“I read it in a book by some guy from Kentucky.”
Typically, invoking a Great Man to settle an argument involves Lincoln, Twain, Stalin, Churchill, Chief Seattle, etc. Hitler is a provocative new favorite.
Among some gun control foes, quoting Hitler proves what will happen if Obama has his way: gun registration, confiscation and tyranny. Whether Hitler really said it is irrelevant to them. Here’s the quote that informed the Little Old Lady’s assertion:
“This year will go down in history! For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration! Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient and the world will follow our lead into the future!”
Repetition and her sincere belief aren’t evidence of veracity, despite inadvertent validation by journalists who don’t check it out. The University of Chicago’s Bernard E. Harcourt says this in the Fordham Law Review:
“The (Hitler) citation reference is a jumbled and incomprehensible mess that has never been properly identified or authenticated, and no one has been able to produce a document corresponding to the quote. It has been the subject of much research, all of it fruitless, and has now entered the annals of urban legends.
“… This quotation, often seen without any date or citation at all, suffers from several credibility problems, the most significant of which is that the date often given — 1935 — has no correlation with any legislative effort by the Nazis for gun registration, nor would there have been any need for the Nazis to pass such a law, since gun registration laws passed by the Weimar government — in part to address street violence between Nazis and Communists — were already in effect.”
Harcourt further debunked the Nazi/gun control nexus, writing, “the Weimar Republic enacted legislation prohibiting gun possession.” In 1919, the Reichstag required the surrender of all guns to the government. “This law, as well as the August 7, 1920, Law on the Disarmament of the People … remained in effect until 1928, when the German parliament enacted the Law on Firearms and Ammunition.” Five years before Hitler came to power, that law “relaxed gun restrictions and put into effect a strict firearm licensing scheme.”
Media sloth doesn’t end there. Last month, the Columbus Dispatch missed its chance to debunk a different Hitler quote. Debe Terhar, a Cincinnati Republican and president of the State Board of Education, posted a Hitler photo on her Facebook page and wrote, “Never forget what this tyrant said: ‘To conquer a nation, first disarm its citizens’ — Adolf Hitler.”
Terhar opposes gun controls. She told the Columbus Dispatch that Americans “need to step back and think about it and look at history. … I’m not comparing the president to Adolf Hitler. It’s the thought of disarming citizens, and this has happened throughout history. What’s the true intention of the Second Amendment? It was to protect us from a tyrannical government, God forbid.” At least the Dispatch reported what the Hitler quote said.
Stenographic Enquirer stories and editorial also failed to challenge the authenticity of Terhar’s Hitler quote. It also failed to tell us what it said.
CityBeat reporter German Lopez did better writing about Terhar’s pratfall. “When looking at history, there is no evidence Hitler actually said the (Terhar) quote. … The Nazi leader referenced disarming the ‘subject races,’ according to Hitler’s Table Talk, but the direct quote Terhar posted is historically unverifiable.”
Long Island Newsday columnist and former Enquirer reporter Anne Michaud said the line quoted by Terhar “is easy to find on gun rights websites, but nowhere else. It struck me as the kind of thing people could keep repeating until they believed it was accurate. So, I tried the Nexis archive to search newspaper and magazine articles. Nothing. Famous quotation websites produced many Hitler quotes, but not this one. A search of Google Books also turned up no matches. It’s hard to prove a negative. Hitler may have said this. He may also have said he likes cornflakes for breakfast, but then we say a lot of things that aren’t recorded.”
I won’t even get into reporters’ failures to challenge deranged, ahistorical assertions that gun registration and disarming the Reich’s relatively few Jews led to the Holocaust that killed millions of Jews in conquered lands outside Germany.
Be suspicious of statistics that suggest a reporter doesn’t understand, doesn’t care or knowingly isn’t telling us everything the numbers do. For instance, we have tens of thousands of firearm deaths every year in our country. Uncritical reporting suggests these are homicides that buybacks or proposed federal gun controls could prevent or reduce. Nope. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were 31,672 firearm deaths recorded in 2010, the last year for which complete statistics are posted. Of those, 19,392 or 61 percent were suicides, not homicides. The remaining 39 percent included accidents, fatal encounters with police, etc.
• Critical thinking was in short supply at the Senate Judiciary Hearing where gun control foes testified. It’s sort of like using a faux quote by Hitler to prove gun registration leads to confiscation, which leads to socialism or worse. Gayle Trotter of the Independent Women’s Forum told senators that “guns make women safer” and a ban on assault-style weapons with high-capacity magazines would endanger women.
To illustrate her case, Trotter cited 18-year-old Sarah McKinley’s successful defense against an armed intruder near Blanchard, Okla.
