The notorious Walter Duranty of the New York Times and Nazi broadcaster Lord Haw-Haw offer cautionary tales.
By JAMIE DETTMER
Feb 8, 2024
Tucker Carlson is far from being the first Western journalist to have aligned himself with the enemy. There’s a long tradition of the likes of Hitler and Stalin finding pliable Brits and Americans to do their propaganda for them.
Russian President Vladimir Putin can be confident he won’t be facing any zingers in his interview with Carlson, due to be broadcast on Thursday night in the U.S. It will probably be more an exercise in sycophancy akin to the softball encounter between Carlson and Donald Trump last August. Indeed, it could be an attempt to map out the contours of another Trump-Putin love-in.
After all, Carlson nailed his colors to Putin’s mast long ago. He’s argued Washington should take Russia’s side in its war on Ukraine and dubbed Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “dangerous authoritarian” — not a description, apparently, he thinks applicable to the Russian leader. He has also always been in tune with Putin’s calls for “traditional values” — which in Russia tends to mean the abuse of LGBTQ+ rights.
The most obvious parallel with Carlson’s fawning approach to a Russian despot is arguably the New York Times reporter Walter Duranty, bureau chief in Moscow from 1922 to 1936.
After proving his loyalty and writing glowing accounts of the Communists’ Five-Year Plan he was granted an exclusive interview by Stalin. He failed to report on the Holodomor, the famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933, and attacked those who tried to get the word out, including Gareth Jones, a Welsh journalist. “Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda,” Duranty noted in one false article.
Historian Mark von Hagen later wrote that Duranty’s reporting was just rehashed Soviet propaganda at odds with the “experience of the peoples of the Russian and Soviet empires.” But it had impact. Sally Taylor, author of a critical biography, argued Duranty’s reporting was a factor in U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decision in 1933 to grant official recognition to the Soviet Union. Later, when Stalin’s atrocities became public knowledge, Duranty said: “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.”
That attitude didn’t do the New York Times any favors over the years and Duranty was repeatedly wheeled out as such an egregious example of malpractice, not least by Ukrainians. The paper concedes the coverage that won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 is “largely discredited.”
Duranty was a true believer, insisting the ends justified the means. Much like American socialist reporter John Reed, author of “10 Days That Shook the World,” who worked for the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, translating decrees and news about the Bolshevik government in the early days around the 1917 revolution. “I also collaborated in the gathering of material and data and distributing of papers to go into the German trenches,” Reed wrote of his World War I propaganda activities.
Later he returned to the U.S. with his spouse Louise Bryant, an American feminist and political activist, where they defended the Bolshevik revolution and he co-founded the short-lived Communist Labor Party of America. Charged with sedition, he fled back to Russia. U.S. novelist Upton Sinclair described Reed as “the playboy of the Russian revolution.” Reed, in fact, started to fall out with his Soviet bosses over revolutionary tactics, and succumbed to typhus but was given a hero’s burial, becoming one of only four Americans buried at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis in Red Square. There’s probably space there for Carlson too.
The Nazis as well as the Soviets found useful propagandists for their cause. American-born anti-semite William Joyce, a scion of the British Union of Fascists, gained infamy as broadcaster Lord Haw-Haw in World War II, taunting U.S. and U.K. audiences with his Nazi radio show Germany Calling. Just in case Carlson is tempted by the idea of a show called Russia Calling, he’d best be warned these things can end badly, and the British hanged Joyce in 1946. The British socialite Unity Mitford turned to Nazi propaganda out of idol worship.
In 1934, she went to Munich hoping to meet Adolf Hitler and stalked him at the Osteria Bavaria, his favorite eatery. Finally, after 10 months, Hitler invited her over to his table. “It was the most wonderful and beautiful [day] of my life,’ she wrote to her father. “I am so happy that I wouldn’t mind a bit, dying. I’d suppose I am the luckiest girl in the world. For me he is the greatest man of all time.”
Germany’s Führer approved of Mitford’s middle name Valkyrie and was delighted that her grandfather had translated the anti-semitic works of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, a favorite author, according to historian Giles Milton. Unity became part of Hitler’s inner circle, and wrote for Julius Streicher’s anti-semitic newspaper Der Stürmer a vitrolic article denouncing the Jews, beginning the piece, “The English have no notion of the Jewish danger.” She shot herself in the head at the outbreak of war, but survived and was visited by Hitler, only dying in 1948 from complications from swelling around the bullet.
The Nazis were also able to press into service the comic novelist P.G. Wodehouse, known for his fictional characters Jeeves and Wooster. Interned by Vichy French authorities, Wodehouse was released by the Germans and whisked off to the luxury Hotel Adlon in Berlin and agreed to make five broadcasts to the U.S. via German radio before America joined the war, comprising humorous anecdotes about his experiences as a prisoner, that helped to humanize the Nazis.
Carlson himself has defended his approach, by lying that Western media have not even bothered to try to speak to Putin. But even the Kremlin effectively admitted it chose him as a “useful
idiot.” When confronted with Carlson’s statement that media didn’t bother to apply to talk to Putin, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Mr. Carlson was incorrect” and added Western media requests were rejected because “they cannot boast of any attempt to even seem like they are providing impartial coverage.” Carlson, however, who has claimed to “root for Russia,” can presumably be relied upon to be impeccably impartial.
Jamie Dettmer is an accomplished American-British journalist and broadcaster who has covered a wide range of global affairs. Jamie Dettmer worked as a reporter for VOA, focusing on Europe, the Middle East, and global affairs until April 2022. His reporting took him to various locations, including Rome, London, Libya, Lebanon, and Turkey. As a veteran foreign and war correspondent, he has been on the frontlines in conflict zones such as Syria, Libya, Iraq, Lebanon, and Ukraine. His coverage spans critical issues like Europe’s migration influx, the rise of political populism, and terrorism in Europe. Dettmer’s extensive career includes work for prominent media outlets such as The Times of London, Newsweek, Sunday Telegraph, Washington Times, New York Sun, The Scotsman, and The Hill2. He has reported on 15 wars, the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and numerous parliamentary and presidential elections across Europe and the United States. Dettmer has shared his insights on major news networks, including CNN, MSNBC, France 24, ABC, and BBC.