Searching study of the role of the press in shaping world opinion about the Spanish Republic and its enemies—a role that, regrettably, was not enough to stir world leaders to action.
In a broad gallery of heroes, along with a few villains, Preston (Spanish History/London School of Economics; The Spanish Civil War, 2006, etc.) singles out the “meticulously honest” New York Times correspondent Herbert L. Matthews, who wrote of the uneven battle between Franco’s fascist armies, backed by troops, planes and armaments from Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, and the Republican forces, supplemented mostly by leftist volunteers from around the world (including George Orwell and André Malraux). Matthews, Preston writes, was hounded throughout his posting by pro-Franco forces in the United States, including the so-called International Catholic Truth Society and the Catholic diocese of Brooklyn, which organized a boycott of the Times to protest Matthews’ fair reporting. The Times caved, sort of, sending in Franco booster William P. Carney in the interest of balance, then running his “unashamedly partisan material,” to say nothing of stories that were pure inventions. Carney’s reporting, Preston insists, was roundly contradicted by many hands—and the press corps in Spain eventually included Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, as well as relative unknowns such as the Soviet reporter Mikhail Koltsov. Regardless of their politics, many journalists fell into the usual habits of bed- and barhopping, which provides some of the lighter moments in then narrative. Sobering, however, is the author’s analysis of why the Western powers, though knowing that Spain was a prelude for a great confrontation with the Axis, failed to back the Republican government in a moment of cowardice and calculation—Franklin Roosevelt told Interior Secretary Harold Ickes that do so “would mean the loss of every Catholic vote next fall.” Particularly intriguing is Preston’s account of how the Guernica story, known to us today mostly by way of Picasso, broke—with Carney reporting for the New York Times that the Basques had bombed themselves.
A careful study, obviously sympathetic to the Republican cause but generally evenhanded.