Then, as if to prove that fewer Americans are hunting or serving in the military and know what they’re talking about (also see below), MSNBC mistakenly said she used a rifle. ABC News was no smarter: It had her reenact the shooting with a double-barreled shotgun.
McKinley’s single-barrel pump shotgun was taken as evidence in the homicide, probably to be returned when her claim of self-defense is affirmed. Meanwhile, Guns Save Lives, a nonprofit, sent her a similar, replacement shotgun.
Not only does Oklahoma allow lethal force for self-defense inside a person’s home, but McKinley asked the 911 operator what she could do to protect herself and her child. The dead intruder’s companion reportedly told police the intruders were after prescription painkillers that they assumed McKinley’s husband left when he died a week earlier from cancer.
• A secret shooter? After Obama’s comments to the New Republic about having fired a gun, the White House released a photo of the president on the Camp David retreat skeet range. Wearing protective glasses and ear protection, he’s firing a shotgun at the 4-5/16 inch flying clay discs (pigeons) last August. "Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time," Obama told the New Republic. "Not the girls, but oftentimes guests of mine go up there." However, the AP story accompanying the skeet shooting photo in Sunday’s Enquirer mistakenly says he’s firing a rifle. I’m not sure whether Obama used an over-and-under shotgun, but it certainly didn’t look like a rifle. That inexplicable clanger escaped AP and Enquirer editing despite our unprecedented national debate over certain types of firearms. NRA pooh-poohed Obama’s comments and photo, saying it changes nothing in NRA opposition to greater gun control.
• John Kerry drew scorn in 2004 after he was photographed with Ted Strickland and others with just-shot geese in an eastern Ohio cornfield. Possibly recalling that ill-conceived effort to bond with hunters, Obama didn’t release his skeet shooting photo before the election last year. Kerry’s goose hunting was ridiculed as a dumb photo op, especially because Kerry borrowed the farmer’s hunting outfit and double-barreled shotgun for the day. Whether Kerry bagged any additional rural voters was unclear; Bush won Ohio.
• I began contributing to the new National Catholic Reporter in the mid-’60s when I started covering religion at the Minneapolis Star. I freelanced for NCR when I had that same assignment at the Enquirer. A privately owned, independent weekly based in Kansas City, Mo., NCR was a voice of Roman Catholics who embraced the spirit as well as the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
Traditional churchmen had little reason to love NCR. It was a pain in the ass and collection basket. It reported the flight of clergy and nuns, often into marriage. Jason Berry pioneered reporting of priestly child abuse. Penny Lernoux covered Latin American death squads and links between murderous reactionaries and the church. Murders of nuns, priests and bishops who embraced liberation theology and the church’s “preferential option for the poor” received extensive, probing coverage.
The bishop of Kansas City and a former diocesan editor, Robert W. Finn, recently joined predecessors’ fruitless condemnations of NCR’s journalism. In a letter to the diocese praising official church media, Finn was “sorry to say, my attention has been drawn once again to the National Catholic Reporter. … In the last months I have been deluged with emails and other correspondence from Catholics concerned about the editorial stances of the Reporter: officially condemning Church teaching on the ordination of women, insistent undermining of Church teaching on artificial contraception and sexual morality in general, lionizing dissident theologies while rejecting established Magisterial (official) teaching, and a litany of other issues.
“My predecessor bishops have taken different approaches to the challenge. Bishop Charles Helmsing in October of 1968 issued a condemnation of the National Catholic Reporter and asked the publishers to remove the name ‘Catholic’ from their title — to no avail. From my perspective, NCR’s positions against authentic Church teaching and leadership have not changed trajectory in the intervening decades.
“When early in my tenure I requested that the paper submit their bona fides as a Catholic media outlet in accord with the expectations of Church law, they declined to participate indicating that they considered themselves an ‘independent newspaper which commented on “things Catholic.” ’ At other times, correspondence has seemed to reach a dead end.
“In light of the number of recent expressions of concern, I have a responsibility as the local bishop to instruct the Faithful about the problematic nature of this media source which bears the name ‘Catholic.’ While I remain open to substantive and respectful discussion with the legitimate representatives of NCR, I find that my ability to influence the National Catholic Reporter toward fidelity to the Church seems limited to the supernatural level. For this we pray: St. Francis DeSales (patron of journalists), intercede for us.”
• Rarely have I seen such a neat dismissal of creationism and defense of evolution as the following by 19th century skeptic Robert Ingersoll. It’s quoted in a review of The Great Agnostic, a biography of Ingersoll, in the neo-conservative Weekly Standard:
“I would rather belong to that race that commenced a skull-less vertebrate and produced Shakespeare, a race that has before it an infinite future, with an angel of progress leaning from the far horizon, beckoning men forward, upward, and onward forever — I had rather belong to such a race … than to have sprung from a perfect pair upon which the Lord has lost money every moment from that day to this.”
