The Associated Press today published a review of its operations in Germany before and during World War II that makes clear the AP took steps to retain its independence and provide factual, unbiased information to the world despite intense pressures from Nazi Germany.
It concludes that, while AP had to make difficult choices in the face of extreme and unprecedented challenges, The Associated Press helped warn the world of the Nazi menace beginning from the time of Adolf Hitler’s coming to power in 1933 until AP was expelled from the country in 1941, working to gather reliable information and photographs while preserving its core values.
The Associated Press launched its exhaustive review after a March 2016 article in a German scholarly journal alleged that AP allowed the Nazi regime to exert influence over its photo report through the news cooperative’s German photo agency.
Documents in and beyond the AP Corporate Archives uncovered a concerted effort by the AP to scrupulously report the rise of Hitler, German preparations for war and the beginnings of the virulent anti-Semitism that would become the Holocaust -- all testing the limits of what could be done under the noses of the Nazi regime to convey a true image of the country. AP Bureau Chief Louis Lochner was awarded the 1939 Pulitzer Prize for his dispatches from Berlin.
“The Associated Press is committed to gathering the news even in the most heinous environments because so much of the world depends on the AP for objective information,” said AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Sally Buzbee. “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. That is what we do, without compromising AP’s independence or standards.”
She added: “During the violent and tragic period before the U.S. entered World War II, AP made a conscious decision to maintain access in order to keep the world informed of the ambitions of the Nazi regime and its brutality. AP’s news report from Berlin was praised at the time by its customers and the news industry as a whole, and it stands as a major accomplishment today.”
After the U.S. and Nazi Germany declared war, AP was expelled from the country and its assets were seized. The review revealed that, in order to continue to obtain photographs from Nazi-controlled areas of Europe, AP’s Lisbon, Portugal, correspondent in 1942 entered into an arrangement with a Waffen SS photographer who had taken control of the AP’s former German photo service.
AP was provided with German-censored photos through a third party in neutral Portugal and, later, Sweden, and in turn, AP provided photographs from abroad that had cleared U.S. military censors. AP vetted the images it received and distributed a portion to customers, re-captioning the photos to make clear their German origins. This exchange of photos was sanctioned by the U.S. government.
As a not-for-profit news cooperative, the acquisition of images from inside Germany was part of AP’s general mission of gathering news for its members and customers, and not for financial gain.
“The photos that AP distributed provided the public important views of events inside Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied countries while war was raging and access was limited,” said AP Vice President and Editor at Large for Standards John Daniszewski. “The fact that the exchange was authorized by the U.S. government, which was at war with the Nazis, makes clear the value the world saw in receiving these images.”
The review does make clear that AP should have done more at the time to officially protest to German officials the misuse of its images within Germany for propaganda. The report found that AP images were sometimes re-captioned by the Germans to reflect the German narrative of the war but were not visually altered except in one known case.
It also found that AP should have refused to employ German photographers with active political affiliations to the Nazis, in line with its longtime standards.
The report notes the strong efforts AP took to protect its Jewish employees.
The material on which the report is based comes from sources including previously unexamined records from the AP Corporate Archives, U.S. military documents, and records from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, which were obtained by AP through Freedom of Information Act requests.
The report was written by Larry Heinzerling, adjunct assistant professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and retired AP deputy international editor, and was overseen by Daniszewski, with contributions by AP investigative researcher Randy Herschaft.
The report and scans of source documents from the AP Corporate Archives are available here.
The AP news story is available here.