Washington Babylon — October 5, 2007, 2:26 pm

The Hitler Beetle, and Other Lessons from the British Press

hitlerbeetle

I gave a radio interview yesterday during which I extolled the British press for being far more open about the political views of reporters than we are in the States, where everyone pretends that journalists are blank slates, untainted by ideology or belief. The most ridiculous claim of journalistic neutrality I’ve ever heard voiced comes from Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of the Washington Post. He’s so pure he doesn’t vote–in other words, as a friend once remarked, Downie retains his neutrality even in the privacy of his own mind.

Last night, however, I went out with a friend and was reminded that it’s easy to be overly romantic about the British press. Karl (not his real name) recently returned from a long stay in Europe, most recently living in Berlin, where he had been working as a freelancer. He periodically wrote for a major British daily, but said it was hard to interest this newspaper in stories about Germany. The only sure route to success was to pitch stories that made the Germans look bad–a favored topic, Karl explained, because it harkened back to the World War II triumph over the Nazis, Britain’s last moment of real military glory.

One day Karl sent an email pitching a number of serious proposals to the newspaper, including a political analysis and a piece about the difficulties faced by Turkish immigrants to Germany. As a lark, he added that he could also do an item about the “recent discovery of a new beetle in Slovenia,” which had been named after Adolf Hitler.

Almost immediately after sending the email, his phone rang. “Karl,” said the breathless editor, “we’re quite interested in this story about the Hitler beetle!”

The conversation reminded me of a far worse story I heard in the early 1990s, when I lived in Brazil. An American freelancer I knew well told me he’d just completed duties as a fixer for a British TV crew that had come to Brazil to expose the destruction of the Amazon rain forest. The crew went looking for forest fires to film but couldn’t find any. In frustration, they bought a container of gasoline and started a small fire of their very own and filmed it from various close-up angles that made it appear that a large swath of the rain forest was ablaze. Being responsible journalists, they put out the fire before packing up their gear.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

November 2014

Stop Hillary!

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

How the Islamic State was Won

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Cage Wars

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Everyday Grace

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Stop Hillary!·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"What Hillary will deliver, then, is more of the same. And that shouldn’t surprise us."
Photograph by Joe Raedle
Article
Cage Wars·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"In the 1970s, “Chickens’ Lib” was a handful of women in flower-print dresses holding signs, but in the past decade farm hens have become almost a national preoccupation."
Photograph by Adam Dickerson/Big Dutchman USA, courtesy Vande Bunte Farms
Article
Paradise Lost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Suffering Sappho! Here we still are, marching right into yet another century with our glass ceilings, unequal pay, unresolved work and child-care balance, and still marrying, forever marrying, men."
Illustration by Anthony Lister
Article
Off the Land·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Nearly half the reservation lives below the poverty line, with unemployment as high as 60 percent, little to no infrastructure, few entitlements, a safety net that never was, no industry to speak of, and a housing crisis that has been dire not for five years but since the reservation’s founding in 1855."
Illustration by Stan Fellows
Post
Introducing the November 2014 Issue·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Doug Henwood on stopping Hillary Clinton, fighters and potential recruits discuss the rise of the Islamic State, the inevitability of factory farming, and more

Cover photo by Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Chances that a doctor’s diagnosis of Lyme disease is erroneous:

4 in 5

Engineers were said to be at greater risk of becoming terrorists.

A deaf dog belonging to a deaf owner was shot and killed in Alabama, and an Indiana dog’s skin troubles were found to be caused by an allergy to humans. “It’s just not his fault,” said the owner of Lucky Dog Retreat.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today