I’ve just got back from a short break to Berlin and can thoroughly recommend it. A friendly city, where everyone seems to speak English, there’s loads of culture, history and, I hear, a lively night life. Lots of currywurst too, which I found myself eating on three separate occasions, despite it being nothing more than sausage smothered in tomato sauce with a sprinkling of curry powder.
One of the museums (Berlin has 170) we visited was the Topography of Terror, a clear-eyed and comprehensive account of how a civilised society fell under the awful grip of a demonic cult.
From a publishing perspective, two things stood out: one of the first things Hitler did on coming to power was to neuter the press. Many newspapers were closed, others were forced to sell up to Nazi sympathisers and the rest were left in no doubt as to the type of coverage that was expected from them. If, as an industry, we ever question our importance to society, remember who it is that authoritarians target first.
Once a dictator has come to power, it’s usually too late for the press to do much about it other than attempt to publish underground. It’s far better to help identify would-be dictators early and stop them in their tracks, by relentlessly exposing their lies, hate, simplistic narratives and the threat they pose to society and the rule of law. The thing is, they are usually easy to spot; Hitler, after all, wrote a book.
The second thing that struck me was, what a malign concept the “will of the people” is! It was the blanket justification for everything the Nazis did and had the virtue, as they saw it, of being whatever they defined it to be. When people claim to speak for the “people”, then newspapers should treat them with extreme scepticism.