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August 20, 2019

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Trump’s crusade against the media is a chilling echo of Hitler’s rise

Donald Trump shows no signs of dialing down his war of words against the media, which he has described as the “enemy of the American people” and has repeatedly accused of dealing in “fake news.”

In fact, the Trump administration turned up the heat this month when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while announcing a crackdown on leaks, said his department would possibly subpoena reporters.

The situation has tinges of time not so long ago in a place not so far away. The site was Germany, where in the 1920s a radical politician named Adolf Hitler began characterizing the free press as a destabilizing and destructive force. As a reminder of what can happen — and has happened in societies when media freedoms have been curtailed — we offer some of Hitler’s written and spoken sentiments on freedom of the press.

July 1922 speech: “And why is Europe hostile (toward Germany)? We see how over there in this other Europe, it is not the peoples which agitate against us, it is the secret power of the organized press which ceaselessly pours new poison into the hearts of these peoples. And who are then these bandits of the press? The brothers and the relatives of the publishers of our own newspapers.”

April 1923 speech: “A press which is on principle anti-national cannot be tolerated in Germany. Whoever denies the nation can have no part in it. We must demand that the press shall become the instrument of the national self-education.“

From “Mein Kampf,” his 1925 autobiographical novel: “It is in the paramount interest of the State and the nation to prevent these people (newspaper readers) from falling into the hands of evil, ignorant, or even malevolent educators. The State ... has the duty to supervise (the public’s) education and to prevent any nuisance. Therefore, it has to watch especially the press, for its influence is by far the strongest and most penetrating on these people.”

More from “Mein Kampf”: “Did not this press, even in times of peace, instill into the brains of the people doubts about the rights of their own State, in order to restrict it from the beginning in the choice of the means for its defense? Was it not the German press which knew how to make palatable to our people the nonsense of ‘Western Democracy’ until finally, captured by all these enthusiastic tirades, it thought that it could entrust its future to a League of Nations? Did it not help in educating our people towards a wretched immorality? Did it not ridicule morals and customs, interpreting them as being old-fashioned and humdrum, until finally our people actually became ‘modern’? Did it not, by continued attack, undermine the fundamentals of State authority for so long until a single blow was sufficient to cause the collapse of this building?”

• In February 1933, as German chancellor, Hitler orchestrated a decree suspending media freedoms and other civil liberties. The decree remained in effect until the demise of the Nazi Party.

March 1933 speech: Hitler said “the Reich Government intends to undertake a thorough moral purging of the German Volkskörper (translated as “German people’s body”). The entire system of education, the theater, the cinema, literature, the press, and radio — they all will be used as a means to this end and valued accordingly. They must all work to preserve the eternal values residing in the essential character of our people.”

January 1937 speech: "The whole body of our German education, including the press, the theater, the cinema and literature, is being controlled and shaped today by men and women of our own race. Some time ago one often heard it said that if Jewry were expelled from these institutions they would collapse or become deserted. And now what has happened? … Our press has become a powerful instrument to help our people in bringing their innate faculties to self-expression and assertion, and by so doing it strengthens the nation."

November 1938 speech: When I took power, we controlled less than 5 percent of the German press. … But the power became mine; the Volk (population) backs me! That simply goes to show just how incredible the power of the press can be when it serves as an instrument of power wielded by one government. … In Germany, we have attempted to transform the press into a most powerful instrument. And at the close of this year, I would like to proclaim before you that I am more than satisfied with the results. The press has gloriously passed the test and has proven its value."

December 1940 speech: “The organization of our press has truly been a success. Our law concerning the press is such that divergences of opinion between members of the government are no longer an occasion for public exhibitions, which are not the newspapers’ business. We’ve eliminated that conception of political freedom which holds that everybody has the right to say whatever comes into his head.”

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