Can Ethics and Journalism Co-exist? The Authors Collection.
January 10, 2014
Resentment towards the government fueled by a series of financial scandals, “…all having the same pattern. Crooks, with the aid of bribed cabinet members, senators and deputies, were able to set up in business, including banking, and then, when they were caught, evade trial or have their cases continually postponed or the charges quashed, sometimes by the minister of justice himself, who was in on the deal.”
Sounds like today’s headlines. It came from the late 1920’s and early 30’s. The quote above was penned by William L. Shirer writing about the results of the depression in France.
Who wanted to hear the truth during the 1930’s? Who wanted to prevent the truth from coming out of Europe during Hitler’s rise to power? Why were journalists and broadcasters reluctant (or scared) to report what they saw happening every day?
Author Steve Wick addresses those questions and others in his most recent book, The Long Night. The subtitle is “William L. Shirer and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” Wick chronicles the life and career of the young man turned journalist and then broadcaster who would one day be known for writing, “The Big Book.” Wick’s engaging narrative supplemented with quotes and conversation from Shirer’s notes, files and diaries makes a potentially dull story easy and interesting to read. Read over a period of several days, the reader begins to feel as if Shirer has become a personal acquaintance — someone in whom we’re interested and care about. We’re caught in a time warp and revisit pre-World War II Europe with each session of reading.
Shirer often began his radio broadcasts for CBS with this opening line, “Hello America. This is Berlin calling.” However, Shirer’s career with CBS began only after paying his dues first with the Chicago Tribune and Universal Service. We follow the evolution of his life’s work from graduating Coe College (Cedar Rapids, IA) in 1925.
It was a career where fate led him across the paths of many who would also become well known in literature and/or journalism: James Thurber, Carl Sandburgh, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Hella Katz, William Randolph Hearst, William S. Paley, and of course Edward R. Murrow.
Although Shirer and his contemporaries had a front row seat to history in the making,they were subject to Nazi censors. Everything they said, did, or wrote was in the shadow of the swastika. It was a constant battle filled with moral ambiguity to report what they saw (the truth) and still be able to get a story past the censors. To fail meant expulsion (deportation) and no chance to get the subsequent stories that they all knew would come — if the world went to war. Wick writes, “He was an imperfect witness, as all the correspondents were. They saw only so much. The truth was a luxury well out of their grasp. They knew of the concentration camps.” They filed stories about these events and others in American media, but as Wick continues, “…compared to the vast scale of the story, its scope, was it enough?”
Much has been written over the years with the advantage of hindsight. Now, we get a first hand account of the battles the reporters fought to get the stories and their personal struggles to balance the truth with their availability to remain in position to get the next scoop. Experience the day to day efforts to protect sources and live their own lives. Experience late night rendezvous with other reporters as they share their fears, dread, and successes. Shirer got his family out well ahead of him and he left Berlin in 1940. He almost stayed too long.
The Long Night was released on August 2, 2011 and is available both in hard cover and on Kindle. History and World War II buffs should find a spot in your library for this essential book. View the trailer HERE.
Please click the book cover image to read more about FCEtier and his novels.