UC Santa Barbara > History Department > Prof. Marcuse > Courses > Hist 133P Homepage > 133P Student Research Papers Index page > Student paper
Media Coverage of Hitler,
Prof. Marcuse's UCSB Hist 133P course
About David Rabie
I am a senior history major who has focused primarily on American history, but I became interested in studying German history after spending fall quarter abroad in Madrid. I visited Munich and Berlin while abroad. I had the time of my life in Munich and I found Berlin to be a history lover's paradise, with a key piece of history at every street corner. I chose to write about propaganda because it still baffles me how the Nazis were able to rise to power and maintain a stranglehold on the population, despite the terrible atrocities they were committing.
Research Paper (back to top)
In the beginning of 1933, America was mired in a financial crisis that enveloped the entire country and distracted it from international concerns. The United States had elected a new president at the end of 1932 and was stuck in a transitional period defined by inaction and increasing unemployment. Adolf Hitler first made his name known to Americans with his famed beer hall putsch in Munich in 1923. Under Hitler, the Nazi Party had made some headlines by gaining an increasing number of seats in the Reichstag in 1930 and 1932, but Hitler had lost his bid for the presidency to Hindenburg in 1932. While Hitler was well known in intellectual circles in the United States, it is unlikely that average citizens would have known who he was. In this paper, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time magazine will represent the U.S. media and be collectively referred to as “the U.S. media.” Before he was appointed chancellor, the U.S. media devoted little attention to Hitler. Their coverage of German affairs, and in particular the Nazis, was not detailed, especially when it came to Hitler.
Between January 1933 and the end of February 1933, the media coverage of Hitler expanded enormously as his fortunes changed by becoming chancellor and then seizing a majority in the Reichstag. The change in coverage is most clearly seen towards the end of January and then again towards the end of February. The coverage was largely non-partisan and reflected the events in Germany more so than the political leanings of the press. The media was not overly critical of Hitler, nor was it very thorough in its reporting. Some concerns were raised as to his real intentions, however, and the U.S. media did a good job of highlighting the apprehensions of other European countries. Considering the number of times Hitler violated basic human rights and constitutional privileges in the first two months of 1933, the U.S. media did not devote the amount of negative coverage that would be expected from a country founded on defending freedom. The coverage of Hitler and the Nazis did not become overly critical until the week-long period that included the Reichstag fire and the subsequent Reichstag election. In light of the powerful and tyrannical leader that Hitler became, the news of his appointment as Chancellor generated little fear or questioning from the U.S. media. Up until the end of February, the U.S. media only occasionally criticized Hitler, and rarely placed that criticism at the front of its newspaper, despite the fact that Hitler’s ascension was a very real and acknowledged threat to the security of Europe in light of all the constitutional rights that were violated and the large number of dissidents who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis.
The three media sources covered in the paper have traditionally had different political leanings. The Wall Street Journal has been the preeminent business newspaper for over a century, and has been a bastion of conservative thought. The New York Times was founded in 1851, and by the early 20th century had become the most renowned newspaper in the country. Some critics argue that it had conservative leanings in the early 20th century, but most agree that it has had a liberal bias since it stopped supporting Republican candidates in the 1880s. Time magazine was the first weekly news magazine in the United States when it was created in 1923. Its style attempted to cater to a wide range of Americans, so when someone like Hitler appeared in Time, it meant that he had reached a point where he merited recognition among the populace at large. Time was often criticized for being too light-hearted in its news coverage, but its coverage is a very accurate way to gauge the mood and understanding of the American public. These three different media sources were chosen to represent a wide swath of political leanings so that we can understand what drove the coverage of Hitler in the United States.
Prior to January 1933, the U.S. coverage of Hitler and the Nazis was incredibly sparse. The Nazis had made repeated splashes in Germany by increasing their seats in the Reichstag from a mere fourteen in 1928 to two hundred and thirty-two in 1932. Hitler ran for president in March of 1932 and with 37% of the vote finished a distant second to Hindenburg’s 53%. The U.S. press reported on these occurrences, but with detachment and a complete lack of interest. Time ran an article on April 18, 1932 titled “Hitler Stopped?,” which spoke of the electoral gains of the Nazis and Hitler’s loss. Despite the provocative title, the article gave very little information about Hitler, except that it suggests that the fascists would eventually assume control of Germany. The article says that “the rising fascist tide” was obscured by Hindenburg’s victory, despite the fact that “the Fascist Party [was] now first in Germany.” This type of minimalist coverage was normal prior to 1933 because Americans saw no threat from Germany and were highly concerned with their own economic plight. The media had no incentive to do investigative pieces or exposés on Hitler when nobody was interested. Considering the disinterest, it is not surprising then that the coverage was still minimal in the first weeks of 1933, even as the possibility of Hitler attaining the chancellorship grew.
The coverage of Germany in the first week of January of 1933 focused on recapping the previous year and highlighting the fact that Hitler’s future had dimmed considerably. The Nazis had attained 230 seats in the Reichstag election in July of 1932, but Hitler had lost the March presidential election to Hindenburg, and in November refused to serve as vice chancellor under Franz von Papen. Hitler had secured a reputation as a stubborn leader who wanted to do everything his way. The New York Times ran three pieces on Hitler on January 1, all of which were very negative. They said that his oratory had been ineffectual and that he stood for nothing. They reported that “the Hitler movement [was] more or less blocked: it reached its Zenith in the late autumn and since then [had] seemingly declined.” The articles spoke ominously of Hitler and the Nazis, labeling Hitler a “menace.” Time ran its annual man of the year feature, selecting Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in light of the daunting task he faced of turning around the U.S. economy. Time wrote that
In 1933 the Wall Street Journal did not run an article regarding the German political scene until January 4. Echoing the sentiments of Time and the New York Times, the Journal said that “Hitler, though at times gathering strength, never succeeded in obtaining the necessary power to put an end to the Weimar Constitution of 1919. His failure, not once but several times, now seems to indicate that his day has passed and that German democratic ideas will prevail.” The Journal criticizes Hitler for his stubbornness in refusing to accept the vice chancellorship under von Papen. The coverage in the first week was sparse and reflected the general belief that 1932 had marked Hitler’s best opportunity to seize power and that he had failed to capitalize on it.