• The Weekly Standard also published “A teacher’s Plea: The GOP shouldn’t write off educators.” Eloquent Colleen Hyland speaks beyond partisanship for her vocation and colleagues in her Jan. 21 essay. Among other things, she hopes to shake Republican/conservative ideologues out of their animus toward public school teachers and their unions. Among her points: Hhateful generalizations about teachers and their desire for a living wage also degrades women.
• I didn’t know Kevin Ash and I’m not a rider but I read his motorcycle reviews in London’s Daily Telegraph for years. Details of his death in South Africa are unclear, but he died during the media show testing the new BMW R1200GS motorcycle. His informed, passionate writing was a delight for itself, even if I never thought to get on a two-wheeler again. When I was what the Brits’ call a “motoring correspondent,” my interest was cars, whether with three or four wheels. There were a lot of us writing about cars and motor racing/rallying in Europe and Britain in the 1960s; postwar Europeans were getting into cars for the first time in most families’ lives. We were read whether it was the test drive of an exquisite new Zagato OSCA coupe (built by the original Maserati brothers) or a boring Opel sedan. But getting killed during a test ride? Since most of us had some inkling of what we were doing astride a motorcycle or behind the wheel, that would have been very bad luck.
• Time Magazine’s world.time.com website posted this howler. The original Time story purported to look at Oxford and Cambridge roles in Britain’s social mobility. Appended to the online story, Time’s correction has a lawyerly tone. Here it is at length and verbatim:
“This article has been changed. An earlier version stated that Oxford University accepted ‘only one black Caribbean student’ in 2009, when in fact the university accepted one British black Caribbean undergraduate who declared his or her ethnicity when applying to Oxford.
“The article has also been amended to reflect the context for comments made by British Prime Minister David Cameron on the number of black students at Oxford. It has also been changed to reflect the fact that in 2009 Oxford ‘held’ rather than ‘targeted’ 21 percent of its outreach events at private schools, and that it draws the majority of its non-private students from public schools with above average levels of attainment, rather than ‘elite public schools.’
“An amendment was made to indicate that Office for Fair Access director Les Ebdon has not imposed but intends to negotiate targets with universities. It has been corrected to indicate that every university-educated Prime Minister save Gordon Brown has attended Oxford or Cambridge since 1937, rather than throughout history. The proportion of Oxbridge graduates in David Cameron’s cabinet has been updated — following the Prime Minister’s September reshuffle, the percentage rose from almost 40 percent to two-thirds. Percentages on leading Oxbridge graduates have been updated to reflect the latest figures.
“The article erred in stating that private school students have ‘dominated’ Oxbridge for ‘centuries.’ In the 1970s, according to Cambridge, admissions of state school students ranged from 62 percent to 68 percent, sinking down to around 50 percent in the 1980s. The article has been amended to clarify that although only a small percentage of British students are privately educated, they make up one-third of the students with the requisite qualifications to apply to Oxbridge.
“The article erred in stating that Oxford and Cambridge ‘missed government admission targets’ for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Rather, the universities scored below ‘benchmarks’ for admission of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds which are calculated by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, a non-governmental body. The article was amended to clarify the point that Cambridge continues to run Sutton Trust summer schools.
“The article mistakenly suggested that the current U.K. government had launched an ‘initiative to reform Oxbridge.’ There was no official initiative, but rather a marked push by the government to encourage change. The article referred to Cambridge and Oxford’s efforts ‘in the past two years’ to seek out underprivileged students. In fact, their commitment is far more long-standing — programs to reach out to underprivileged students have been operating at the two universities since at least the mid-1990s.
“The article erred in suggesting that Cambridge had protested state school targets, and in stating that it had ‘agreed to’ ambitious targets, rather than setting the targets themselves that were then approved by the Office of Fair Access. The article has been amended to clarify that there is debate over whether the ‘school effect’, whereby state school students outperform private school students at university, applies to those at the highest levels of achievement, from which Oxford and Cambridge recruit.
“The article has been changed to correct the misstatement that a lack of strong candidates from poor backgrounds is not the concern of Oxford and Cambridge. The article has amended the phrase ‘Oxford and Cambridge’s myopic focus on cherry-picking the most academically accomplished,’ to more fairly reflect the universities’ approach.”
• Until I read the Time correction above, I’d forgotten one in which I was involved. A young reporter covered a Saturday national church meeting in suburban Cincinnati at which denominational leaders argued how to respond to homosexuals in the pews and pulpits. This was when such a discussion was courageous, regardless of the views expressed. I edited the story. It was a good, taut story and it ran in a Sunday Enquirer. All hell broke loose. The reporter attributed exactly the opposite views to each person quoted. Instead of a forthright correction, I recall running a new, corrected story plus the apology.
CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: firstname.lastname@example.org