Trump's NPR Interview Shows the Hazard of Giving Him AirtimeRoundup
tags: fascism, media, authoritarianism, Donald Trump
Federico Finchelstein is professor of history at the New School and author of the new book, A Brief History of Fascist Lies.
Former president Donald Trump abruptly ended an interview with NPR after he was asked about his “big lie” that the 2020 election was “rigged” against him. But the interview itself provided yet another venue for amplifying his baseless propaganda — and reminds us why it is dangerous for journalists, especially broadcasters, to continue interviewing Trump.
As the history of fascism shows, news organizations have long battled with fascist leaders over control of information, balancing the demand to present different perspectives to the public with the need to inform based on facts rather than propaganda.
Totalitarian leaders worked to manipulate independent media to gain power, only to crush their operations once they did so. Why? Because dictators and authoritarians trade on the repetition and amplification of big lies. In fact, to them, the media is a clear and present danger to their propaganda efforts — a tool to manipulate, not one to inform.
And so there is an important lesson to learn from the history of fascist lies. When dealing with propagandists, independent journalists cannot assume they are honest actors. Rather, they need to recognize that they are dishonest players who only want to promote their lies rather than answer fact-based questions to inform the public.
Adolf Hitler understood the centrality of propaganda — and thus control over the press — to achieving, and then keeping a permanent hold on, political power. In “Mein Kampf,” he wrote, “propaganda must be adjusted to the broad masses in content and in form, and its soundness is to be measured exclusively by its effective result.” This is why he also argued that the state “must particularly exercise strict control over the press. … It must not let itself be confused by the drivel about so called ‘freedom of the press.’ ”
Once in power, Nazis destroyed independent media, closing down more than 200 newspapers, which collectively had a circulation of 1.3 million readers. And they put thousands of journalists in jail. As historian Richard Evans explains, “The Editors’ Law of 4 October 1933 gave the Nazis total control over the press.” Once in power, “[Joseph] Goebbels [the Nazi propaganda minister] issued instructions to the papers every day, outlining what they could or could not print.” Fascists especially hated journalists because their line of work represented the opposite of what fascism stood for: truth, transparency and freedom of thought.