As the "marine corps of journalism," the Associated Press, turns 170 years old this year, new questions are being raised by some historians about the news organization's credibility when it comes to covering totalitarian states, including Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.
According to German historian Harriet Scharnberg, the AP made a mutually beneficial pact with the Hitler regime in order to retain access to Germany throughout the Holocaust and World War II. It reportedly did so by adhering to the Schriftleitergesetz, or editor's law, by agreeing not to publish anything that could be “calculated to weaken the strength of the Reich abroad or at home," the Guardian reported.
Scharnberg claimed that, instead of showing photos of of Jewish victims being slaughtered after the Germans invaded western Ukraine in June 1941, the AP ran photos of the victims of Soviet troops that the Nazis had given the media organization, perhaps so as to paint the Hitler regime in a somewhat better light.
“To that extent, it is fair to say that these pictures played their part in disguising the true character of the war led by the Germans,” Scharnberg said. “Which events were made visible and which remained invisible in AP’s supply of pictures followed German interests and the German narrative of the war.”
The AP, however, denies that was the case.
“As we continue to research this matter, AP rejects any notion that it deliberately ‘collaborated’ with the Nazi regime," a representative for the organization said. "An accurate characterization is that the AP and other foreign news organizations were subjected to intense pressure from the Nazi regime from the year of Hitler’s coming to power in 1932 until the AP’s expulsion from Germany in 1941."
"AP management resisted the pressure while working to gather accurate, vital and objective news in a dark and dangerous time," the representative added.
The allegation is not only of historical significance, but also of great interest today. The Associated Press has more recently come under scrutiny for its relationship with the totalitarian government in North Korea.
In 2014, the independent, Washington, D.C.-based NKNews.org alleged that, in 2011, less than a year before the Associated Press became the first western news organization to open a bureau in Pyongyang, North Korea, the AP "agreed to distribute state-produced North Korean propaganda through the AP name."
As the Guardian pointed out, the AP's Pyongyang bureau did not report on the the mysterious six-week public disappearance of North Korea dictator Kim Jong-un in 2014, the Sony Entertainment hack, which the FBI has officially accused North Korea of perpetrating, or the famine in North Korea's southern Hwanghae province in 2012.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves to war veterans during a mass military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)
Nate Thayer, a former AP correspondent who was based in Cambodia, published the purported draft agreement between the AP and North Korea, which allegedly exposes the news organization's tactics. But the AP has denied the latest allegations.
"We do not run stories by the Korean Central News Agency or any government official before we publish them. At the same time, officials are free to grant or deny access or interviews," an AP representative said.
Thayer begged to differ.
“It looks like AP have learned very little from their own history. To claim, as the agency does, that North Korea does not control their output, is ludicrous," Thayer told the Guardian.
"There is naturally an argument that any access to secretive states is important," Thayer added. "But at the end of the day, it matters whether you tell your readers that what you are reporting is based on independent and neutral sources."
You can read the AP's full statement here.
Follow the author of this story on Twitter and Facebook: