"Get rid of them," Trump said during his press conference with Putin last week at the G20 summit, again showing his disdain for journalists. By now, we expect Trump to disregard the U.S. Constitution, particularly the First Amendment. Though jocular, he revealed his seething and growing hostility by delivering his comment close to the anniversary of the horrific murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Fearing imprisonment or death after Hitler seized power in 1933, many reputable journalists fled Germany. Publishers replaced them with badly trained and inexperienced amateurs loyal to the Nazi Party, and with skilled journalists willing to collaborate to advance their careers.
At that time, the Nazis controlled less than three percent of Germany's 4,700 papers. After the Nazis outlawed the Communist and Social Democratic parties, the hundreds of newspapers they produced vanished. The state seized printing plants and equipment and gave them to the Nazi Party. All media—radio, press, and newsreels––stoked fears of a Communist uprising masterminded by the Jews. By 1944, only 1,100 newspapers remained, of which the Nazi Party owned one third. The rest could publish material only as directed by Goebbels' Ministry of Propaganda.
Today we have Trump's darlings––Fox News, Breitbart, and the Sinclair Broadcast Group––to spread propaganda and stoke fears of immigrants of color. Of Sinclair, veteran journalist Dan Rather commented, "News anchors looking into a camera and reading a script handed down by a corporate overlord, words meant to obscure the truth not elucidate it, isn't journalism. It's propaganda. It's Orwellian. A slippery slope to how despots wrest power, silence dissent, and oppress the masses."
Also at that press conference, Trump remarked further that "fake news" is a really great term and stated that Putin does not have that problem, as we do. "We also have," Putin commiserated, "It's the same." Poor, beleaguered authoritarians. The press is supposed to serve them and their aims. Or else. Twenty-six journalists have been murdered under Putin's rule. Because much of what Trump says is projection, I'm almost OK with him labeling any reporting he doesn't like "fake news"––that is what he himself spews––propaganda. I'll never be OK with his statement that journalists are the enemy of the people, although I think that's projection, too.
The Nazis' purpose in controlling the press was, of course, to manipulate the German people. A good example is the propaganda during the battle and after Germany's catastrophic defeat in Stalingrad in February 1943. Hitler ordered the press to refer to the city as a fortress that had to be stormed and to emphasize the bitter struggle and the bravery of German soldiers. As the situation deteriorated, there were headlines like "Hold Fast – To the Last Man," "The Heroes of Stalingrad," and "The Führer Honors the Heroic Band at Stalingrad." The public could read about U-boat victories and Axis solidarity, but there were few details and no maps of the Battle of Stalingrad. As doubts arose, the Propaganda Ministry stated that certain facts had to be concealed to protect the troops at the front. The High Command hid the fact that the Soviets had surrounded Germany's Sixth Army. It never admitted surrender and created the myth that the army had been destroyed and had fought to the last man. You can read more about this in "The Myth of Stalingrad," by Jay W. Baird.
Throughout the battle, Goebbels tried to reassure the nation in several speeches. After the battle was lost, he called for greater sacrifices from civilians, asking mothers, wives, sisters, and children to prepare for "total war" while they had no idea how huge the toll already was. If someone had reported 250,000 casualties and 91,000 captured soldiers, would the Nazis have called that "fake news?"
In the end, the German public was never convinced by the Stalingrad propaganda, yet that is not comforting. People eventually drew their own conclusions, but a great deal of damage happened in the meantime.
Here's a personal example. My mother was working as a slave laborer in Germany when the Soviets defeated the Germans at Stalingrad. She understood this to be a turning point in the war and anticipated that the Soviets would retake Lwów. In that event, the Germans could no longer check her false papers, which were from Lwów, and prove that she was Jewish. She also noticed that the Germans were no longer so sure that they would conquer the world. Little by little they became friendlier, wanting to get on the good side of those they had wronged.
Starved and abused as a slave worker at a produce nursery in Bad Neustadt, it was crucial for my mother to find another job. She felt that otherwise she would not survive with her health intact. Her timing depended on three factors: when the Soviets would march into Lwów, the villagers' growing realization that they might not win the war, and their disapproval of how she was being mistreated; she wanted public opinion on her side.
In January 1944, my mother carefully timed her visit to the Labor Office. There she showed the Kommandant her scarred and blackened hands, stated that nevertheless her employers were dissatisfied with her work, and asked for a transfer to the local Siemens factory. She found out later that people were shot for what she had requested.