Frank Boesch, Dominik Geppert, eds. Journalists as Political Actors: Transfers and Interactions between Britain and Germany since the Late 19th Century. Augsburg: Wissner-Verlag, 2008. 164 pp. EUR 24.00 (paper), ISBN 978-3-89639-673-0.
Reviewed by Nathan N. Orgill (Georgia Gwinnett College)
Published on H-German (April, 2010)
Commissioned by Benita Blessing (Oregon State University)
The Journalist as Politician
Historians have often tried to use newspapers and the media to understand public opinion and the views of different social groups. Journalists as Political Actors is a collection of essays on the British and German media in the twentieth century that largely eschews this view. Instead, it seeks to examine the role journalists have played since the late nineteenth century as active political agents. The starting point in the authors' collective analysis of this subject is that journalists "often act internationally and transnationally," and that the history of the media is "entangled or shared history" (p. 8). The main theme of the work--like many edited volumes, this book lacks a single, coherent thesis--builds on this underlying assumption by tracing continuities and change in Anglo-German relations and media history over the course of the twentieth century. In a technical sense, Journalists as Political Actors begins this examination a little before the fin de siècle and takes the story up to about 2000. In reality, the majority of the essays focus on the age of the world wars. And, in fact, it is in the essays from the Wilhelmine-Victorian period up to the early Cold War that the book exhibits most clearly a unity of theme and analysis.
The book has a roughly chronological organization that proceeds with chapters focusing on various different topics. The editors, Frank Bösch and Dominik Geppert, have both published eminent studies on Anglo-German media history before World War I. Each of the other contributors also mostly benefit from earlier research they have done on the various topics covered in the book. Bösch's lead chapter, one of the more interesting essays in the book, examines journalists and political scandal in Britain and Germany before 1914, condensing research he has largely already published in monograph form elsewhere. Geppert, for his part, analyzes the political role of British and German foreign correspondents before the First World War, paying particular attention to the collective biographies of the Berlin representatives of the Times. The following essays then build on this prewar foundation to examine various subjects in the period of the world wars. Martin Schramm delves into the history of the British press in the First World War. Thomas Wittek's fascinating essay on the British press and the Weimar Republic covers the interrelationship between official information policy in Britain and Germany and the interpretation of European diplomacy in the British press during the 1920s. Karen Bayer examines the career of a British reporter for the popular Daily Express, Sefton Delmer, who shed his early sympathies for the Nazis in 1930s and went on to write a series of articles entitled “How Dead Is Hitler,” sparking a transnational debate about the legacies of National Socialism. Antje Robrecht finishes the central section of the work on the era of the world wars by looking at the role of British correspondents in Anglo-German relations in the aftermath of World War II. Finally, Colin Seymour-Ure brings the story up to the present with an extended essay that analyzes the role of British media barons in the years since 1945.
Perhaps the most important contribution of the work is the compelling case the essays collectively make that journalists and the media had a significant impact on Anglo-German relations in the twentieth century as non-state, transnational actors. Indeed, it is here that the authors draw the clearest lines of continuity that connect their essays into a unified story. Although his chapter covers a well-trodden subject, for instance, Geppert shows convincingly how the relative importance of journalists--specifically the correspondents of the Times--waxed as that of their diplomatic counterparts comparatively waned. Schramm also supports the underlying assertion of the book by demonstrating the close and intimate relationship between British journalists and government officials during the First World War. Wittek's chapter on the British press and the Weimar Republic brings out the fundamental role the British media played in exacerbating tensions with Germany during the election campaign of 1918--when Germanophobia was still a potent force--but likewise how it helped to normalize Anglo-German relations in its reportage on the Locarno Pact. Robrecht brings the story full circle by exhibiting clearly the continued importance of British correspondents in Germany, especially the representatives of the Times, in the years after World War II.
The other major contribution Journalists as Political Actors makes is its concomitant assertion about the transnational role played by journalists and the media more generally in Anglo-German relations in the twentieth century. Each of the essays in the book deals with this theme at least tangentially, although some of the chapters address it better than others. Bösch's chapter on public scandals does a particularly nice job in this regard; not only does he show the transnational dimensions of public scandal in England and Germany, but he also brings France into the mix. Karen Bayer likewise extends this theme past the Second World War by demonstrating the transnational dimensions of the debate over Delmer's reports on the lack of de-Nazification in post-World War II Germany. Even Colin Seymour-Ure's chapter, which focuses almost entirely on British media barons after 1945, highlights transnational comparisons with the German media barons in that same period; if his treatment can be reproached at all, it is only on the count that the reader wanted to hear even more about the transnational dimensions of media ownership in Britain and in Germany during these years.
