According to a recent study—much of it confirmed by an internal report—the Associated Press (AP) made an agreement with the Nazi government to play by its rules in exchange for permission to continue reporting from Germany. Under the agreement, which remained in effect from the 1930s through America’s entry into the war in 1941, the AP fired its Berlin office’s Jewish employees, published propaganda photographs, and supplied images to the Nazis for their own use—including in an anti-Semitic tract titled The Jews of the USA. Today, Matti Friedman observes, the AP, which has defended its conduct in the Nazi period, continues to pursue similar policies in reporting from places like Gaza, Iran, and North Korea:
Western news organizations that maintain a presence in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, for example, make compromises in return for access and almost never tell readers what those compromises are. The result, in many cases, is something worse than no coverage—it’s something that looks like coverage but is actually misinformation, giving people the illusion that they know what’s going on instead of telling them outright that they’re getting information shaped by regimes trying to mislead them. . . .
The most relevant example from my own experience as an AP correspondent in Jerusalem between 2006 and 2011 is Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, and where the AP has a sub-bureau. From [the 2008 Israel-Hamas war] on, more or less, AP’s coverage from Gaza became a quiet collaboration with Hamas. Certain rules were made clear to the local staffers in Gaza, and those of us outside Gaza were warned not to put our Gazan staff at risk [of violent retribution]. Our coverage shifted accordingly, though we never informed our readers. Hamas military actions were left vague or ignored, while the effects of Israeli actions were reported at length, giving the impression of wanton Israeli aggression, just as Hamas wanted.
When a reporter wrote a story about Hamas censorship in the summer of 2014, editors shelved it. We were trading truth for access and providing an illusion of “coverage” that was actually propaganda—a kind all the more effective because it was not tagged “propaganda” but simply “Gaza City (AP).” You can show genuine footage of a house destroyed by an Israeli strike, but if you don’t show the Hamas fighters launching a rocket from the backyard, your report is a lie. . . .
The report on World War II is an opportunity to look again at the automatic bias in favor of “access,” and to ask if things might not be done differently. In the case of Gaza, for example, is the right choice really to have staffers inside, when their reporting can be controlled by Hamas? Or would it be more productive for the AP and others news organizations to report from outside Gaza while working sources on the inside and making use of external players (Egyptian intelligence, Israeli intelligence, Palestinian reporters in the West Bank) to give a more accurate picture of events?