While his wife stood anxiously by, her husband sat at a table holding a pen.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m writing cards,” he replied. “Cards that tell the truth. People will read the cards. They will pass them on.” Then his hand moved again as he scrawled:
“Mother! The Führer has murdered my son. Mother! The Führer will murder your sons too. He will not stop till he has brought sorrow to every home in the world.”
This is from the movie “Alone in Berlin,” starring Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson, re-living the experience of two actual World War II Germans, Otto and Elise Hampel. From 1940 to 1943 they one by one distributed those postcards to public places throughout Berlin. It may not seems so, but Otto and Elise were journalists.
Compared even to me with this little column, they were hardly prolific. They wrote not many more than 200 cards, most of which were immediately turned in to the Gestapo. But Otto and Elise lived the courageous craft of journalism, which is under attack today in America as it was in Hitler’s Germany.
One week after the shooting that killed five journalists at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md., President Donald Trump spoke at his rally in Great Falls, Mont., addressing his thoughts on journalism:
“Fake news. Bad people,” Trump said, pointing at the news crews covering his event. “They’re so damn dishonest.”
While in college, I wrote for the weekly West Tulsa News, then radio station KTUL and TV station KVOO and the Guthrie Daily Leader, then while in the U.S. Army-Europe occasionally for the Stars and Stripes. I worked for 15 years with the Kansas City Star. I saw rare mistakes and stupidity, but never intentional lies.
One night in 1964, Teamsters Union official Floyd Hayes and his wife came out of a bowling alley in south Kansas City. Already recruited as an FBI witness against the Mafia and the Teamsters, Hayes retrieved a starting device from his car and unreeled its wire, moving well away. The car started all right without exploding, but two gunmen then drove forward and shot him dead.
That enlivened the atmosphere for Star reporters as they covered the Teamsters and the Mafia, and earned a reporter a Pulitzer.
Today’s Star wins many such awards, including this year a Pulitzer finalist prize for its series “Why so Secret, Kansas?”
Star reporters, like nearly all journalists, work under a detailed code of ethics that would baffle gift-grabbing Kansas and Missouri politicians — and certainly Donald Trump with his pay-offs to prostitutes and money from foreign officials lodging in his hotels. If journalists lie, they get fired, or sued under libel laws that would sink Trump with his fulminating against people he sees as enemies.
In 1943, the Gestapo lifted Elise and Otto Hampel up onto a steel table, slid them forward and cut off their heads with a miniature guillotine. Those pitiful postcards were all they could do as journalists. The truth meant so much to them that they risked their lives and lost them.
That is journalism at its most courageous.
Contact Charles Hammer at firstname.lastname@example.org.