In researching a previous post, I became curious about the following image used by Glenn Beck in his bizarre equation of President Obama’s health care legislation with Nazi eugenics policies:To summarize: Beck fought back tears as he related how this specific image caused him a great deal of personal pain, on the grounds that the hand of the disabled man in the Nazi poster reminded him of his daughter’s own hand. (As Beck revealed in a spectacular play for sympathy, and as a means of establishing his emotional investment in the issue, his daughter suffers from cerebral palsy.)
Because I am a university professor who partially makes a living analyzing wartime propaganda, and because I am always looking for reasons to use German, I did some research about the image used by Beck.
I found that the Fox Network does not simply pull up Nazi propaganda from the past to impugn Obama, the network actively manipulates images to make them even more racist than even the Nazi propagandists intended.
The image in question was originally published in Germany in 1938 as an two-pronged advertisement. First, the image and text point out (and Glenn Beck is entirely correct in this particular characterization) that disabled citizens cost the tax-paying public money, and then questions the need for such expenditures. But the second message, in large type on the bottom half of the image, is in fact the main point: “Read ‘Neues Volk [New People]‘, the monthly publication of the Ministry for Racial Politics of the Nazi Party.”
A copy of the original image is held in the German Historical Museum in Berlin as part of an exhibit on euthanasia. Generally speaking, when we look at art or propaganda, we need to ask ourselves about the context in which it was viewed. Unfortunately it remains unclear to me if the advertisement was a stand-alone poster which an average German would see on the street in Berlin in 1938, or a one-page advertisement in Neues Volk or other Nazi periodicals. (The museum describes it as a “Werbplakat,” which can mean both “advertisement” or “poster.”)
But that is beyond Beck’s portfolio. He’s fine so far; he hasn’t gone over the line yet.
Here’s the problem:
Here is how the image looks on the German Historical Museum website and the associated, somewhat clearer image on Wikimedia Commons, which is almost certainly where Beck got it, unless he sent a staffer to Berlin to snap a photo:
Compare the above image, the original, with the one used by Fox News and Glenn Beck. On examination, it is obvious that the Fox News graphics staff decided to whiten the face of the disabled person in the poster and darken the face (though not the hands) of the nurse behind him.
Let’s put this in the context: The host of a nationally syndicated television show goes on the air, raises parallels between Obama’s health care proposals and Nazi euthansia, and does so with the accompaniment of a Nazi propaganda image. Not only does the host explain the meaning of the propaganda (and accurately so), he makes a deeply emotional appeal identifying himself and his family with the man pictured in the image, the man seated in front of a doctor/nurse figure who is, presumably, going to put the disabled man to death. The subtext here is that Obama, representing the state, is going to put “undesireables” to death if the new system is implemented. And what better way to drive this point home than to darken the face of the doctor/nurse/custodial figure in the Nazi propaganda, closing the circuit fully?
I’m stumped and dismayed by this and would like to hear some explanation from Fox News as to why this is encouraged or allowed. Obviously Glenn Beck is more intelligent than this, and some flimsy explanation will be made about the graphic, or I and others will be accused of stirring up racial paranoia. No. I simply saw a discrepancy in the images and, given the context, I think it speaks of one subtle piece of a much larger and broader effort by Fox News and others to heighten perceptions of Obama both as some kind of incipient dictator and as racially and nationally something “other.” And the facts bear this out.
This is no small feat. Someone who is able to heighten racism in Nazi propaganda has got to make a serious effort; like turning an amplifier from 10 to 11, there is usually no way to amplify Goebbels, but Fox has succeeded in this particular case.
Why do I think this is important? Today I write from Bismarck, North Dakota, the state where blazing through the night in my Hyundai west on I-94, I was regaled by conservative talk show host Cunningham who immodestly calls himself “A Great American” and who complains that any criticism of President Obama now risks being labeled as racist.
That’s fine, Mr. Cunningham, and other more intelligent conservative writers have made a similar point.
It’s just when people on your side start putting blackface on Nazi propaganda while talking about eugenics and Obama, it sort of wrecks the whole notion of neutrality and brings me down. Let’s have an honest, factual debate about health care, the wars, and everything else, but don’t resort to making Nazi propaganda even more racist than it actually was. That’s odious.
One final note on the image: Fox and Glenn Beck might have been alerted to the image from an editorial by conservative Pamela Hennessy, a Fox News guest who used an unedited version of the Nazi advertisment in a 2006 editorial about the Terry Schiavo case.