Frederick Birchall

By Abhijit Mazumdar

Journalist’s NaFrederickBirchall2me: Frederick Birchall

Years of birth/death: 1871-1955
Nationality: U.S.
Places where the journalist lived: U.K., U.S., Germany, Canada, India

Short description of his journalism work:

Birchall was born in the U.K., where he worked as a reporter for several British newspapers, including the Pall Mall Gazette. After emigrating to the United States in 1893, he continued to work as a reporter, and in 1905 was hired by the New York Times as night city editor. From 1912 to 1926, he served as assistant managing editor of the New York Times.

Birchall was the author of The Storm Breaks: A Panorama of Europe and the Forces that Have Wrecked Its Peace, published in 1940. He took a break from journalism during World War II to serve the British War Relief.

Description of involvement in reporting or depicting the Holocaust:

In 1932, Birchall was put in charge of the New York Times’ European news service. In 1934, he won the Pulitzer Prize for unbiased reporting on Nazi Germany. He remained head of the Times’ European service until 1941 and later served as a foreign correspondent elsewhere in Europe as well as India. He then moved to Ottawa as the bureau chief of New York Times there.

Birchall reported on the Reichstag fire in 1933 and astutely questioned why the communists were being accused of the crime. He, however, described the 1936 Berlin Olympics as one that put the Germans “back in the fold of nations,” and even made them “more human again.”

His reports on the Olympics were in sharp contrast with those of William Shirer, a radio reporter stationed in Berlin for the CBS. Shirer wrote of the Games: “I’m afraid the Nazis have succeeded with their propaganda. First, the Nazis have run the Games on a lavish scale never before experienced, and this has appealed to the athletes. Second, the Nazis have put up a very good front for the general visitors, especially the big businessmen.”

Birchall’s article on Hitler’s consolidation of power is laced with skepticism and hints at the suppression of the opposition.

Ethical questions raised by his work:

How can a journalist report as objectively as possible from within a totalitarian system? Also, how can the “other side” of the story, one that the totalitarian government would like to suppress, be told to the audience?

Relevant online links:

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