The New York Times was the first U.S. media outlet to begin reporting on the reappearance of Hitler on the national political scene. On January 9, it ran a short article that quoted James Waterman Wise, the son of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise and the editor of Opinion, likening Hitler to the next pharaoh in regards to his antisemitism. On January 10, the Times ran a short piece saying that von Papen had been meeting with Hitler in an effort to “make Herr Hitler recede from his ‘all or nothing’ policy,” with the implication that von Papen was trying to bring Hitler and his supporters into his coalition. The Wall Street Journal saw no reason to report on these occurrences and limited its coverage of Germany to the stock market and U.S. business interests there. On January 12, the New York Times reviewed a book titled The German Phoenix, which argued that the Hitler movement was on the decline and would continue to wane. On January 13, the Wall Street Journal reported that Hitler had rallied a large group of German farmers against the cabinet of General Schleicher. The fact that Time did not include anything on Hitler in its second issue of 1933 indicates that not only did the Nazis not make any headlines, but Time did not foresee them making any political headway in the coming weeks. Beginning on January 16, however, the U.S. media coverage began reporting on a change of fortunes for the Nazis.
The striking and seemingly remarkably fast change in the fate of Hitler and the Nazis was reflected in the sudden rash of articles proclaiming Hitler’s potential rise to power. The sudden turnaround in reporting can be ascribed to actual occurrences in Germany that favored the Nazis. The U.S. media can also be blamed for a lack of investigative journalism regarding Hitler and the Nazis. The lack of interest domestically allowed the media to limit the resources they devoted to Germany, and as such, they were unable to understand Hitler’s aims until they were made public. On January 16, the New York Times reported on the Nazi gains in the diet election of Lippe. The Nazis devoted a great amount of resources there, which was not reported in the United States until the election had occurred, and the Nazis had managed to score a large victory. Time reported a rumor that Hitler and von Papen were conspiring to oust Chancellor Von Schleicher. The Wall Street Journal picked up on the rumblings the following day, on January 17, running two articles completely reversing its position on Hitler’s political fortunes. The first was short and to the point, stating that Hitler was “able to resume political bargaining…as the result of sensational Nazi gains in the diet election of Detmold-Lippe.” The second article claims that “Adolph [sic] Hitler’s power is not declining after all,” and that Germany’s industry is picking up and the country will be able to pay back its American debtors. The Journal continued the shift in its coverage by running two more articles on January 18, which stated that the fears of the impending general election in Germany on March 6 reverberated throughout European stock markets, especially France. Furthermore, the Journal reported that German newspapers were predicting the dissolution of the Reichstag in light of the staggering Nazi gains in the regional diet election.
Between January 18 and January 28, the U.S. media gave little attention to the fact that Hitler’s power was not actually decreasing. The New York Times ran two articles on January 21, one of which stated that at the meeting of the Reichstag “Hitler [was engaged] in log-rolling behind the scenes.” On January 22, the NYT ran one article about Hitler, in which it referred to his band of “storm troops,” and said that they were marching in front of the communist building. The police in Berlin, it said, will escort the Nazis during their rally to prevent clashes with communist protesters. The article goes on to state that the liberal press in Germany had accused the Nazis of pressuring the state into allowing their demonstration. The tone of the article is decidedly factual, despite the fact that the topic is very negative. Between January 18 and 25, the Wall Street Journal did not run a single article on Germany or the Nazis. By early February, the reporting on the shift of Nazi fortunes would slowly evolve into longer and more in-depth articles on the Nazis, including mentions of antisemitism.
On January 24, the NYT began reporting on a case of antisemitism that had caused quite an uproar in Germany. The article discusses a Professor named Ernst Cohn, who decided to continue teaching despite protests from Nazi students urging him to resign. It is implied, but never explicitly stated, that he was targeted because of his religion. The NYT has been accused by some historians of purposely avoiding the use of their pulpit to write about antisemitism for fear of being branded as biased, since the publisher, the Sulzberger family, was Jewish. The following day the paper had a follow-up article on Cohn, stating that he had resumed teaching despite the fact that Nazi students used tear gas and firecrackers in protest. The article does not criticize all the protests and violence, and only has one sentence saying that Cohn was being singled out for his Jewish faith. Towards the end of the article, however, the paper does mention that academic freedom was being threatened. The Wall Street Journal did not choose to report on the Cohn incident, but rather on the fate of Americans who held German bonds. The NYT began to adjust its slant by stating that Professor Cohn did not denounce Nazi ideas in his class. The article is much more sympathetic to his plight, and speaks glowingly about his qualifications and pedigree, even saying that “he has not given the slightest ground for ‘disciplinary proceedings’.” The reporting on Cohn was largely confined to the back pages of the newspaper, but as the end of the month drew near, the U.S. media began to pay an increasing amount of attention to Germany’s electoral fate.
