By Rafael Medoff
The New York Times is under fire for publishing an article about one of the world’s most notorious antisemites, without any mention of his antisemitism. Sadly, it’s not the first time; the Times did something similar with Adolf Hitler.
In an October 17 essay in the Times, Professor Natalie Hopkinson of Howard University portrayed Rev. Louis Farrakhan as an admirable leader, who planned his 1995 “Million Man March” on Washington as a men-only event but then recognized the need to bring African-American women into the organizing process. “Amid critiques that the [march] was exclusionary and sexist, he took the advice of the women,” Hopkinson wrote. As a result, women played an important behind the scenes role in Farrakhan’s “great feat.”
Hopkinson made no mention of the fact that antisemitism is one of the central themes of Farrakhan’s ideology. Nor did Hopkinson acknowledge that Farrakhan has called Jews “termites,” “bloodsuckers,” and “Satanic.” She did not even note the impact of antisemitism on the march itself–that is, the refusal of African-American civil rights leaders such as Congressman John Lewis to attend because of what Lewis called Farrakhan’s “divisive and bigoted” statements.
Challenged on Twitter about these omissions, Hopkinson responded that “Ppl who have become white” – seemingly a euphemism for Jews – “should not be lecturing Black ppl about oppression.” She urged her critics to focus their ire on President Trump, since after all, “Hitler never had more than 38% of popular vote.”
Funny she should mention Hitler. In 1933, he, too, was the beneficiary of a puff piece in the New York Times.
During Hitler’s first months in power, there was extensive coverage in the American press of his anti-Jewish policies, such as the mass firing of Jews from their jobs, public burnings of books by Jewish authors, and sporadic antisemitic mob violence. To counter this negative attention, Hitler in July 1933 granted Anne O’Hare McCormick of the New York Times his first exclusive interview with an American reporter since becoming chancellor of Germany.
McCormick was a Pulitzer Prize recipient (the first woman to win the prize in a major journalism category) with a reputation for landing big-name interviewees. But snagging an interview is not the same as making the best use of it.
There is no evidence that McCormick harbored any sympathy for the Nazi leader’s views. But her choice of questions, non-confrontational manner, and flattering description of his appearance and demeanor contributed to a generally positive portrayal of Hitler.
“Hitler Seeks Jobs for All Germans” was the headline of McCormick’s page one, top-of-the fold interview. Here’s how she introduced Times readers to the Fuehrer: “At first sight the dictator of Germany seems a rather shy and simple man, younger than one expects, more robust, taller. His sun-browned face is full and is the mobile face of an orator.”
She continued: “His eyes are almost the color the blue larkspur in a vase behind him, curiously childlike and candid. He appears untired and unworried. His voice is as quiet as his black tie and his double-breasted black suit….Herr Hitler has the sensitive hand of the artist.”
It got worse from there, as McCormick lobbed soft ball question after soft ball question, giving Hitler a platform from which to expound his views in a reasonable-sounding tone without any serious challenges.
Just as Natalie Hopkinson portrayed the role of women in Farrakhan’s march in glowing terms, Anne O’Hare McCormick gave Hitler several paragraphs to explain the positive role of women in the Third Reich. “Women have always been among my most sta[u]nchest supporters,” he boasted. “While our aims encourage women to marry and stay home, unmarried women are in free competition with men. Only military service, service on the bench and certain political posts are closed to women.” No follow-up on that from McCormick.
Unlike Hopkinson, McCormick did not completely ignore the question of the Jews, although she badly mishandled it. In her 29th paragraph (out of 41 total), she asked: “How about the Jews? At this stage how do you measure the gains and losses of your antisemitic policies?”
She then gave the Nazi leader four uninterrupted paragraphs in which to explain – in what she called “his extraordinary fluency” – that the reports of his anti-Jewish persecution were all exaggerated, that many other people were enduring hardships, and that the Jews’ suffering was all their own fault anyway.
From there, McCormick pivoted to what she evidently felt was a more pressing question: “What character in history do you admire most, Caesar, Napoleon, or Frederick the Great?”
Although McCormick did not set out to soften the Nazi leader’s image, her interview may have had that effect. Improving Hitler’s reputation in the United States was important to the Nazis. Germany sought to postpone repaying of its World War I wartime debts to the U.S. and its allies. Hitler also hoped to dissuade American companies from joining the growing boycott of German goods. And he was anxious to keep the United States from interfering as he rebuilt the German military. That’s also why Hitler authorized an American publisher, Houghton Mifflin, to omit the most extreme and violent passages from his autobiography, Mein Kampf, when it published English-language editions of the book in the 1930s.
Farrakhan is not another Hitler, although he might like to be. He has praised the Nazi dictator as “a very great man” and asserted that “there’s a similarity” between the two of them in that “he raised Germany up from nothing [and] we are raising our people up from nothing.”
Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam has, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “earned a prominent position in the ranks of organized hate,” and its leader is, in the words of the Anti-Defamation League, “the leading anti-semite in America.” Tens of thousands have attended his rallies in recent years; he has more than one million Facebook followers, and nearly half a million followers on Twitter. That makes him a dangerous figure, whose antisemitism should be taken seriously by the most influential newspaper in the world. Natalie Hopkinson was wrong to omit it, and the editors of the New York Times were wrong to let that omission stand.
Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington DC, and author of more than 20 books about the Holocaust and Jewish history.
This article first appeared in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal (Oct. 20, 2020) and is reprinted with permission of the author.
Main Photo: The front page of the New York Times on July 10, 1933.