The Press and the Holocaust
To the Editor:
I was gratified by Daniel Casse’s review and kind remarks regarding my book, Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933-1945 [Books in Re view, April].
He seems, however, to have misunderstood one important aspect of the book. I do not claim—as he seems to think I do—that the press creates government policy. The book does not attempt to “hold the press responsible for American policy.” In fact, as I demonstrate in the book, the British press pursued this story with far greater energy and yet British policy was not dramatically different from American policy.
In his attempt to argue that I believe that increased press coverage would have completely changed American rescue policy, Mr. Casse seems to have missed a crucial paragraph in the book, despite the fact that he quotes the paragraph immediately preceding it. Both the government and the press treated the Holocaust with equanimity and virtually ignored what was happening, and in that respect I observe, and Mr. Casse quotes, “the press was ultimately as culpable as the government.” But then I continue, and Mr. Casse does not, that “there is, of course, no way of knowing whether anything would have been different if the press had actively pursued this story. The press did not have the power to stop the carnage or to rescue the victims. The Allies might have remained just as committed to inaction, even if they had been pressured by the press. But in a certain respect that is not the question one must ask. The question to be asked is did the press behave in a responsible fashion? Did it fulfill its mandate to its readers?” Obviously, as both Mr. Casse and I absolutely agree, it did not. This is the crux of Beyond Belief and not whether the press makes American foreign policy.
Deborah E. Lipstadt
University of California
Los Angeles, California
Daniel Casse writes:
Deborah E. Lipstadt and I disagree on what the responsibility of the press is. In my review I charged her not with believing that during the Holocaust the press could have influenced the public and the government, but with blaming it nonetheless for not having tried to do so.
To understand by what standards Miss Lipstadt assesses the responsibility of the press one need only examine her treatment of, to use her example, the British press during the war. She is absolutely right that British policy toward European Jews did not differ substantially from American policy. Yet she praises the British press less for its coverage of the Holocaust than for its “call to action” which, according to her, was “a critical factor in arousing interest and concern of both the public at large and opinion-makers.”
Conversely, Miss Lipstadt criticizes American editors not just for refusing to believe reports from Europe, but for failing to create a public outcry in response to them. As she writes: “The difference between [those few American publications that reported extensively on the Holocaust] and the vast majority of the press is not between belief and disbelief but between action and inaction, passion and equanimity. . . . They were convinced the Allies could so something. . . .”
In her letter, Miss Lipstadt insists that I have missed the crucial question of Beyond Belief, namely, “Did the press behave in a responsible fashion?” Yet it is impossible to answer this question without knowing what she means in claiming that the “press was ultimately as culpable as the government.” Culpable of what? The only meaning I am able to derive is that Miss Lipstadt believes that the press—like the government—is responsible for advocating and creating policy. I maintain that the job of the press is simply to report the news; and this, as Miss Lipstadt has shown us, is what the press failed to do during the Holocaust.