Friday, June 10, 2011

Two Sides to Every Story: Really?

The American news media is obsessed with the notion that fairness requires that every issue, not matter how absurd a comparison between “the two sides” may be, requires that balanced coverage be given to the two opposing views.  The tobacco lobby hired fake scientists for years to counter the scientific claims of many hundreds of highly qualified scientists. The oil and coal companies hire fake scientists to say there is no truth to Global Warming while many thousands of climate scientists have strong evidence that  Global Warming is a fact. And of course there are the Holocaust deniers. 

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like if television had existed before the video screen became a permanent fixture in our homes in 1951, like during World War II?  In 1941 and -42 stories surfaced in the US newspapers and on radio (and on our pretend television) about the horrors the Nazis were visiting upon Jews in Europe.  But prominent Americans, including William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Kennedy (JFK's father), Charles Lindbergh, John Rockefeller, and Andrew Mellon spoke out against American involvement in the War, saying the stories about Nazi atrocities were exaggerations.  Hearst’s publications, the Reader’s Digest, and Better Homes and Gardens, helped promote a positive image of the Nazi party in America. 

Let’s play “what if” and suppose Fox News decides to send a crew headed by Geraldo Rivera to prepare an investigative report on the reality on the ground in Europe about the Nazis and Jews in Europe.  Geraldo arranges to interview a Nazi prison camp guard and is permitted to interview one Jewish inmate at the Auschwitz camp in Poland.  Geraldo decides to shoot the interviews in front of the famous Auschwitz gate with the sign overhead, Arbeit macht frei “work will set you free,” in the background, with rows of barracks receding in the background. The arm of the red and white striped gate is lowered behind them to prevent entry to or exit from the camp.  The sky is overcast and the smell of the crematorium fills the air, with smoke rising from its chimney in the distance.

Facing the camera, Geraldo Rivera is dressed in a leather American pilot’s jacket and is wearing a fur cap, as vapor emanates from his mouth in the frigid air as he speaks.  He reads a quotation from William Randolph Hearst arguing that the US has no business getting involved in Europe’s internal affairs. He goes on to quote Charles Lindbergh who says that the atrocity claims are gross exaggeration.  Geraldo then shifts to a statement that had been published and widely disseminated in 1942 condemning the German policy of extermination of the Jews on which Roosevelt joined with Churchill, Stalin, and ten Allied governments in exile in signing. Facing the camera again, Geraldo Riversa says, “We have come to Auschwitz to discover the truth,” and the camera cuts away to an ad for Weight Watchers.  

After the break Geraldo is standing alongside a tall, blonde Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alike and says, “Our first guest is Heinrich Muller, a guard at the Auschwitz Labor Camp, officer in the Totenkopf Division of the SS-Oberabschnitt Donau, the Austrian division of the SS.”   Herr Muller is dressed in a dress uniform black leather jacket featuring silk-faced lapels, SS shoulderboards and collar patches, and a Totenkopf breast pin and knee length polished black boots. He stands erectly at attention.  Geraldo continues, “Mr. Muller, in America we hear stories of mistreatment of Jews in Auschwitz, even killing and cremating Jews.  What can you tell us about the truth of these stories?”  Herr Muller vehemently replies, “Lies! Nothing could be further from the truth. These people volunteer to work here to on behalf of the War effort, nothing else.  They are treated well, given nutritious meals and comfortable sleeping quarters.  Occasionally a worker dies of disease, and we have no choice but to cremate them for sanitary reasons.”  Geraldo continues, “I understand you are from Linz in Austria. How do you happen to be working as a guard at a German camp?”  Muller replies, “Linz is one of Der Fuhrer’s Model Cities, and I volunteered and had the great honor of being selected to represent Austria as a camp guard.  We Austrians are intensely loyal to Der Fuhrer.”

Geraldo turns to an emaciated man who appears to be about five foot four inches tall, dressed in a black and white vertically striped prisoner’s uniform. His feet are bound in cloth holding the remnants of leather shoes in place.  The man’s face is gaunt with sunken cheeks and unshaven, as he stands with scrawny hands bearing abrasions, folded in front of him as he looks down at the ground. He has what appears to be a bruise on one cheek and an abrasion on his forehead.  His eyes appear sunken in their darkened sockets.  “Our second guest is Erich Bernstein, formerly of Essen in Germany. Mr. Bernstein, how do you happen to be working at Auschwitz?”  “I was doctor in Essen. My wife Hannah, who was a nurse, and I had escaped from Essen after Krystalnacht and fled to Holland,” Bernstein replied. “Utter foolishness!” Muller interrupted, “There was no need to leave Essen. It was perfectly safe for Jews.”  Geraldo intervenes, “Please allow Mr. Bernstein to answer the question, Mr. Muller.”

Bernstein continues, when “The Final Solution” was announced, we hid in the Velue, a great park area in Eastern Holland, but were discovered by SS Men hunting for Jews.” Geraldo continues, “And how did you make your way here to Auschwitz?”  “We were packed into railway cattle cars, 80 or more per car, and travelled across country for three days with no heat, food or water in the midst of winter,” Bernstein replied.  “Absolute lies,” Muller interrupted. “They were given ample” food and water at each stop between Nijimen and Auschwitz and had a pail to take care of personal matters.”

Geraldo intervenes again, “Mr. Bernstein, tell us, how living conditions are here at Auschwitz?” “Auschwitz is a death camp, not a labor camp,” Bernstein began.   Muller explodes angrily, “Complete lies, people are brought here for one reason, to work.”  Bernstein continues,  “There are 400 bunks in each barrack, two men per bunk ” Bernstein began.  “There is no heat most of the time and we are given water once daily in a bucket. Sometimes the water is frozen.  For breakfast we have a slice of raw turnip, a slice of bread for lunch every other day, and a piece of boiled potato for supper. On Sundays we are given a small piece of animal fat.”  “That doesn’t sound like much food,” Geraldo says, “have you complained to the guards about lack of food?” “Once,” Bernstein replies, “but I was beaten first by one of the Kapos, and then with the butt of a rifle by a Totenkopf guard.”  Muller interrupted again, “We have no choice but to keep order here, these Jews are an unruly lot.”  “And Mr. Muller, what do you say about the lack of food for the prisoners?” Geraldo asks.  “Silliness.  On religious holidays we have special meals for our workers.  Only last Christmas we had a special chicken meal with seasonal vegetables.”  “Yes,” Bernstein adds, “boiled chicken feet with a radish, on Christmas.”

The camera angle changes and Geraldo Rivera is standing alone beneath the sign, Arbeit macht frei.  He begins, “Conditions do seem harsh here at Auschwitz, but as usual, there are two sides to every story.  The German government says it needs assistance with its war effort, and is providing food and housing for the workers here.  No doubt many of the workers would prefer to be in more comfortable surroundings, but the German government has plans to repatriate the workers here at Auschwitz at the War’s conclusion. You have the feeling the German authorities are doing the best they can with a difficult situation. This is Geraldo Reivera reporting for Fox News from Auschwitz, Poland.” 

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