By the end of January, somebody had to be chosen to lead the Reichstag, and it was becoming increasingly clear that that person would be Adolf Hitler. On January 28, the NYT said that there was some unease in Germany because “the Centrists and their Bavarian Catholic allies would only accept Herr Hitler…if he made an unequivocal avowal of his adherence to parliamentary government and the principles of democracy.” Many Germans were wary of Hitler because he had turned down overtures for the chancellorship in 1932 and because he wanted dictatorial power and refused to compromise on the issue. On January 29, the NYT ran three different articles about occurrences in Germany. One article spoke about the French stock market, saying “apprehensions were generally felt over the fresh evidence of Hitler’s influence in the German situation.” A second article summarized the events of the past few days in Germany, stating that Hindenburg was seeking a coalition government now that General von Schleicher resigned and that Hitler could only win over centrists with a guarantee that his power would be limited. The article conveys the underlying fear many intellectuals had about a Hitler-led government, saying that “a straight Parliamentary government headed by Herr Hitler, however, is not envisaged in sober-minded political quarters.” The third article published that day was a long piece on Mussolini, Stalin and Hindenburg. Hitler is only briefly mentioned, in regard to the fact that his extreme policies made people overly fearful in light of Hindenburg’s accomplishments. The the article is interesting simply by its choice of which leaders to profile, namely that Hindenburg was selected instead of Hitler. The editors of the NYT apparently did not think that Hitler was the future of Germany in the same way they thought Mussolini and Stalin were for their countries. Within a few days, Hitler’s appointment as chancellor would place him in a position of power that he would not relinquish until his death.
Events in Germany unfolded at an extremely rapid pace, and within a few days at the end of January, Hitler went from having a bleak future to being the next chancellor of Germany. On January 30, the WSJ chose to write about Germany after a long stretch of time without doing so, saying that “the possibility that Hitler might be the eventual choice for chancellor of Germany contributed to the downward movement in German obligations.” The NYT continued its steady coverage of German happenings, expressing increasing concern over the possibility of a Hitler-led government. One article details a meeting between Hitler and Hindenburg, and says that the centrists have many demands if Hitler is to assume the chancellorship. The article goes on to say that Hitler is “not to be trusted with respect to future performances,” and that a government led by Hitler would be a “precarious undertaking.” The NYT also wrote about a 100,000 person protest in Berlin against a potential Hitler-led government, proving that the NYT did not hesitate to report about the anti-Hitler movement. During the month of January, Time magazine’s coverage of Hitler reflected the changing beliefs in the U.S. about Hitler’s future, from someone with an obvious future in the international political stage in early January, to someone who had missed his chance at power, to someone who had suddenly seized control of Germany.
On January 30, Hitler was officially appointed chancellor of Germany, so naturally the following day, the coverage by the U.S. media exploded. The front page of the NYT read “Hitler Made Chancellor of Germany But Coalition Cabinet Limits Power; Centrists Hold Balance in Reichstag. Wall Street Doesn’t React.” One article titled “Berlin Reds Urge Strike” details scenes of wild jubilation at Nazi strongholds, while communists fomented plans to protest. One article addressed the fears of liberals throughout Germany and the rest of the world, asserting that Hitler planned to adhere to the Constitution and not even enlist the use of Article 48, which would grant him drastic powers in time of emergency. The NYT did not simply detail the events surrounding the appointment, but also included articles about Hitler’s childhood, as well as critiques of the forthcoming Hitler-led government. One article was extremely anti-Hitler, claiming that “Germany has entered upon a perilous political adventure… [by appointing] a man who has openly scorned [the German Republic] and vowed that he would destroy it as soon as he could set up with the personal dictatorship which was his boasted aim.” Aside from that one article, the NYT presented a very positive outlook for Hitler’s government. Summarizing his appointment, the NYT wrote that “the composition of the Cabinet leaves Herr Hitler no scope for gratification of any dictatorial ambition,” but nevertheless German newspapers reflected a general anxiety due to his appointment. Another article positively describes Hitler’s career as “spectacular and tempestuous,” saying he had a good war record and won a silver medal. Several other articles summarize the reaction across the globe, with attention given especially to Poland and Czechoslovakia, who feared his appointment, and Italy, where his appointment was cheered wildly.
The Wall Street Journal reported extensively, by its measures, on the appointment, largely basing its analysis on the stock market reaction. One article summarizes the appointment, saying that extremism will be curbed with the new coalition, and questions whether “Hitler’s private army, the ‘brown shirts’, will be recognized with an official function.” Hitler is then described as “the fiery little Austrian from Munich, foe of Jews and Communists and leading exponent of a belligerent German nationalism.” The coverage by the WSJ was less critical of the appointment than the NYT and seemed to casually accept that Hitler would simply accept a curb on his powers. Another article in the WSJ said that the German “market as a whole…did not attach undue seriousness to the [appointment], basing its contention on the fact that the restrictions which have been imposed on the new Chancellor by the president have diluted the fiery program previously advocated.” The article goes on to say that some people even believe it might have a stabilizing influence on Germany. The difference in coverage between the NYT and WSJ can be partially ascribed to the difference in audience, as readers of the WSJ were more concerned with the financial implications of the appointment than readers of the NYT.
