The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, The Cleveland Press, The New York Herald Tribune, and The Columbus Dispatch were among the newspapers that had kind things to say about The Führer.
“The train arrived punctually,” a Christian Science Monitor report from Germany informed its readers, not long after Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. “Traffic was well regulated” in the new Germany, and policemen in “smart blue uniforms” kept order, the correspondent noted. “I have so far found quietness, order, and civility”; there was “not the slightest sign of anything unusual afoot.”
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As for all those “harrowing stories” of Jews being mistreated—they seemed to apply “only to a small proportion”; most were “not in any way molested.” Overall, the Monitor’s dispatch declared, the Hitler regime was providing “a dark land a clear light of hope.”
Why did many mainstream American newspapers portray the Hitler regime positively, especially in its early months? How could they publish warm human-interest stories about a brutal dictator? Why did they excuse or rationalize Nazi anti-Semitism? These are questions that should haunt the conscience of U.S. journalism to this day.
Some of the U.S. press coverage of Hitler’s first weeks in power was rooted in unfamiliarity with the man and his movement. The Nazis had risen from barely 18 percent of the national vote in mid-1930 to become Germany’s largest party only two years later, and gained power just months after that. Knowing little about Hitler and Nazism, many American editors and reporters assumed, based on previous experience, that a radical candidate would show some restraint once in office.
An editorial in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin on Jan. 30, 1933, asserted that “there have been indications of moderation” on Hitler’s part. The editors of The Cleveland Press, on Jan. 31, claimed the “appointment of Hitler as German chancellor may not be such a threat to world peace as it appears at first blush.” Frederick Birchall, Berlin bureau chief for The New York Times, found “a new moderation” in the political atmosphere following Hitler’s rise to power.
Yet some American journalists presented a very different view of Germany. Birchall of the Times, in a March 12 radio broadcast from Berlin, reported that “German violence had been spent” and predicted that “prosperity and happiness” would soon prevail. A page-one dispatch from the New York Herald Tribune’s Berlin correspondent on March 25 asserted that while the situation of German Jewry was “an unhappy one,” many atrocity stories were ”exaggerated and often unfounded.”
Some American editors and reporters perceived Nazi actions against Jews not so much as attacks on Jews per se, but rather as resentment over some aspects of the Jews’ own (alleged) behavior.
The New York Herald Tribune’s Berlin correspondent, John Elliott, claimed the Nazis were targeting Jews not because of their “race,” but because they were political opponents of the Hitler regime. According to Elliott, even Albert Einstein was “detested by the Nazis more for his pacifism than for his Jewish blood.”
The editors of The Columbus Dispatch believed the Nazis were reacting to the “large Jewish element in the financial, commercial, professional, and official life of present-day Germany.” A Christian Science Monitor editorial declared that it was the Jews’ own “commercial clannishness” which “gets them into trouble.”