The Associated Press news agency cooperated with the Nazi regime during the 1930s, a German historian has exposed.
In an article for the Studies in Contemporary History journal, historian Harriet Scharnberg revealed archival material which detailed how AP struck a deal with Adolf Hitler’s regime for access inside Nazi-ruled Germany.
In return for that exclusive access – by 1935 all other international news agencies had been forced to leave Germany – AP signed up to what was known as the Schriftleitergesetz, or editor’s law, which meant the New York-based agency pledged to toe the Nazi party line and not publish any material “calculated to weaken the strength of the Reich abroad or at home.”
As a result, AP even continued to work out of Germany after the US joined the war in 1941.
Under the law, AP was required to hire reporters from the Nazi party’s propaganda division, and allow the Nazis to use its photo archive for its genocidal, anti-Semitic propaganda.
So far did AP sell itself to the Nazi regime that one of four photojournalists was Frank Roth, “a member of the SS paramilitary unit’s propaganda division, whose photographs were personally chosen by Hitler,” according to theGuardian newspaper, which first broke the story.
The Guardian noted that AP removed Roth’s pictures from its website since Scharnberg’s findings were published, “though thumbnails remain viewable due to “software issues”.”
According to Scharnberg, the agency’s cooperation with the Nazis enabled them to “portray a war of extermination as a conventional war.”
One example she gave was of the mass-murder of Jews and other innocent civilians in the western Ukranian city of Lviv. Frank Roth took photos of the aftermath, and Adolf Hitler himself handpicked which images would be distributed by AP.
Unsurprisingly, they only contained images of previous killings by Soviet forces – none of the evidence of Nazi atrocities was published.
“Instead of printing pictures of the days-long Lviv pogroms with its thousands of Jewish victims, the American press was only supplied with photographs showing the victims of the Soviet police and ‘brute’ Red Army war criminals,” Scharnberg told the Guardian.
“To that extent it is fair to say that these pictures played their part in disguising the true character of the war led by the Germans.
“Which events were made visible and which remained invisible in AP’s supply of pictures followed German interests and the German narrative of the war,” she added.
When AP was approached with the evidence, it claimed it was unaware of any such collaboration with the Nazis, and that it would be investigating the claims.
“As we continue to research this matter, AP rejects any notion that it deliberately ‘collaborated’ with the Nazi regime,” a spokesman said.
“An accurate characterisation is that the AP and other foreign news organisations were subjected to intense pressure from the Nazi regime from the year of Hitler’s coming to power in 1932 until the AP’s expulsion from Germany in 1941. AP management resisted the pressure while working to gather accurate, vital and objective news in a dark and dangerous time.”
The revelations come at a particularly controversial time for Associated Press, which is under pressure about its contemporary ties to brutal dictatorships.
Specifically, the agency has come under scrutiny for its activities in North Korea, where a similar deal with Pyongyang is believed to have been struck – allowing access to the secretive country in exchange for helping to distribute regime propaganda.
The same AP spokesperson denied those charges as well.
“We do not run stories by the Korean Central News Agency or any government official before we publish them,” he said. “At the same time, officials are free to grant or deny access or interviews.”
But those claims draw derision from a former AP correspondent, who described the claim that North Korea simply allowed AP to operate freely inside the country as “ludicrous.”
“It looks like AP have learned very little from their own history,” said Nate Thayer, a former AP reporter who leaked reports of the agreement with Pyongyang.
“To claim, as the agency does, that North Korea does not control their output, is ludicrous.
“There is naturally an argument that any access to secretive states is important. But at the end of the day it matters whether you tell your readers that what you are reporting is based on independent and neutral sources.”