From the end of January onwards, the coverage of Germany by the U.S. media grew, and the country’s political happenings would frequently appear on the front page of the NYT. On February 1, 1933, the NYT stated that there was a “very definite impression in political circles that the Vice Chancellor [had] received a certain vetoing authority that he can oppose any radical action that Herr Hitler may attempt to undertake.” Other articles reported on the celebrations that occurred throughout Germany. The WSJ had one article about Germany on February 1, titled “Berlin Views Hitler Calmly--Rise in Stocks Reflects Confidence he will not Disrupt Nation’s Affairs.” The article also says that all efforts at a strike by communists and socialists in response to the appointment failed. On February 2, 1933, the front page of the NYT again had a headline about Germany, saying “Hitler Wins Dissolution of Reichstag; Urges Nation to End Its ‘Humiliation’ at Polls March 5; Has 4-Year Plans.” One article talks about the dissolution of the Reichstag, the upcoming elections on March 5, and describes Hitler in positive terms, saying he “spoke more moderately in tone and words tonight than he had as the roving spellbinder of the last two years.” The NYT also included a very short paragraph saying that Breslau University “yielded to the demands of the Nazis and ousted Professor Ernst Cohn from the faculty,” without any analysis or criticism. The decision not to devote a substantial amount of space to the issue might again be attributed to the fear of coming across as biased towards Jews. It is important to note that I have only chosen to highlight a few articles in the New York Times, but by the end of January, the newspaper was printing several articles on Germany each day. The WSJ also reported on the dissolution of the Reichstag on February 2, saying that the “country will be run by semi-dictatorial ‘government by decree’.”
The U.S. media continued to give great attention to Hitler, as well as Hitler’s suppression of his opposition, while avoiding criticism of the infringement on basic rights that one might expect would come from the U.S. media. One article in the NYT on February 3 said that “searches of the homes of Communist leaders [began] throughout the Reich, the government having ordered local authorities to carry them out without obtaining judicial warrants.” The von Papen government also released a statement saying that Hitler’s antisemitic pronouncements and dictatorial ambitions would be curbed by the checks and balance system, as well by the fact that the Nazis were a minority party. The NYT did not write extensively on the extreme measures the Nazis had already begun taking to curb opposition. In an analysis of the Times’ coverage of Hitler in the first few months of 1933, Gary Klein said that “the paper tended to misinform and confuse its readers by discounting, ignoring, and even withholding disturbing facts and ominous signs that most other major publications included in their analyses.” The articles themselves lacked detail, or much criticism, but the headline on the front page said “Hitler Represses Reds, Puts Curb on Socialists; Pledges Internal Peace.” Another article spoke glowingly of Hitler’s first few days, saying that he “spoke with tremendous earnestness,” and quoted Hitler as saying that his door is always open for the press, to whom he will always answer questions honestly. The WSJ also had an article on February 3, the majority of which was devoted to quoting Hitler on a range of issues. On February 4, the WSJ had an article saying that Germany was showing an upturn in business, and that it was unlikely to devolve into a monarchy again. A short NYT article that day states that “the death of three anti-Fascists in clashes with Nazis tonight raised the death toll since the accession of Chancellor Hitler Monday to twenty.” The callousness of the articles is evident, and can probably be ascribed to a general disinterest among the U.S. public. Twenty members of the opposition were killed within four days of Hitler’s appointment, yet that barely created a stir in the U.S. media.
With the German elections a month away, the U.S. media began to devote an increasing amount of attention to Hitler’s background, and to the likelihood of a country led by Hitler and the Nazis. On Sunday, February 5, the NYT wrote several articles on Germany, probably because it had spent the week since the appointment preparing for a big Sunday edition. The front page article was about the most recent occurrences in Germany: von Papen overriding the vote of the Prussian Diet to dissolve itself and the impending passage of a press gag law “designed to curb opposition organs.” Hitler justified gagging the press because it did not follow his orders to avoid threatening law and order. The author of the article, Guido Enderis, went on to say that Hitler and von Papen were risking “resentment in Prussia…and other Southern states.” The Sunday edition also contained a long exposé on Hitler, which included a short history of the man and the author’s fawning view of Hitler’s oratory. The article portrays Hitler in a very positive manner, saying that while “he cannot tolerate opposition…, there is hardly one article of the Nazi faith which Hitler has not modified, and his changes have almost always been on the side of reason and common sense.” Hitler’s speeches, he says, are defined by an “impassioned eloquence” and by a “voice [that] seems to [resonate like] an entire orchestra.” The articles in the Sunday edition were almost wholly positive, except for one article tucked away in the back of the paper that says that the government had banned several socialist and communist newspapers. Again the NYT was not afraid to include the heinous acts of the nascent Nazi regime, but it did not give them much attention, nor did it write up scathing criticisms of their actions.
The fact that Germany dominated the Sunday edition of the NYT indicates that the U.S. media believed that the news from Germany was increasingly relevant and important in America. The President of the Carnegie Institute of Technology of Pittsburgh weighed in with an article about the rise of nationalism in Germany, saying that the wave of nationalism had “carried Hitler from obscurity to the Chancellorship.” The article does not have an overly negative or positive tone, but it implies that Germany’s huge nationalist fervor put it in a unique position in the world. The NYT did include one article about the upcoming March 5 elections, which says that Hitler’s grab for power is a clear threat to the rest of Europe, especially as Mussolini reaches out to ally with Hitler. The article, like other critical ones, is relegated to one of the middle sections of the newspaper. It is important to note that the WSJ did not publish on Sundays, so it did not have extended coverage like the NYT. On February 6, Time was finally able to weigh in on Hitler’s appointment, and it wrote a long article titled “Hitler into Chancellor.” The article speaks about his idiosyncrasies in a very interested and positive manner, describing his attire as “always neat but never smart.” The article calls him “chirped cheeky Adolf,” and writes about his daily routine. While this is the first large write-up of Hitler in Time in many years, he still was not important enough to grace the front cover. While coverage in the WSJ certainly increased after the appointment, it did not mean a huge shift in the type of coverage, which still largely focused on the financial impact of events in Germany, except that now they reported on German stock news, not just the effect on U.S. stocks.
