handling unpleasant news in the east german press

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  • 8/13/2019 Handling Unpleasant News in the East German Press


    Research in BriefThis department is devoted to shorter reports on research in the communica-

    tions field. Readers are invited to submit summaries of investigative studiesinteresting for content, method or implications for further research.

    Handling Unpleasant NewsIn the East German PressBy Randall L Bytwerk

    ^ In M arxist-Leninist system s, news is firstof all that which has political significance.According to the Great Soviet Encyclope-dia, a truly objective picture of reality.. .can be provitjed only by a Journalismthat adheres to a com m unist party point ofview and expresses the interests of theforces that are the vehicles of social pro-gress and thereby represent historicaltruth. 'From a W estern point of view, accordingto John Karch's summary, the result is apress characterized by selection and exc lu-sion, overemphasis, underemphasis, repe-tition (e.g., 'ruling circles,' 'imperialists'),cam paigns (e.g.. 'peace,' 'detente,' 'neutronweapon'), argumentation, emotionalism,diversion (e.g., use of massive counter-charges), indirection (e.g., citing non-Soviet sources), satire, ridicule and mock-

    ery. 'Upon occasion, an event of sudden andunexpected international importance oc-curs,forcing the Comm unist press to reactwithout the usual advance planning. Suchan event was the downing of Korean Air-lines Flight 007 by a Soviet fighter on themorning of September I, 1983. Two hun-dred sixty nine people died. Disasters, par-ticularly of this nature, usually are notmajor stories in the Soviet bloc. How didthe Communist press handle an event

    MethodThis essay considers the 64 articles car-ried by Neues Deutschland, the prestigepaper of the German Dem ocratic Republic(GDR), during September 1983 dealingwith the ICAL007 incident. There wasbutsingle brief reference to it during the re-mainder of 1983. Stor ies related to theevent wh ich, h owe ver, m ade no clear refer-ence to it were not included. When, forexample, the governors of New York andNew Jersey forbade Sov iet airliners to landat airports in their states in retaliation,forcing Soviet Foreign Minister Gromykoto cancel a planned visit to the UnitedNations, Neues Deutschland condemned

    their behavior as a clear violation of diplo-matic norms while in no way mentioningthe reason for their actions.' After sum-marizing the sources of the coverage, theessay will turn to the strategies used to dealwith the incident.Results

    In a content analy sis of three mon ths ofNeues Deutschtand during 1976, Ottonoted the extent to which it relied on Sovietsources of information,* a dependencywhich is particularly clearina situation likethis. As Table I indicates, 58% of al l arti-cles depended on Soviet sources, even if thearticle was credited toNeuesDeutschland'sown staff or to the GDR news agency,A D N . For the first 10 day s, 19 of the 20longer stories (here defined as four para-graphs or more) were of Soviet origin.' Great Soviet Encyclopedia. Vol 9 (New York: Macmillan.

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    Research in Brief 7TABLE 1

    Source and Number ofNeuesDeutschlandArticles






    Once the Soviet explanation becameclear, the paper began to rely m ore heavilyon non-So viet sources. As Table I show s,two-thirds ofall stories after September 11were of non -So viet origin, including half ofthe longer stories.In all, 11 stories were based on Westernmedia sources which were, or could bemade to seem, consistent with the Sovietposition.* Several reasons have been pro-posed for the tendency to cite Westernmedia. Such citations may add believabil-ity to domestic accounts. Furthermore,they may support the inference that West-ern governments maintain positions sounreasonable that even capitalist newspa-pers are unable to accept them.'In any even t, the Soviet Un ion, from thebeginning, quoted numerous Westernsources.' The September 6 TASS release,carried by Neues Deutschland, referred toN B C , CBS, the New York Times, theGuardian and four Western Communistpapers. Later TASS releases had addi-tional citations.The first reference to the Western mediaby Neues Deutschland, apart from those inTASS releases, came in a September 7

    A recent stitdy by Bullion and Bytwerk found a significantincrease in citations of the U S . media hy Neues Deutschlandsince 1976. See -Reltictan t T esttntony U S New s Media Ci-tations in East Berlin's Neues tJeutschlantf (Unpuhlishedpaper)

    ADN report. UPl had reported that U.S.spy planes som etim es used civilian airlinersto screen their missions from Soviet radar.That this was agreeable to the Soviet posi-tion was however clear, since on the samepage was a TASS release citing the sameUPl dispatch.

    The next citation came on Septem ber 12,when an article by Gus Hall, head of theAmerican Communist Party, was quoted.In the following week, once the proper linewasclear, Neues Deutschtand carried A D Nreleases quoting the New York Times, theDenver Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer,the Nation, and AP. In no case were theresulting stories long; rather each providedbits of information or interpretation whichseemed to support the Soviet position. Tw olengthy Western press accounts were car-ried in full, one from the French Commu-nist iHumanit^, the other from a leftistGerman weekly. Most references to theSoviet media, in contrast, included eitherthe entire item or a lengthy summary.Other characteristics of Neues Deutsch-land s coverage illustrate that, even underpressure, the patterns Karch lists are m ain-tained. There was, not surprisingly, abso-lutely no mention of the intensity of worldreaction to the incident.The clearest example perhaps comes inthe account of the UN Security Councilvote on a U.S. resolution to condemn theSoviet Union. Nine voted for, two votedagainst, four abstained. Neues Deutsch-land s headline ran: W ashington's M an-euver in the Security Council Blocked.The story reported that six nations hadrefused to support Washington's resolu-t ion, without noting that four of the sixabstained, or that nine voted for it.'Neues Deutschland cor\s\stently tied theaffair into the ongoing campaign againstnew NATO missiles in Europe. A dozen ormore stories in nearly every issue during1983 made some mention of N AT O's plans,always in an uncomplimentary light. Two-

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    138 J O U R N A L I S M Q U A R T E R L YAnother consistent Marxist theme isthat W estern govern me nts in no way repre-sent the views of their citizens. The hun-dreds of accou nts of Western protest dem-onstrations carried during 1983 are one

    example ofth e theme. During the K AL 007coverage, articles regularly made claimssuch as under the pressure of world publicopinion, Washington bit by bit corrects itsprevious accounts. *Elaborate arguments were presented todemonstrate that KAL 007 had been spy-ing, and considerable outraged prose con -demned the spymasters of the U.S. forusing innocent passengers to screen their

    nefarious activities.Neues Deutschland had nothing furthertosayabout KAL007 until the April 14/ ISissue, which carried the remarks of a formerLufthansa pilot (the author of one of thetwo Western press acco unts carried in Sep-tember) w ho had been interviewed on WestGerman television. He had no new evi-dence, but claimed that the evidence ofCIA involvement was increasingly solid.Summary

    In dealing wiih the KAL 007 incident,Seues Deuischland followed the Sovietlead almost entirely. The first week's arti-cles depended wholly on news from Sovietsources. Later stories, though coming lessuniformly from Moscow, and thereforeperhaps increasing the credibility of theSoviet explanation, reinforced what firsthad been said by the USSR. Even in anunexpected and difficult case, NeuesDeuischland held to the traditional tech-niques of the Communist press. WhileWestern actions condemned by the GDRremain fixtures in Neues Deuischland\ongafter the event has passed (e.g., Vietnam,Grenada), the KAL 007 affair will be men-tioned rarely, if at all.

    \ D . Sept I.V l9 V p I

    tury was closer or m ore controversial ihanthat of 1960. Was Nix on cheated out oftheelection? T h e election offered fertile groundfor post-election analysis and investigativestories about alleged vote fraud in stateslike Tex as and Illinois. The Journalist whosurveyed the vote fraud charges a t the great-est length and raised the m ost serious ques-tions was veteran reporter Earl Mazo oftheNew York Herald Tribune.

    The Eraud charge. In early December1 9 6 0 , M azo wrote a series of articles aboutballot manipulations which appeared inthe New York Herald Tribune the Wash-ington Post the Chicago S u n Times andother newspapers throughout the country.These articles focused on Texas and Illinoisand strongly suggested that Nixon hadbeen cheated out of the electoral votes inthese and possibly other states as well.

    Mazo's strongest condem nation was forthe conduct of the election in Chicago'sCook Cou nty. His story about the electionthere began with the statement that Someof the oldest tricks in election chicaneryhelped Democrats who control CookCounty's government build the margin of8 8 9votes by which Se n. John F. Kennedyis credited with carrying Illinois. Heobserved that even those hoary standbys,the cemetery and floater votes, were used. 'Making use of reports from poll watchersand other electio n observers, Mazo painteda bleak picture o f election fraud in Chicagowhich he clearly believed had tipped theresults in favor of John F. Kennedy.

    Eventually the furor over alleged elec-tion fraud died down, and Kennedy wasinaugurated, but the influence of Mazo'sreporting lived o n . . .and o n. M azo's sto-ries were incorporated into Nixon's re-counting of the election in 1962, Mazo'sbiography of Nixon in 1968 and Nixon'smemoirs of 1978.^ Most recently they havesurfaced in a section of Jeffrey Hart's his-tory of the l950 's under the heading You

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    Research in Brief 9Can Steal the Presidency ."J M azo's a c-count of vote fraud became the mostimportant source of a deeply-held convic-tion by Nixon, his campaign staff andmany others that the election had beenstolen. In fact, outside of partisan Demo-cratic circles it is probable that a majorityof political observers accept the proposi-tion, based largely on Mazo's evidence,that widespread vote fraud characterizedthe election of I960 in Illinois and Texasand possibly deprived Nixon of theelection.*

    M azo s evidence. Yet, while Mazo scru-tinized the election results, little effort hasbeen made to scrutinize Mazo's evidence.Such an exam ination is possible in the caseof Mazo's account of the election in Chi-cago because in 1961 a nonpartisan specialprosecutor was appointed to investigate allcharges of vote fraud. Morris J. W exler, aprominent Chicago attorney, undertookthis task and filed a report which representsthe most thorough and least partisan ac-count ofth e 196 election in Chicago. Util-izing this doc um ent, it is possible to checkEarl Mazo's version of the election withthat of the special prosecutor.Much of Mazo's account of alleged votefraud in Chicago centered upon fourprecinctsthe 31st and 77th precincts ofthe 4th ward, the SIst precinct of the 5thward, and the 38th precinct ofth e 6th ward.Mazo reported that a deceased individualalong with another who had moved from

    ' Jeffrey P Ha n. When ihe Going Was Good American Ufein the Fifties(New York Crow n. 1982). pp 156-157 ItISsignificant that Theodore White, a close associate of theKenned> family, conceded there was wideipread Democratic\otefrau din lllinoisa ndT exasin I960 SeeTh eodoreH White.Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard \ixonlSc* York Athe-neum. 1975). PP 70-71> Morns J. Wexler. -Special Prosecutor's Repon." Unquali-Tied Votefs Section , pp 28-29. Criminal Co un of Cook C ounty.1961 Copies of this document may be found in the ChicagoHistorical Society and other Chic ago libraries Six on alsoapparently cited this incident tn his 1962 account of the electionSet. N ixon. 5ijr Crises, p 412. Wexler. -Special Prosecutor" Report.- Voting MachineMiscounts Section, p. 16

    the precinct cast votes in the 31st precinct,4th ward. The special prosecutor, however,found that these two individuals were hus-band and wife who were alive and well attheir present address for three years.'In the 38th precinct, 6th ward, Mazocharged that after forty-three individualshad voted, the voting machine indicated121 persons had actually vo ted. T he specialprosecutor's staff investigated an allega-tion virtually identical to this and con-cluded as follows: "Our investigation dis-closes S29 applications [to vote] and thatthe largest number of votes received by acandidate was 487 votes."''Indicative of Mazo's influence on Nix-on's thinking about the outcome of theelection is the fact that Nixon specificallycited this particular exam ple in his recoun t-ing of the election. In 1978, Nixon wrote"There is no doubt that there was substan-tial vote fraud in the I960 election. Texasand Illinois produced the most damaging,as well as the most flagrant, examples.. . .In Chicago a vo ting m achine recorded 121votes after only 43 people had voted... ."This allegation was taken directly fromMazo's story in which he quoted the fol-lowing account of a poll watcher: "Atabout 10:15a.m. the [voting machine] indi-cator indicated 121 votes [had been cast]after 43 persons had voted."' Nixon ob-viously read the papers.In the 77th precinct, 4th ward, Mazoasserted that the Democratic precinct cap-

    tain voted twice. Wexler found that therewas no application to vote for the individ-ual.' In the 51st precinct, 5th ward, Mazoappeared to charge that unregistered voterswere being permitted to cast their ballotswith the connivance of Democratic andRepublican precinct captains. Wexler re-ported that a com plaint had been filed that11 ineligible individuals had voted but thathis investigation had determined that all 11were, in fact, eligible.'In a number of other precincts26th

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    4 J O U R N A L I S M Q U A R T E R L Yprecinct of the 29th ward, 4th precinct ofthe 4th ward, 35th precinct ofth e 3rd ward,22nd precinct ofthe 5th ward, 76th precinctof the 4th wardthe objections raised byMazo were not covered in the special pro-secutor's report. One can only assume thatthe sources for Mazo's story did not takethe opportunity to convey their protests tothe special prosecutor. In two of theseinstances, however, it is possible to checkMazo's account. In the 26th and 27th pre-cincts of the 27th ward, Mazo stated thatthere had been overcasts (i.e. more votescast in a particular race than applicationsto vote) . In the 26th precinct, 27th w ard, therecord of the official returns located inChicago's Municipal Reference Libraryshows that there were 283 applications to\ o t e . The highest number of ballots cast inany election contest was 265. In the 27thprecinct. 27th ward, applications to votenumbered 407; the largest vote in any racecame to 393. In other words, according tothe official record, there was no overcastand Mazo's charges are in error.

    .4n Error of Sources? The report of thespecial prosecutor does not corroborateEarl Mazo's account of election irregulari-ties in the I960 presidential electio n in Chi-cago. Instead, it suggests the accuracy ofMazo's article is open to serious question.The fatal flaw in Mazo's story would seemto rest with his sources. Upon closer exam -ination it appears that Ma zo based his nar-rative on reports made by poll watchersfrom the Committee for Honest Elections.Unfortunately, these poll watchers wereuntrained, inexperienced, partisan (i.e.largely Republican), unreliable and inaccu-rate. The special prosecutor found thattime and again charges made by such pollwatchers simply did not stand up underscrutiny.This is not to say that there was no vote

    fraud in Chicago on November 8, 1960.There undoubtedly was, as indicated by

    have fallen victim to their tall tales,haps some of us have too. e r

    The Greek American Press:A 90 Year Com pendium y Yorgo Pasadeos^ Stud ies of the ethnic press in the UnitedStates have been relatively few, consideringthe diversity of ethnic groups and thenumber of publications that cater to theirinform ation needs. This study offers a gen-eral picture of the Greek-American pressand exam ines some of i t s content character-istics.

    Park has traced the development oftheimmigrant press in the United States from1884 to 1920.' Hunter offered a brief viewof publications started by and aimed atethnic groups in the United States.^ Zub-rzyeki, who examined the role of foreign-language publications from a global view-point, categorized the contents of thesepub lications as I) news from the country ofsettlement, 2) world news, 3) home-countrynews, 4) group life and interests, and 5)editorial features.' Wynar has listed ethnicpublications in the United States by lan-guage, frequency of publication and loca-tio n.' Others have focused on Italian-Amer-ican ,' G erman-American,* Chinese-Ameri-c a n , Mexican-American* and Filipino-Am erican' publications. The Greek-Amed-

    ' Robert Park. Die Immtgraiti Press and Its CtmtrolihAomclair. N J Patterson Stnith. 1971)- Edward Hunter. In Mam I tutes (Nor ma n Park. Ga Nor-man College. 1960)' Jer?\ Zuhr2>cki -The Role of the Foreign-Language Prtssin Migrant Integration.- Ptipitlaiion Studies. 12.73-82(1958-59).* Lobom) r W > n a r . En i lopetlit Dit tionari ofEthmt e w -papers ami Perittditals m the Lnited States (Littleton. Col.Libraries Unlimited. 1972).

    John Norman. -Repudiation of Fascism by the lulian-American Press.- Journalism Quarierh. 21 1-6; 54 (Match1944)* Carl W ttke. The German L anguage Preu in Amertte (Lex-

    ington; Uni\ersity of Kentuckv Press. 1957)' A ndi McCuc. "Eiolving Chinese Oailiet Sen e Immigrantin Sc York Cit> - Journalism Quarierh. 52 272-76 (Summer

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