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"Herr Hitler: Is He Serious or Just Having Fun?"

Time’s Buried Hitler Cover

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

New Orleans, Louisiana

A week after he was praised in Life’s magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” issue, Time magazine, in its scheduled April 20, 1934, issue went a step further by making the controversial German black-shirt nationalist, just installed as chancellor, the subject of a lengthy cover story, bearing the title quoted in the headline to this item. Eventually, after a last minute reconsideration by Time’s boss, Henry Luce, the cover story was shelved in favor of a report on the farm crisis in the Midwest. The Hitler story was already rolling off the presses when Luce issued the order to change the cover. The dumped edition, recently came to light in a long-lost Luce archive.

Throughout the article, Time’s reporters and rewrite team gave Hitler every benefit of the doubt. Hitler’s notoriously vitriolic hate speech was alternately dismissed as a put-on or excused as “from his heart.” The worst Time could say about Hitler is that he could “occasionally be coarse,” citing Hitler’s oft-repeated claim that Jews are “genetic garbage”. Time readers learned that Hitler is an omnivorous reader (the report mentions Gobineau and several American writers on population control), and that he regards himself “as a public intellectual.”

Hitler is dubbed “iconic” by Time because he “epitomizes the way politics is now discussed in the Munich beer halls.”

“Hitler has a reputation for carelessness with facts, “ Time reported, adding that its checking staff “did not in fact find many outright errors,” though the magazine acknowledged that Hitler was, in a sense, hard to “fact check” because he “rarely makes arguments based on facts”.

Throughout the cover story, Time presents instances where Hitler has been allegedly misunderstood or underappreciated. Hitler, it claims, “likes to shock reporters by wondering aloud whether Germany might be better off if the world was rid of global lice like Slavs, gypsies and Jews” but writes or speaks such things on “only to get a rise out of journalists” and enhance his political profile. Time recalls a 1932 Munich rally where Hitler offered his typical hyperbole: “We must drench the world in blood in retribution for Germany’s past injuries”. Unfortunately, writes Time, “his drench-the-world bit” would later be wrenched from context and repeatedly quoted as Hitlerian nuttiness or worse, The context, apparently, is that Hitler was laughing when he said it. Time admits that maybe not everyone would find the line funny.

Time downplayed Hitler ’s record of rank racism. Recounting his defense of racial purification, Time wrote, “It would be easier to accept Hitler’s reasoning if a shadow of bigotry didn’t attach to many of his statements about Slavs and Jews.”

Experts on Time’s history note that there was considerable pressure on the Luce empire in circulation wars with Hearst publications, whose proprietor, William Randolph Hearst, was an open admirer of Hitler. Admiration for Hitler was widespread among newspaper publishers. A few weeks earlier the New York Times had editorially welcomed Hitler’s assumption of the German chancellorship.

The Human Comedy

Here in New Orleans this beautiful first weekend morning of Jazzfest I stood on the corner of Esplanade and Chartres, on my way to a locksmith to avert a repeat of the imprisonment of all my belongings in the trunk of the ’82 240D Mercedes I just acquired in South Carolina. As so often, blame it on the vacuum system, and maybe a worn key. On the grassy median strip of Esplanade stood a young woman, in black jeans and t-shirt, multiply pierced, pale of face and looking as though the night had been a rough one.

Twenty yards away from her down the median strip stood a solemn young man in long heavy black overcoat and other Gothick accessories. The young woman gazed at him forlornly and finally called out, “Can’t we discuss this like normal people.” I’m glad to say the Goth finally shambled forward and a muted reconciliation transpired.

Nourished by this affecting site, I discovered that all locksmiths in
New Orleans, notably Rocks Locks on Paris Ave, close for the weekend and turned my attention towards Ann Coulter, whose appearance on the cover of Time had provoked a monstrous explosion in CounterPunch’s inbox. Pleasing testament to the sound cultural values of New Orleans, Time was hard to find. I eventually ran a copy to earth on the fourth floor of Virgin Records on Decatur, lurking among the glamor and beauty mags. I handed it over to the man behind the counter who glanced at La Coulter’s image with a shudder and hissed, "I can’t stand to display her books. Shall I put this under plain cover." I agreed it would be unfair to the strollers on Decatur to flaunt Coulter on my arm and so he shoved her into a brown paper bag.

I read the Coulter piece back at the Richelieu and asked myself the question answered above. James Wolcott, my colleague at the Village Voice long years ago and now Vanity Fair’s Supreme Pontiff on media matters, had an excellent comment on his site, beginning thus:

It’s not worth wasting any more outrage on the subject of Ann Coulter.We all know what she is, and can hear in the brief quiets between her brash pronouncements the squeal and squeak of mice running wild in the messy hayloft of her mind. She’s an empty uproar with long legs and long shiny hair and a reputation for extending the cocktail hour indefinitely that casts her with what Paddy Chayevsky emphemistically called "an aura of availability." Middle-aged men and younger can daydream that if they met her under under auspicious circs, as they say in Bertie Wooster novels, they might have a shot, a reverie harder to entertain about Wonkette, whose wedding ring is powered with a special wolf-repellent ray. Coulter may have female fans, I wouldn’t know, but her media stardom is primarily a male fantasy that is both sexist and racist. She is the pinup pundit of White Prerogative, her arrogant vanity perfect for a country and a media-political culture that refuse to recognize its postindustrial decline and decay. A country that still thinks it can whip the world into obeying its will.

Pollitt Wronged

A recent contribution on this website by Sherry Wolf stigmatized the Nation’s Katha Polllitt as having favored the US invasion of Afghanistan as a positive factor in the liberation of Afghan women. At the time of the attack Pollitt never adopted such a position and indeed positively denounced the invasion and associated flagwagging.

Disclosure Statement

The trouble with satires and parodies is that people believe them. So, just for the record, so far as the editors of CounterPunch are aware, there was no Time cover story on Hitler of the precise nature described above. But, yes, Hitler was popular at the time with newspaper publishers such as William Randolph Hearst and the NYT’s Sulzberger family.