In the years leading up to World War II, people purchased and read a stunning number of newspapers. And while elite journalists often overlooked the influence of America’s most popular newspapers, the newspapers that people actually read (as opposed to the ones that they said that they read) would shape the political and foreign policy debate in America in surprising ways. Most of the top-selling newspapers in the United States in the 1930s and early 1940s were anti-Democratic, anti-New Deal, and anti-liberal. All of them were vehemently isolationist on foreign policy.
In The Newspaper Axis: Six Press Barons Who Enabled Hitler, historian Kathryn Olmsted explores the story of the American media moguls—and their British counterparts—who used their newspaper empires to champion the isolationist cause in the years leading up to the Second World War, and makes a case for its significance in the history of the Right.
The papers that were controlled by William Randolph Hearst, Robert McCormick, Joe Patterson, and Cissy Patterson in the US, and by Lords Rothermere and Beaverbrook in the UK, had a vast following. In the US, the Hearst/McCormick/Patterson papers reached more than seven million readers a day—far outpassing the numbers that Fox News boasts of today. The conservative stance that they promoted would shape the political and foreign policy debates of the time, constraining the ability of western democracies to respond to the rise of fascism.
Echoes of the anti-intellectualism championed by McCormick and the other media barons of the time can be found today. And to understand the rise of the conservative right of the 21st century we need to appreciate how the press barons of the US and the UK worked together to undermine the response to Hitler in the 1930s.