The Associated Press has again denied claims it aided the Nazi Germany war effort, but conceded it could have 'handled things better.' The apparent backtrack is embarrassing for the 170-year-old worldwide news agency.
The AP review published Wednesday concluded that the agency had acted as "forthrightly and independently as possible." It also conceded, however, that it "could have handled some situations inadequately.” In 2016, the agency denied any wrongdoing.
The review follows a 2016 paper in the academic journal Studies in Contemporary History by Harriet Scharnberg - a historian at Halle's Martin Luther University - arguing the AP had allowed Nazi propagandists to exert influence over its photo reports in the 1930s.
The AP was the only western news agency allowed to stay in Hitler's Germany, continuing to operate until the US entered the war in 1941. It thus was in the profitable position of being the main channel for news reports and pictures out of the totalitarian state.
Scharnberg showed that the AP was only able to retain its access by entering into a mutually beneficial collaboration with the Nazi regime.
She argues that the New York-based agency in effect ceded control of its output by signing up to the so-called "Schriftleitergesetz" (the "editor's law"), which promised not to publish any material "calculated to weaken the strength of the Reich abroad or at home.”
Scharnberg also identified AP German photographers who were drafted into or joined Nazi military propaganda units during World War II, some while still being paid by AP.
She argued that AP's cooperation with the Hitler regime allowed the Nazis to "portray a war of extermination as a conventional war.” She points to June 1941, when Nazi troops invaded the town of Lviv, then in Poland, now in western Ukraine.
On discovering evidence of mass killings carried out by Soviet troops, German occupying forces, for example, organized "revenge” pogroms against the city's Jewish population. Franz Roth's photographs of the dead bodies inside Lviv prisons were selected on Hitler's personal orders and distributed to the US press via AP.
Austrian-born Roth was an ardent Nazi who traveled as a war photographer with the Waffen SS to several fronts before and after the AP's expulsion from Germany.
"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 newspaper.
"The road to Lemberg [now Lviv] lined with disabled Soviet tanks and armored cars," March 7, 1941. AP.
AP refutes main claims
AP's review disputed Scharnberg's conclusion. AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said the AP's coverage of Nazi Germany reflected its core newsgathering principles.
"It is essential to cover tyrannical regimes and other undemocratic movements, when possible from within the borders they control, in order to accurately relay what is happening inside," she said. "That is what we do, without compromising AP's independence or standards."
AP said in a statement that Scharnberg's report "describes both individuals and their activities before and during the war that were unknown to AP,” and that it was reviewing documents in and beyond its archives to "further our understanding of the period.”
The review covered previously unexamined AP archives and was then extended to other records - including US military documents and the oral histories and personal papers of deceased employees. Scharnberg was also interviewed.
"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," the report says. "However, suggestions that AP at any point sought to help the Nazis or their heinous cause are simply wrong," it adds.
The report notes that Louis P. Lochner, the AP's Berlin bureau chief from 1928-41, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1939 for his comprehensive coverage of the Nazi regime, including the Nazis' anti-Semitic policies and actions.
Among the report's key findings for the period 1933-41:
-The AP's German photo service - established as a subsidiary in 1931 - provided photos to German media after the Nazis took power in 1933. The Nazis quickly brought the AP German photo service and all other German media companies under the supervision of the Propaganda Ministry. German staff members faced pressure from the ministry about the AP's photo output, "with some doing a better job of resisting Nazi demands than others," the report notes.
AP also allowed the Nazi regime to use its photo archives for its antisemitic propaganda literature. Publications illustrated with AP photographs include the bestselling SS brochure "Der Untermensch” ("The Sub-Human”) and the booklet "The Jews in the USA,” which aimed to demonstrate the decadence of Jewish Americans.
-The review found no evidence AP protested these abuses by pro-Nazi media.
-After resisting for two years, the AP in late 1935 submitted to an anti-Semitic edict that all people working in German media must be of German "Aryan" origin. AP's German photo service let go six employees considered Jewish by the Nazis, "while helping them to find work elsewhere."
Britain's "The Guardian" and other newspapers were banned in 1934, and by 1935 even bigger British-American agencies such as Keystone and Wide World Photos were forced to close their bureaus after coming under attack for employing Jewish journalists.
-Several of AP's German employees held pro-Nazi views and covered the German side of the war enthusiastically. One staff and then freelance photographer employed by the AP German service was Roth, who died as a combat photographer in 1943.
-After 1939, the German government drafted several AP German photo service employees to serve with propaganda units accompanying troops to cover the fighting, requiring that the resulting photos be pooled for use by German media while their salaries still were paid by the AP.