were devoted to democracy, and whose failure was to a large extent due to mildness of language, to the tired and cautious spirit in which they fought.”
The White House press corps in particular seems determined to try to cover Trump as it has previous presidents, employing the same American journalistic standards and practices used in the past.
Hermann Ullstein’s criticism of the mainstream press of the pre-Nazi era would sound eerily familiar to anyone following the American media today as it tries to confront Donald Trump. Trump has repeatedly castigated the American press as “the enemy of the people” and has brought his political supporters to such a crazed pitch that many of them now consider journalists to be traitors. Some of Trump’s backers even seem to think that physical attacks on reporters are acceptable.
Trump uses his Twitter account to maliciously attack individual reporters, and journalists covering Trump’s dark and fevered rallies are now being forced to hire security personnel to protect themselves from the crowds. Trump seeks to discredit the mainstream press at every turn, while granting preferential access to news organizations that traffic in right-wing propaganda and conspiracy theories.
He has pressured the Justice Department to launch a wide range of leak investigations of the press, and has politicized that process to such an extent that at least two of the first leak cases to be prosecuted by his administration have involved stories related to whether Russia has meddled in the American electoral system and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to help Trump win the 2016 election.
Missing the story
Many in the American press today blanche at any comparisons between Trump and Hitler or other autocrats, and warn against overreacting to Trump. …