Academic journal article Journalism History

The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

Academic journal article Journalism History

The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

Article excerpt

Wick, Steve. The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 288 pp. $27.

If ever a reporter felt conflicted about doing the job at hand, it had to be William L. Shirer during his six years of covering Nazi Germany for authences in the West. He witnessed the Germans' descent into madness and violence, and he possessed the reporters eye and ear for details that would have exposed the Nazis' wickedness. Yet he lived under extreme censorship. Adolf Hitler's propagandists suppressed all news except officially sanctioned messages that extolled the virtues of the Third Reich.

In short, Shirer knew the trurh and wanted to report it. But he knew that doing so would get him silenced, expelled, or worse.

He constantly battled to craft news stories, including CBS Radio broadcasts during his final years in Berlin, that would meet official approval without him bowing to propaganda or endorsing lies. He fought to use one word vs. another - Nazis blue-penciled the word "invasion," for example - and knew that censors following his approved scripts could cut his radio microphone if they thought his tone or inflection communicated something beyond the words on a page.

Shirer's torments and triumphs are chronicled in The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by Newsday senior editor Steve Wick. Although he issues a disclaimer that he is not a historian, the book stands as a strong and effective work worthy of inclusion on a journalism historian's bookshelf.

To be sure, some of the material has been covered, including by the subject himself. Shirer kept a diary and smuggled most of it out of Germany at great risk. He produced the best-selling Berlin Diary after he quit his correspondent's post in December 1 940, returned to America, and could finally exhale and write the truth. Wick quotes from the diary when it serves his engaging narrative, but he has done much more than just recast existing texts. He has mined Shirer's extensive archive at Coe College in the journalist's home city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to create a serious biographical work that reads like Sunday magazine journalism.

The image is complex. On one hand, Shirer appears as journalisms shining knight, a heroic defender of the free press. And yet, in retrospect, the Coe archives reveal him as somewhat defensive. As Wick notes, some letters strike a tone that feels too revealing, too intimate. And some compulsively clipped articles or archived notes leave the reader wondering if Shirer felt he had to build a case to demonstrate good intentions and good character.

Shirer was good, yes. He also appears to have had the combustible combination of a thin skin and an inflated ego. …

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