Since the media first came into existence, it has been criticized, suppressed, and controlled. Journalists can help or hinder causes; help spread propaganda or fight it. The media is the direct stream covering events and ideology and delivering it to the public. From squires of the Middle Ages to CNN, journalists are tasked with a very difficult job, and journalism begs the question: Are we benefitting society with our news reporting, or are we helping the spread of harmful ideologies and movements.

When fascism was on the rise in the 20s and 30s, the American media didn’t take it seriously. In 1925, Mussolini declared himself leader for life. The press covered him extensively, but positively, neutrally, or humorously. Looking back, it was a clear failure of the media.

In fascist societies, the leader does not allow the press to say anything negative about them, having them arrested or killed. This is alarming because many people think that Trump is the beginning of fascism in America. He is amping up attacks on the media lately, which is reminiscent of the hatred towards defiant journalism in countries controlled by fascist dictators. It is true, however, that he is not arresting the press… yet.

Mussolini was very interested in the way that the media shaped the minds of a society. He censored and controlled the press in Italy very closely, releasing propaganda in an attempt to essentially brainwash the people in his country. He told the press they still had the freedom to report, but, of course, not anything that was “contrary to the local interest.”

He is amping up attacks on the media lately, which is reminiscent of the hatred towards defiant journalism in countries controlled by fascist dictators

Thanks to America’s favorable coverage of Mussolini, when Hitler came into office, it was normalized, and he was called “the German Mussolini.” The American media knew about Hitler’s hateful rhetoric of course, but of course, America hated Jews as well at this point and laughed Hitler off as crazy but harmless. They thought of him as somewhat of a Joke, similar to our response to Donald trump at the beginning of the campaign season. 

Hitler’s anti-Semitism was condemned by some journalists but brushed off by many others. America didn’t join the war to save Jews, they joined the war because the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. American press failed to portray the scope of fascism in Europe as a threat even to those countries, and media within Germany and Italy was strictly controlled as propaganda was being fed to them to make the public think everything was fine.

It wasn’t even brought to public knowledge how horrific the concentration camps were and how disturbing the actions carried out there were until several years after the camps were created.

Dorothy Thompson was an American reporter who judged Hitler as a person of “startling insignificance.” She realized later the mistake in the reporting of American journalists, stating “No people ever recognize their dictator in advance,” she reflected in 1935. “He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship. He always represents himself as the instrument [of] the Incorporated National Will. When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American.”

Trump shouts “fake news” not because it’s actually fake news, but because he doesn’t agree with real news, which is for the people, not the government. So what are we going to do? Will we sit back and agree with the President just because he tells us to, or will we stand up and continue to report for the people? The answer may be the difference between democracy and fascism.

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