After Hitler’s appointment, the next major event in Germany was the Reichstag elections on March 5, but in the interim between those two events, Hitler and the Nazis went to extreme lengths to stifle their opposition in an effort to ensure victory in the elections. The Nazis gagged the press, broke up meetings, killed dissidents, and did basically everything they could to win the elections. On February 6, the NYT ran a front page article saying that “the future of Germany affects the future of the world, not excluding distant America.” It discussed the looming four weeks of campaigning and the violence that had already ensued. A second article spoke of the fear that Jews in America had about the sudden rise of Hitler. It quotes several rabbis and presciently says that German Jews will be used as a scapegoat if Hitler’s economic programs fail. The NYT continued their front page coverage of German happenings on February 7, with an article titled “Reich Gags Press, Ends Prussian Diet.” The article takes a very negative tone, elaborating on Hitler’s control of the press, stating that criticism is forbidden, and that Hitler’s ability to control the press means that he should be able to direct the outcome of the election. The WSJ ran one article on February 7 about dissolving the Prussian Diet. The article mentions the gag on the press, but only lists the facts and does not analyze or criticize the decree. While some of the U.S. press began to openly criticize Hitler and devote attention to his actions, the WSJ did not think that events in Germany superceded business interests in the United States enough to devote a large amount of coverage to them.
The coverage in the NYT began to wane, largely because there were no specific events for the paper to report on. On February 8, the paper included a large picture of the entire Nazi cabinet for the first time, albeit on page 9. Another article called the Nazis hypocrites for calling for unity while outlawing criticism and vilifying their opponents. It says that Nazi members of the Reichstag yelled obscenities and Jewish slurs at members of the opposing party, forcing adjournment of the Reichstag. On February 9, the NYT ran an article on page 9, saying that Hitler tried to appease concerns of the press over the gag rule. It quotes Hitler asserting that “new men in office [referring to himself] should at least receive the benefit of the assumption that they wished to do their best for the nation.” It goes on to say that the Nazis have not made any concrete statements about tangible changes they would bring to the country and the economy. The WSJ did not run an article between February 8th and 11th. On February 11, both the NYT and the WSJ ran articles rebuking Hitler. The NYT had a front page article titled “Hitler Proclaims War on Democracy at Huge Nazi Rally.” Like a lot of the coverage of Hitler, the title is openly critical and provocative, but the article itself is not very negative because it lacks any critical analysis of the subject. The article is largely made up of quotes from Hitler. The WSJ ran one article chastising Hitler and Goering for rebuking a Swedish newspaper that had criticized Hitler. The article, titled "Etiquette for Dictators," is a very sarcastic appeal to freedom and against tyranny.
Despite the fact that Hitler took extreme steps to stifle his opposition and direct the press in his favor, the U.S. media was of the opinion during the middle of February that the Nazis were unlikely to seize a majority in the forthcoming Reichstag elections. The Sunday edition of the NYT on February 12 stated that “nothing short of an avalanche for the national resurgence would therefore appear capable of giving the Hitler-von Papen-Hugenberg [sic] forces the majority for which they crave.” On February 13, the NYT ran another front page article analyzing the sudden shift in Germany’s political direction. The article claimed that there was a growing willingness to “‘give the young man, [Hitler], a chance’.” Hitler was portrayed as the last resort for the German public since Hindenberg was an old man and General von Schleicher resigned. Time ran an article titled “Four-Year Plans” basically summarizing Hitler’s first week in power and the subsequent reactions across the world and in Germany. The article says that in a week, “26 Germans…had been murdered for reasons purely political” and it calls Hitler “dynamic.” Despite these frightening numbers, the article sticks to reporting facts, and claims that only one newspaper, based in Yugoslavia, raised any concern over Hitler’s appointment. Between February 13 and the burning of the Reichstag on February 27, the U.S. media’s coverage of Germany was sharply curtailed. The WSJ ran one article about Germany between February 11 and February 28. While the NYT continued to report on Hitler’s repressive tactics, it did not continue to put it on the front page.
Germany did not have any large political events to report on, but Hitler’s suppression of the press, his attempt to curtail all his opposition, especially communists, and the violence that the Nazis were inflicting, were all ongoing in an effort to help secure a Nazi victory on March 5. On February 16, 1933, the NYT had a lot of coverage of Germany, but all of it was buried on page 13. One article was extremely critical of Hitler and really tried to convey the seriousness of Hitler’s extremist policies, but its impact was naturally limited by its placement on page 13. Nevertheless, the article is unique in its pointed criticism, as summarized by the entire headline—“Nazis to Repress all Foes’ Rallies; Armed Troopers and Members of Stahlhelm Will Police Prussian Party Meetings; Regime will use all Means in its Power Regardless of Election. Criticism is Forbidden; Hitler Says There will be No More Voting for 4 Years.” The author of the article attempts to relate the pre-election events to a U.S. election in an effort to make the extremism seem more real to United States citizens. The criticism is harsh, direct, and analytical. It is included in both the headline and the article itself, which the NYT had been shying away from. On February 18, the NYT returned to its old habit of drastic headlines without any real critical analysis. The article on page 7 was provocatively titled “Democracy Ended, Hitler Aide says,” but failed to follow up its claims with any critique. The WSJ ran one article on February 18 about a superfluous issue—Hitler’s plans to visit Mussolini regardless of the outcome of the election. The article could have delved into an analysis of their potential alliance or the spread of fascism in Germany, but it simply said that a visit was imminent.
As the elections drew closer, the NYT began to again increase its coverage and devote greater importance to Germany by placing its news on the front page. On February 20, it ran a front page article about Hindenburg’s failing health, and the great impact that he had had on Germany thus far. It only briefly mentions the press gag order and the lack of opportunity for the opposition to make their voice heard. Time ran two articles on Germany on February 20. One article was titled “Rotten Democracy,” but its title was misleading, as it vacillated between praising and criticizing Hitler. It says that “Chancellor Hitler…seemed to forget the oath he swore as Chancellor to protect and defend the Republic,” while describing him as “handsome Adolf.” The second article says that “France, alarmed by the sudden pole vault to power of Adolf Hitler, began to stickle for Japanese observance of the ‘sanctity of treaties,’ preparatory to stickling later for German respect of the treaty-created Polish corridor,” but it does not discuss why France was so alarmed, and why French unease should concern the United States. On February 22, the NYT ran an article titled “Hitlerites Wreck Catholic Meetings,” about Nazis breaking up meetings of Catholics and other centrists with violent means. The Nazis broke up meetings of centrists in many cities, injuring dozens. The NYT said that “if anything is to arouse the German people to the seriousness of the present situation, it is an incident of this kind,” seemingly implying that the U.S. media realized the gravity of Hitler’s repressive actions. February 23 did not include any more analysis or criticism of the events of the previous day.
In the ten days leading up to the election, the U.S. media reflected a general belief that Hitler and the Nazis stood little chance of gaining a majority in the election. The coverage continued to increase, and then the Reichstag fire on February 27 finally elevated the seriousness of the situation in Germany in the minds of the U.S. media. On February 24, the NYT ran a front page article titled “Hitler Seizes Jobs, Offers no Programs,” which really just includes facts about how Hitler was taking jobs and giving them to Nazis, despite the fact that he promised to provide jobs for all Germans prior to being elected. The February 24 edition of the NYT also included a letter from Dr. S Lipschitz, the American representative of the Social-Democratic Press Service of Germany, condemning all of the Nazis' actions, and lauding the U.S. press for its coverage of the oppression. The article was the most directly pointed criticism aimed at Hitler since his appointment. It expressly highlighted the extreme nature of the policies Hitler had enacted in his effort to secure a majority in the Reichstag. Lipschitz seemed to believe the U.S. media had done a commendable job in reporting the repression, but that belief stemmed from the lack of coverage in Germany, which was due to the press gag law enacted by Hitler. The article was relegated to page 16.
The NYT continued its steady criticism of Hitler, devoting increasing space and importance to the events in Germany, in contrast to the WSJ, which had essentially stopped covering Germany for a span of almost two weeks. On February 25, the NYT ran another front page article, this time assailing Nazi efforts to stifle the press and all Nazi opponents. It includes some criticism, but the article is made up of more quotes than analysis. More people were killed in Germany by the Nazis, but that is only briefly mentioned on page 5. On Sunday, February 26, the NYT did not run any front page articles on Germany. There is a very short blurb on page 15 about an anti-Hitler rally. Another article on page 17 says that “only the government and its spokesmen are heard on the radio” and that the opposition is being curbed by the police. A third article is titled “The German Contest,” and it is written by the editorial board of the paper. It says that their Berlin Correspondent has stated that “nobody…seriously expects Hitler’s own National Socialist party…to win a majority.” The article shows that the U.S. media was underestimating Hitler, and underplaying the effect of the extremist policies he had instituted in the run up to the election. The U.S. media believed that Bavaria would sway the tide of the election away from the Nazis, and that the followers of the Communists will still somehow make their voices heard on March 5. On February 27, the NYT had several articles on people who were killed by the Nazis, but all the coverage was relegated to back pages. The coverage is merely factual and lacks analysis of the senseless killings. In its February 27 issue, Time grasps the effect of Hitler’s drastic changes much better than the NYT and says that “no matter how many Germans vote March 4 [Hitler’s] Government will retain power.” The article goes on to cite the New York Herald Tribune, which said that “what is manifestly the most unfair election campaign that Germany has ever seen is now taking place.” At this point¸ Time understood Hitler better than the rest of the U.S. media, because they grasped the fact that Hitler had not capitulated on his original demand in 1932 to be dictator. In his first month, he had laid the groundwork for complete Nazi dominance of Germany, and Time believed that he had essentially ensured victory in the forthcoming election.
The U.S. media coverage of Hitler had already shifted gradually towards taking a more negative tone and devoting more importance to Germany as Hitler’s repressive tactics persisted, but once the Reichstag fire occurred, the coverage dominated the front pages of United States newspapers, and turned extremely critical. On February 28, the NYT ran a front page article titled “Incendiary Fire Wrecks Reichstag; 100 Red Members Ordered Seized—Alleged Communist Said to Confess Setting Blaze.” While the author talks mostly about the damage to the building, it also questions why the communists would burn the Reichstag on the eve of the election. It also says that “if the Communists desired to protest their innocence in the fire they have no means for doing so [because] their newspapers have been suppressed, their headquarters closed, their meetings prohibited and they are forbidden to collect money.” It also briefly mentions that the cabinet approved a law “imposing the death penalty [for those involved in] subversive activities.” The vagueness of the law is frightening and the author elaborates on some areas it can be applied, but does not highlight the drastic nature of the law. The fire had just occurred the day before, but already the NYT was questioning the motives of the supposed perpetrators, and devoting key newspaper space to the radical response of the Nazis. The WSJ ran one very short article questioning why the German government had “allowed Nazis to be enrolled as Reich police.” The three reasons they cited were additional employment for party members, influence during the election, and ominously, so that they could be prepared for an emergency if they failed to win a majority on March 5. The WSJ did not include any articles on the Reichstag fire on February 28.