As with any scholarly publication, there are some minor criticisms one could make about both the book as a whole and the individual authors' treatments of the various subjects they cover. Perhaps the most obvious larger problem with the work is its unsystematic analysis of its subject throughout the period it examines. The book remains very much a work of largely independent chapters: in other words, a collection of essays on the subject of Anglo-German relations and the media in the twentieth century, rather than a book that exhaustively treats that subject. The most glaring chronological gap here is the lack of discussion on the period after about 1960, which is only covered significantly in the last chapter. In addition, there are some small quibbles the reader might have with elements of the emphases of individual chapters. Schramm's examination of the British press during the July Crisis of 1914, for example, probably overemphasizes the positive portrayal given to German policy by English newspapers. Although it is true, as Schramm asserts, that the liberal press was very forgiving of German diplomacy in the summer of 1914, as the final crisis heated up, certain organs of the press made it very clear for any objective observer to see that they were not going to give Germany a pass. This tendency was particularly the case for The Times and the Morning Post, two papers with a great deal of influence on the views of decision-makers in Britain. What is more, once Germany invaded Belgium, even many liberal British newspapers performed a volte-face and moved to support the government. Another example can be seen in Robrecht's chapter, which overemphasizes the repressive and manipulative nature of the public relations policy of the Kaiserreich, while also giving too little treatment to the policies of the specific journalists and papers stationed in postwar Germany. Finally, there were numerous typos and small grammatical errors throughout the work that can probably be forgiven considering that this was a book written in English, but by German scholars and published by a German press.
Nevertheless, as a whole, these minor criticisms are outweighed by the larger merits of the book. Journalists as Political Actors presents, as emphasized above, a compelling case both about the importance of the media and journalists as non-state actors, and about the usefulness of employing a transnational perspective to understand that subject. The book would also be a useful English-language overview of the most current and exciting research on Anglo-German relations and the media that is being conducted in Germany. In this sense, the book provides an easily and quickly accessible window into the research of each of the contributors for specialists who might be inclined to look at the fuller accounts published by the authors on these subjects in the German language and have the linguistic training to do so. Moreover, almost all of the essays could be useful individually in graduate seminars that deal with transnational approaches to history. In the end, these collective strengths recommend Bösch and Geppert's volume to interested readers.
. In this assumption, the editors have made use of recent cutting-edge work examining "shared" or "entangled" history. See Shalini Randeria, "Geteilte Geschichte und verwobene Moderne," in Jörn Rüsen, ed., Zukunftsentwürfe: Ideen für eine Kultur der Veränderung (Frankfurt: Campus, 1999), 87-96; and Michael Werner and Bénédicte Zimmermann, "Beyond Comparison: Histoire Croisée and the Challenge of Reflexivity," History and Theory 45 (2006): 30-50.
. Frank Bösch, Öffentliche Geheimnisse: Skandale, Politik und Medien in Deutschland und Großbritannien 1880-1914 (Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 2009). Many of the other chapters published in Journalists as Political Actors present summaries of research the authors already presented in more detail in other works, or are offshoots of earlier research. See notes 3-7 below.
. Dominik Geppert, Pressekriege: Öffentlichkeit und Diplomatie in den deutsch-britishen Beziehungen (1896-1912) (Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 2007).
. Martin Schramm, Das Deutschlandbild in der britischen Presse 1912-1919 (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2007).
. Thomas Wittek, Auf ewig Feind? Das Deutschlandbild in den britischen Massenmedien nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg (Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 2005). Interestingly, Wittek works as the press and public affairs officer at the British Consulate in Düsseldorf. Wittek's essay would be perhaps the most fascinating for a scholar who is interested in the public relations policies of the modern governments since he examines the publicity policies of Germany and Britain after the war.
. Karen Bayer, "How Dead Is Hitler?" Der britische Starreporter Sefton Delmer und die Deutschen (Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 2008).
. This is a subject Colin Seymour-Ure has done substantial work on as well. See his work, The British Press and Broadcasting since 1945 (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1991), and his Prime Ministers and the Media: Issues of Power and Control (Malden: Blackwell, 2003).
. The most recent work on this subject is a monograph on the career of Valentine Chirol by Linda B. Fritzinger, Diplomat without Portfolio: Valentine Chirol, His Life and The Times (London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006). Fritzinger makes a very similar argument to Geppert. The role of the Times as a destabilizing force in Anglo-German relations before the First World War, was noted even as early as the interwar period. See, for example, Oron J. Hale, Publicity and Diplomacy (New York: Appleton Century, 1940).
. On this subject, see D. C. Watt, "British Press Reactions to the Assassination at Sarajevo," European Studies Review 1 (1971): 233-247.
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Nathan N. Orgill. Review of Boesch, Frank; Geppert, Dominik, eds., Journalists as Political Actors: Transfers and Interactions between Britain and Germany since the Late 19th Century.
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