AP: propagandizing for Kim and Hamas

Matti Friedman

Yesterday we discussed a fascinating piece by former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman about that news bureau’s systematic practice of collaborating with tyrannical regimes in exchange for access. Friedman offers other examples: in 2014, a “detailed exposé on the AP’s bureau in North Korea” showed that it was staffed by “North Koreans who were paid by AP but answered to the regime.” Under an agreement between the AP and the Pyongyang government, AP could “sell propaganda images, like those lovely choreographed rallies, outside the country, while the North Korean ‘staffers’ studiously avoided subjects like mass starvation and prison camps.”

One hand washes the other: Hamas

Meanwhile, in Gaza, where Friedman himself worked as an AP correspondent from 2006 to 2011, the AP is involved in “both passive and active cooperation with Hamas.” He offers a striking anecdote: during the Israel-Hamas war that began in late 2008, an AP reporter called Friedman, who was working the service’s news desk in Jerusalem, and told him “that Hamas fighters were dressed as civilians and were being counted as civilians in the death toll.” Some hours later, the reporter “called again and asked me to strike the detail from the story.” Friedman suspected at the time – and it was later confirmed – that his colleague had made the second call on orders from Hamas, which had threatened his life should the AP go with the full story.

“From that moment on,” writes Friedman, “AP’s coverage from Gaza became a quiet collaboration with Hamas….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.” Ironically, in 2014, when an AP reporter filed an article about Hamas censorship, it was shelved.

“We were trading truth for access,” writes Friedman, “and providing an illusion of ‘coverage’ that was actually propaganda.”

Sally Buzbee

Friedman quotes AP’s side of the story, as proffered by AP 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,” she said recently. But as Friedman observes. “if you’re inside the borders of a tyrannical regime, you can’t ‘accurately relay what is happening inside.’” He suggests that instead of having Hamas-controlled reporters inside Gaza, AP would be better off “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.” Similarly, “instead of paying for an illusory ‘bureau’ in Pyongyang and getting in bed with Kim Jong-un, why not devote that money to hiring the most knowledgeable people in South Korea and developing information from dissidents, refugees, and spies, which, in expert hands—and there are plenty at the AP’s disposal—might actually be able to yield an approximation of the truth?”

Outdoing Duranty? The AP in Nazi Germany

Matti Friedman

In June, the Tablet provided a useful reminder that major news media based in free countries have engaged in silent collaboration with dictatorships, covering up the latter’s crimes in order to retain “access.” “Is it better to cooperate with dictatorships and authoritarian regimes and tell half the story with hands tied—or not tell the story at all?” asked the Tablet piece by Matti Friedman, who took as his case in point the all-too-cozy relationship that the Associated Press developed with the Nazis. Citing a 2016 paper by German historian Harriet Scharnberg entitled “The A and P of Propaganda,” Friedman, himself a former AP reporter, noted that “the AP’s photo office in Germany made compromise after compromise to keep reporting under Nazi rule, obeying successive orders from the Hitler regime until it ended up as a Nazi information arm in all but name.” While other Western news organizations left Hitler’s Germany in 1935, the AP stayed on, “an arrangement the New York-based agency was eager to preserve—even if it meant removing all of its Jewish photographers in keeping with Nazi race laws, for example, and even if it meant issuing a statement to the official SS magazine swearing that the photo bureau was pure Aryan.”

Harriet Scharnberg

How close was the AP to the Nazis? Well, among the consequences of the special relationship was the use of AP photographs “in some of the vilest racial propaganda produced by the Nazi state,” such as a book called The Jews in the USA. The head of AP’s photography service in Berlin ended up as a Nazi censor; one photographer, Franz Roth, was simultaneously working for the AP and the SS. So it was that AP photos of the Wehrmacht’s advance on the Eastern front – pictures that ended up in newspapers around the U.S. – made the Nazis look like heroes and made Soviet prisoners, for example, look like “ugly human specimens.” In short, while the AP claimed to be an independent and objective news organization, it was in bed with the Nazis, covering up the reality of life in the Third Reich, the true nature of the Nazi war machine, and of course the horror of the death camps.

As Friedman points out, the AP is far from the only major news organization to have been guilty of such practices:

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.

Peter Arnett

We wrote about this topic here at Useful Stooges last year, noting that “[w]hen it comes to oppressive regimes – the type that shutter opposition media and imprison honest journalists – CNN’s policy has routinely been to retain access at all costs. Back in 1991, during the first Gulf War, CNN’s Peter Arnett was the only Western TV reporter in Baghdad, and, as such, according to Newsweek, provided “rare glimpses from inside Iraq,” even as he “provoked criticism that he and his network [were] being used as a conduit for Iraqi propaganda.”

Christiane Amanpour

After 9/11, we further observed, CNN, unlike many other news outfits, was able to keep its reporters in Baghdad for one reason and one reason alone: its “systematic refusal to report on the dark side of Saddam’s regime,” a policy that CNN news exec Eason Jordan copped to in a 2003 New York Times op-ed. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, when CNN’s Christiane Amanpour sneered that Fox News reporters were Bush administration’s “foot soldiers,” Fox replied: “It’s better to be viewed as a foot soldier for Bush than a spokeswoman for al-Qaeda.”

More tomorrow.