With Germany in complete disarray due to the burning of the Reichstag and the impending elections, the U.S. media deemed the fate of the country to be important enough to its readers to warrant constant front page coverage. On March 1, 1933, the NYT front page article attacked Hitler right from the headline, which said “Hitler Suspends Reich Guarantees; Left Press Banned.” The article’s first paragraph said
The author was not afraid to directly address the fact that the fire provided the perfect justification for the government to pass several measures that would normally be unconscionable in a time of peace. It says that 130 communists and pacifists had been detained, and that a sole perpetrator of the crime had already been found and detained. The author goes on to question what motives the perpetrator might have had, as well as what methods he could have employed to set fire to one of Germany’s most secure buildings. He directly linked the fire to the election, saying that “nothing is being left unsaid and undone to arouse a wave of popular hysteria in advance of Sunday’s elections.”
The fact that the Wall Street Journal devoted its front page to Germany for the first time in 1933 indicates how seriously the U.S. media took the incident. The article discusses all the known facts, and the decrees issued as a result, including the imposition of the death penalty and the abolishment of postal privacy. The WSJ also tied the fire to the election, saying that “the Reichstag fire evidently strengthened the determination of the Nazis to outlaw the Communist Party—a measure which might yield them a majority in the coming Reichstag.” The WSJ continued its coverage of Germany in the beginning of March, but after March 1, it was again relegated to the back pages. On March 2, the WSJ had an article explaining the provisions of the death penalty edict, but it does not comment on how the vagueness of the law leaves its implementation up to the discretion of German leaders. Coverage in the NYT continued to be extremely critical, indicating that the Reichstag fire had been the turning point in coverage. On March 2, the front page article for the NYT was titled “Hitler Intensifies Drive on the Left; Hundreds Arrested; Red Leaders Jailed, Socialists’ Papers Banned and Homes Searched All Over Prussia; Situation Alarms London.” The article itself is highly critical, emphasizing the extreme measures the Nazis have taken. It also gives voice to the opposition, quoting Socialist leaders. The paper included a lot more negative coverage in the back pages. The headlines after the Reichstag fire are all negative, and the contents of the articles support the negativity with increasing analysis. The WSJ ran an article on March 3 titled “Hitler Continues to Squelch Opposition,” which includes very harsh criticism which summarizes the general theme of the U.S. media after the fire. It reads:
The coverage would continue to intensify in its negativity as the Nazis seized a majority of the Reichstag and continued to institute dictatorial policies traditionally employed only in wartime. The Nation reflects the decisively negative turn in the reporting, saying that “the election ensured Germany’s ‘battle for democracy’ was lost and that the spectacle of Germany is one to make the gods weep.”
The U.S. media took several weeks, and a series of attacks on constitutional privileges to really understand that Hitler’s alleged motives were spurious and that he was taking Germany in a direction much like Mussolini had with Italy. The coverage for much of January and February shied away from being directly critical, or questioning why the German public passively accepted the annihilation of their freedoms. The headlines often vacillated with the big events that occurred in Germany, but front page attention was rarely devoted to the continued killings that occurred after Hitler’s appointment. Occasional articles would sound an alarm on Hitler’s extreme actions, but the negativity was usually reserved for headlines, with analysis and criticism lacking in the articles themselves. When the negative analysis did occur, it was usually relegated to the back pages. Historian Gary Klein writes that “the New York Times editorial board consistently lulled its readers into thinking that there was no cause for alarm regarding the accession of Adolf Hitler.” Not until the Reichstag fire did the amount of negative coverage of Hitler skyrocket in all of the U.S. media examined here. It is easy to criticize the U.S. media for not attacking Hitler when he was passing numerous laws abridging natural rights and freedoms, and actually murdering members of the opposition. In hindsight it seems obvious that Hitler was laying the groundwork to become dictator of Germany, as he had consistently publicly stated he wanted to be. The U.S. media cannot be overly chastised or commended for their coverage of Hitler in the first two months of 1933, but it is important to note that by the time they truly realized the urgency of the situation, Hitler had already secured a majority in the Reichstag and a path to dictatorship.
Notes (back to top)
 Time Magazine. “Hitler Stopped?” April 18, 1932.
 White, William C. “Nationalism Darkens World Outlook.” New York Times. January 01, 1933.
 Time. “Man of the Year.” January 02, 1933.
 The Wall Street Journal: Berlin Bureau. “Hitler Forces Lose Strength.” January 04, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Anti-Semitism Scored.” January 09, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Von Papen Reports on Talk with Hitler.” January 10, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Gains in Germany Hailed by Villard.” January 12, 1933.
 The Wall Street Journal. “German Farm Rift.” January 13, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Nazis Gain in Lippe Poll after Big Drive, but Fail to Win back November Losses.” January 16, 1933.
 Time. “Brasses and Plots.” January 16, 1933.
 The Wall Street Journal. “Hitler Power Strengthened.” January 17, 1933.
 The Wall Street Journal. “Reading the News of the Day.” January 17, 1933.
