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July 22, 2022 9:16 am

From Hitler and Stalin to Putin and Raisi: Why Downplaying Evil Is So Dangerous

avatar by Gil Hoffman


Officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, speak at Caspian Summit in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan June 29, 2022. Sputnik/Grigory Sysoyev/Pool via REUTERS

In her new book, “The Newspaper Axis,” UC Davis history professor Kathryn S. Olmsted writes that many American and British newspapers failed to take the rise of Adolf Hitler seriously in the 1930s.

Olmsted accused six of the most powerful English-language publishers of the World War II era of actively “enabling Hitler,” and using their influence to downplay and even promote his rise. She wrote that William Randolph Hearst, who owned 28 newspapers and a wire service, paid Hitler and his second-in-command, Hermann Göring, to write propaganda for his newspapers.

One reason she cites for this behavior was ongoing support for isolationism and fear of American loss of life should the US get involved in a war in Europe. Moreover, the editorial decisions made by this newspaper axis were fueled by opposition to long-serving President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Olmsted also notes another factor: the newspaper publishers’ antisemitism.

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“They espoused conspiracy theories about Jewish influence in government and believed that Jews themselves were to blame for antisemitism,” a Washington Post review of “The Newspaper Axis” states, adding: “So they had little sympathy for European Jews suffering at Hitler’s hands, and they suspected that American Jews were scheming to force the nation into war — an insinuation that appeared routinely in their editorials.”

It is no wonder that even the August 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which enabled Berlin and Moscow to divide Poland between them, and the September 1940 Tripartite Pact between Germany, Italy, and Japan did not wake up the world.

Fast forward to this week, when Russian President Vladimir Putin chose the Islamic Republic of Iran as his destination for his first trip beyond the former Soviet Union since his invasion of Ukraine in February.

Putin took a break from attacking civilians in Ukraine to visit a country fighting neighbors on multiple fronts, which regularly sponsors terror attacks against Israel and Yemen, and fired missiles at an American consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.

So, did the world’s leading media organizations get it right this time?

The global wire service Reuters reported that, “A budding courtship between Russia and Iran is an unwelcome development for the West that the United States will watch with concern, but it falls well short of a geopolitical game changer.”

The truth is much more dire than the way Reuters depicts it. This unholy alliance between Moscow and Tehran endangers the entire world, and if action is not taken soon, the meeting could be remembered in retrospect as a signature moment in the international community’s failure to keep the world safe.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press (AP), a news agency with over 1,300 clients, reported that Putin had called for lifting sanctions on Iran in order to allow a “free development of cooperation in any areas without any discrimination.”

“Backed into a corner by the West and its regional rivals, the Iranian government is ramping up uranium enrichment, cracking down on dissent and grabbing headlines with optimistic, hard-line stances intended to keep the Iranian currency, the rial, from crashing,” the AP report said, adding: “Without sanctions relief in sight, Iran’s tactical partnership with Russia has become one of survival, even as Moscow appears to be undercutting Tehran in the black market oil trade.”

The framing and phraseology of this article elicits sympathy for Iran, and just like Reuters, transforms the West into the true villain.

In a New York Times piece that referred to Putin and Iran as “fellow outcasts,” Israel is mentioned only once — in an explanation of why Putin did not deepen his ties with Iran sooner.

Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, which is being aided by Putin and making significant strides, is not mentioned at all.

Similarly, CNN reported that in his meeting with Putin, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi hailed a significant commitment to security cooperation between the two countries, saying that the two countries had “good experience” in fighting terrorism.

Why no mention of Iran being the world’s top sponsor of terrorism? Groups funded by Iran, including Hamas and Hezbollah, are deemed terrorist organizations by both the US and European Union.

Finally, in an AFP article that could have been mistaken as farcical, the worldwide French news agency uncritically reported: “Tehran gave assurances Wednesday that its nuclear policy was unchanged and that it still adhered to a fatwa banning weapons of mass destruction, after an Iranian official said the country was able to make atomic bombs.”

Crucial context has been left out of Putin’s Iran visit, which was a transparent attempt to counter US President Joe Biden’s high profile trip last week to enemies of the Islamic Republic: Israel and Saudi Arabia.

During his tour of the Middle East, the US president reaffirmed the strong alliance between America and the Jewish state, and sought to repair relations with the Saudis.

In stark contrast, during Putin’s visit to Tehran, an official Twitter account linked to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei lauded the Russian president for his “recent stances against the Zionists.”

This new world order needs to be recognized and reported on with due diligence by the international media.

Now that it is more obvious than ever that the new Axis of Evil of Vladimir Putin and Iran are making the world a more dangerous place, the media needs to wake the world up and not let evil win.

This can only be done if prominent news publications learn from history of the danger of downplaying evil, lest it be repeated.

Akiva Van Koningsveld, HonestReporting Editor, contributed to this article.

The author is the Executive Director of HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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