Hitler and the Press
We talk often about learning from the lessons of the past. In these days of social media and multiple sources of news and information, it is still worth considering the power and effectiveness of the press, and also how governments and political leaders use and condemn journalism. For those who vote, or who have a say in the mind-set of nation states, the media can be the main source of information – whether this is actively sought out by purchasing newspapers and switching on televisions, or by casually glancing at headlines on newsstands or the incessant feed that can invade our social media timelines. Hitler was well aware of the susceptibility of the masses to the words of the press, and which part of the population he should aim his rhetoric at. In Mein Kampf he wrote:
‘Journalistic circles in particular like to describe the press as a ‘great power’ in the state. As a matter of fact its importance really is immense. It cannot be overestimated, for the press really continues education in adulthood.
Its readers by and large, can be divided into three groups: First those who believe everything they read; second, into those who have ceased to believe anything; third, into the minds which critically examine what they read and judge accordingly.
Numerically, the first group is by far the largest. It consists of the great mass of the people and consequently represents the simplest-minded part of the nation. It cannot be listed in terms of professions, but at most in general degrees of intelligence. To it belong all those who have neither been born nor trained to think independently, and who partly from incapacity and partly from incompetence believe everything that is set before them in black and white. To them also belongs the type of lazybones who could perfectly well think, but from sheer mental laziness seizes gratefully on everything that someone else has thought, with the modest assumption that someone else has exerted himself considerably. Now, with all these types, who constitute the great masses, the influence of the press will be enormous. They are not able or willing themselves to examine what is set before them, and as a result their whole attitude towards the problems of the day can be reduced almost exclusively to the outside influence of others. This can be advantageous when their enlightenment is provided by a serious and truth-loving party, but it is catastrophic when scoundrels and liars provide it.
The second group is much smaller in number. It is partly composed of elements which previously belonged to the first group, but after long and bitter disappointments shifted to the opposite and no longer believe anything that comes before their eyes in print. They hate every newspaper; either they don’t read it at all, or without exception fly into a rage over the contents, since in their opinion they consist only of lies and falsehoods. These people are very hard to handle, since they are suspicious even in the face of the truth. Consequently, they are lost for all positive, political work.
The third group, finally, is by far the smallest; it consists of the minds with real mental subtlety, whom natural gifts and education have taught to think independently, who try to form their own judgement on all things, and who subject everything they read to a thorough examination and further development of their own. They will not look at a newspaper without always collaborating in their minds, and the writer has no easy time of it. Journalists love such readers with the greatest reserve. For members of the third group, it must be admitted, the nonsense that newspaper scribblers can put down is not very dangerous or not very important. […] Today, when the ballot of the masses decides, the chief weight lies with the most numerous group, and this is the first: the mob of the simple or credulous’.
(Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, London, Pimlico, 2014, pp. 219-220)