The Associated Press today released an incredible investigation into itself, responding to a historian’s claim last year that the news organization “ceded influence over the production of its news pictures to Nazi propagandists.”
In an article last year Harriet Scharnberg said AP photos were used and exploited by Nazis.
The 1939 Pulitzer Prize was awarded to the Associated Press for its coverage of Hitler’s regime.
“AP believes it is important to know one’s own story — warts and all — and so we have re-examined the period, taking a hard look,” it said in releasing today’s report.
Its conclusion? Scharnberg is wrong.
“We recognize that AP should have done some things differently during this period, for example protesting when AP photos were exploited by the Nazis for propaganda within Germany and refusing to employ German photographers with active political affiliations and loyalties, whether to the Nazis or any party,” it said.
“However, suggestions that AP at any point sought to help the Nazis or their heinous cause are simply wrong. Due in large part to the AP’s aggressive reporting, the dangers of the Nazis’ ambitions for domination in Europe and their brutal treatment of its opponents were revealed to the wider world.”
The AP said, however, that one requirement for remaining in Germany was to follow Germany law. So the news agency fired its Jewish employees in 1935 after two years of resisting the order.
After the war started, the agency’s Berlin office closed and its American employees imprisoned.
The AP’s German photo operation was no more, it said. Its operations were placed under SS photographer Helmut Laux.
During this period, in order to continue to obtain photographs from Nazi controlled areas of Europe, AP arranged with Laux, who now reigned over the picture service that had once been AP’s, to provide AP with German-censored photos through a third party in neutral Portugal and later Sweden. This was done in exchange for AP photos from abroad.
The AP sought and was given a green light for this wartime arrangement by the U.S. government. AP photos from the rest of the world sent to Germany were subjected to U.S. wartime censorship, ensuring that no sensitive U.S. military material was passed on.
Photos received by AP from Germany were also reviewed by censors on the Allied side, either British or American, who would block Nazi images they deemed unhelpful to the Allied cause. Although the exchange necessitated dealing with the Nazi regime, it was the AP’s belief then and now that the photos gave the U.S. public a much fuller picture of the war than could have been obtained otherwise.
After the war, Laux argued he should be spared punishment because of his photo arrangement with the AP. He served a short sentence in a prison camp and then started his own photo agency.
The Nazi photos ran in newspapers across America but readers were never told their origin. This week an AP official said readers would have known anyway.
Some ethicists aren’t letting the AP off the hook.
“It was extremely cynical of the AP to use these photos,” Nicholas O’Shaughnessy, a communications professor at Queen Mary, College of London and the author of a book on Nazi propaganda, tells the Washington Post. “One tries to justify these things by saying the camera doesn’t lie. But Nazi cameras always lied. They were a colossal kind of fairy tale. None of these images are real. This is how Hitler wanted to be seen.”