 The Wall Street Journal. “The Day in Europe: London Stock Market.” January 18, 1933
 The Wall Street Journal. “Reichstag Dissolution Predicted.” January 18, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Reichstag Session Postponed a Week.” January 21, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Nazis Rally Today in Berlin Red Area.” January 22, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Breslau Expects Row on Cohn Today: Professor Target of Attacks by Nazi Students.” January 24, 1933.
 Leff, L. “Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper.” New York: Cambridge University Press. 2005.
 The New York Times. “Riots in Breslau as Cohn Returns.” January 25, 1933.
 The Wall Street Journal. “The Day in Europe: London Stock market.” January 25, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Students Parade as Cohn Protest.” January 26, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Schleicher’s Fate in Balance Today.” January 28, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Conflicting Trends in Paris.” January 29, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Schleicher Quits; Hindenburg Seeks Coalition Cabinet.” January 30, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Three Men of Destiny, Iron Rulers All: With the Courses of Hindenburg, Mussolini and Stalin the Futures of Three Great Nations are Closely Linked.” January 29, 1933.
 The Wall Street Journal. “Abreast of the Market.” January 30, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Hitler Will Visit Hindenburg Today.” January 30, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Republicans Hold Huge Berlin Rally.” January 30, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Berlin Reds Urge Strike.” January 31, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Cabinet Bars Experiments.” January 31, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Germany Ventures.” January 31, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Hitler Named Reich Chancellor.” January 31, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Hitler Puts Aside Aim To Be Dictator.” January 31, 1933.
 The Wall Street Journal. “Hitler Granted Chancellorship.” January 31, 1933.
 The Wall Street Journal. “Foreign Exchange: Market Quiet German Marks Easier on Hitler’s Accession to Power.” January 31, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Centrists Demand Hitler Make Clear his Cabinet Policy.” February 1, 1933.
 The Wall Street Journal. “Berlin Views Hitler Calmly-Rise in Stocks Reflects Confidence he will not Disrupt Nation’s Affairs.” February 1, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Cabinet Made the Issue” Reich’s Support to be Asked for National Concentration.” February 2, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Guard Withdrawn, Cohn Drops Classes.” February 2, 1933.
 Wall Street Journal. “Hitler to Rule Sans Reichstag: Elections Called for March 5.” February 2, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Bans Communist Rallies: Police Without Warrants Raid Homes by Order of the Cabinet.” February 3, 1933.
 Klein, Gary. “When the News doesn’t Fit: The New York Times and Hitler’s First Two Months in Office, February/March 1933.” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly. April 1, 2001. Page 128.
 The New York Times. “Hitler Disavows Speedy Remedies.” February 3, 1933
 The Wall Street Journal. “Von Papen Denies Trend to Monarchy.” February 4, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Three Foes of Nazis Slain.” February 4, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Diet’s Dissolution Refused in Prussia.” February 5, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Hitler at the Top of His Dizzy Path.” February 5, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Many Papers Banned.” February 5, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Nationalism Rises Under Hitler Rule.” February 5, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Hitler Hails Mussolini in Bid for Cooperation.” February 5, 1933.
 Time. “Hitler into Chancellor.” February 6, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Nazi Troops March with Empire Flags as Violence Mounts.” February 6, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Rabbis Fear Hitler as Enemy of Jews.” February 6, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Reich Gags Press, Ends Prussian Diet.” February 7, 1933.
 The Wall Street Journal. “Hitler Disbands Prussian Diet: Gets Broad Power of Censorship.” February 7, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Nazis Belabor Foes While Asking Unity.” February 8, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Hitler Reassures Press on Gag Law.” February 9, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Hitler Proclaims War on Democracy at Huge Nazi Rally.” February 11, 1933.
 The Wall Street Journal. “Etiquette for Dictators.” February 11, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Events Transform Reich Party Line-Up.” February 12, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Rule of the Reich by Hohenzollerns now held Remote.” February 13, 1933.
 Time. “Four-Year Plans.” February 13, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Nazis to Repress all Foes’ Rallies.” February 16, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Democracy Ended, Hitler Aide says.” February 18, 1933.
 The Wall Street Journal. “Hitler to See Mussolini.” February 18, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Germany is Uneasy about Hindenburg; Fears he is Weary.” February 20, 1933.
 Time. “Rotten Democracy.” February 20, 1933.
 Time. “Article IX.” February 20, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Hitlerites Wreck Catholic Meetings.” February 22, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Hitler Seizes Jobs, Offers no Programs.” February 24, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Hitler and the Press.” February 24, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Hitler Arms Nazis as Prussian Police.” February 25, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Anti-Hitler Rally Here.” February 26, 1933.
 The New York Times. “New Curbs Placed on Foes by Hitler.” February 26, 1933.
 The New York Times. “The German Contest.” February 26, 1933.
 Time. “Nazi Notes.” February 27, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Incendiary Fire Wrecks Reichstag.” February 28, 1933.
 The Wall Street Journal. “Nazis on Police Force.” February 28, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Hitler Suspends Reich Guarantees; Left Press Banned.” March 1, 1933.
 The Wall Street Journal. “Germany Near to Martial Law.” March 1, 1933.
 The Wall Street Journal. “Hindenburg Extends Death Penalty Edict.” March 1, 1933.
 The New York Times. “Hitler Intensifies Drive on the Left.” March 2, 1933.
 The Wall Street Journal. “Hitler Continues to Squelch Opposition.” March 3, 1933.
 Quoted after Zalampas, M. (1989). Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich in American magazines, 1923-1939. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press. Page 29.
 Klein, 134.
Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked x/09)
The New York Times
The Wall Street Journal
Plagiarism Warning & Links (back to top)
Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi: