THE New Statesman has done a public service in showing up the irresponsibility and vulgarity of certain organs of the popular press in their treatment of the " story " of the wounded German prisoners at Newhaven. We need not go into details nor necessarily accept all the accusations of journalists writing eyewitness descriptions of things seen and heard " founded on little except the desire to compose as sensational and propagandist a story as possible to satisfy ourselves that here was an attempt to exploit in the interests of sensationalism the sufferings and wounds of soldiers and sailors who were just as much the victims of war as are our own men.
And even worse is the fact that this sensationalism expresses itself inevitably in exciting papules hatred for the enemy on the basis of what— to speak plainly—are inventions. Some of the charges may be denied, hut our own enquiries enable us to vouch for the truth of the fact that one German airman whose jaw had been shot away and whose features were consequently " set" was photographed and described as " lower lip caught up, features taut, holding back tears of disappoint ment.' This man, in fact, was remarkably cheerful and good company. In other cases—of which we have no knowledge—it is stated that journalists actually made up words and gestures of defiance against this country attributed to the prisoners. We ourselves read some of these reports at the time and, as a consequence, felt the hopelessness of the state of mind of so many of these Nazi-inspired German soldiers and airmen. We believed the reports to be true in substance. We now know —and from other sources than the New Statesman's—that all the prisoners with whom one person at least came into contract were perfectly. well-behaved and normal persons. In other words, as the result of journalists' passion to furnish the British public with a good story, some twenty or thirty million people were served up with hate propaganda (which they had no alternative but to believe to be founded on true facts). This means nothing less than the mass manufacture of hatred whose consequences will be carried from war itself into peace. It may be said that Goebbels and the German press do the same. But that. surely, is no defence. Nor is it even true. For the German press is known to be a controlled totalitarian press, and commonsense, even among its own readers, causes its propaganda to be discounted. But our press is known to be free and is consequently believed—at any rate when its own reporters describe what they themselves claim to have seen. The freedom of our press imposes on it grave responsibilities. To mock those responsibilities is to drag it below the level of the journalism that has no option but to register the decrees of tyrants. Here at any rate is a patent instance of the old truth: corruptio optirni pessirna. In fairness it should be added that pressmen are complaining bitterly of the inadequate arrangements made for them at Newhaven by the military authorities. Misunderstandings would seem to have accounted to some extent for as unfortunate an episode in journalism as the war has furnished. The tragedy of it is, however, that few of those who have been deceived will ever learn the truth.