Thursday, February 2, 2023
HomeOpinionPulitzer to Kashmir photojournalists shows why Trump supporters call some media Lügenpresse

Pulitzer to Kashmir photojournalists shows why Trump supporters call some media Lügenpresse

Pulitzer’s description of Kashmir as ‘independent’ defies all logic because the region’s political status is a primary general knowledge.

Text Size:

Like actions, words also acquire notoriety because of the situations they are identified with. ‘Lügenpresse’ is one such German term that acquired notoriety in Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Hitler’s propaganda man, Joseph Goebbels used Lügenpresse to defame the print media and supply free radio service to all the Germans. The media service would relay only the government-approved propaganda. ‘Lügenpresse’, the epithet popularised about the newspapers by the Nazis, meant a ‘lying press’.

Because of its infamous links with the Nazis, this otherwise innocuous-sounding word became blasphemous in Germany and all over the world. So, when it returned in the political discourse in the West during the 2016 US presidential elections, the liberal media pounced on it. Their main contention was that the ‘Lügenpresse’ slogans were raised at a rally of the supporters of Republican candidate Donald Trump.

True, Trump and his followers are angry with media, and for that matter many Indians, are riled over the Pulitzer prizes, blaming the committee for awarding “fake news” and “violence” this year. But does that automatically make the word criminal?

Also read: Winning a Pulitzer is not ‘anti-national’. Photographs don’t lie or judge

Who are ‘Lügenpresse’

It is nobody’s case to blame the entire media of falsehood. It is a tactic that authoritarians use to silence the free media, which should be resisted. Media freedom is as sacrosanct as individual freedom. From Mill (John Stuart Mill) to Marx (Karl Marx), all Enlightenment thinkers have taught the world the importance of freedom. Authoritarians and autocrats are the ones that find this freedom, of individuals as well as the media, a threat to their regimes.

Enlightenment wisdom holds that everybody’s freedom is sacrosanct. In the Communist Manifesto, even Marx agrees that “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”. Just as the media has a right to criticise political establishment as liars, the supporters of a political establishment too have the right to criticise sections of the media as ‘Lugenpresse’. They don’t automatically become neo-Nazis.

The term ‘Lügenpresse’ was not coined by the Nazis as our liberal media wants us to believe. It was first coined in 1918, or even earlier as some accounts go. The German Defense Ministry had released a book in 1918 titled The Lugenpresse of Our Enemies. The phrase was also in use in Communist East Germany to describe the media in European and American democracies.

Return of this vocabulary is a cause of concern though. Not just the Trump supporters in America, even the opponents of lockdown in Germany are using this stigmatised word increasingly. The condemnable attacks on the media are happening in Germany and other places because of the growing disbelief and mistrust about the media. Mainstream media in many parts of the world is facing a credibility challenge today.

Also read: 3 photojournalists win Pulitzer for Kashmir coverage. Here’s list of Indians who won in past

The 2020 Pulitzer awards controversy

The 2020 Pulitzer awards is a case in point. This Columbia University-led prestigious media awards group has not covered itself in glory in announcing this year’s winners. It faced criticism from Trump, of course. He called them a bunch of thieves and demanded that they return their prizes. His argument was that the award should go to those journalists who ‘got it right’, while the winners, The New York Times scribes, got it all wrong about the Russian involvement in American affairs. He cited the latest Department of Justice decision to drop the proceedings against Michael Flynn to call the Pulitzer committee “a disgrace”.

Maybe Trump is typically overreacting. But the remonstrations of the Chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board, Eugene Robinson were not convincing either. “All the journalists and playwrights and authors and poets and composers who have won Pulitzer Prizes have one thing in common, which is that they were all engaged in a search for truth,” he argued using a moral façade, adding “And we must believe that there IS truth”.

Robinson’s statement sounds hollow, at least in the case of the awards given to Indian journalists. Protests in India were not so much against the three award-winning photojournalists. Any Indian winning prestigious award is a matter of pride for all Indians. The protests were more about the Pulitzer’s dishonesty. “For striking images of life in the contested territory of Kashmir as India revoked its independence, executed through a communications blackout,” the award citation read. Describing Kashmir “independent” is a low in journalism. It sounded as though the sentence was directly borrowed from the terrorists and separatists in Kashmir.

Also read: Pulitzer-winning US journalist charged in Brazil for exposé against justice system

When Pulitzer got it wrong

Pulitzer has had a history of such accusations. In the early phase of its inception, the award Pulitzer gave to NYT journalist Walter Duranty in 1931 became a big controversy. He was accused of taking down dictations from Stalin and making them into stories. He was called “journalism’s greatest liar” and “Stalin’s apologist”. Even NYT was allegedly unhappy over the award. But the Pulitzer Board, after twice considering revocation, decided to uphold its decision.

In its century-old existence, Pulitzer has been involved in many such controversies. One such recent controversy, relevant to the present discussion, was about the photography award to Bilal Hussein of Associated Press in 2004. His collection of 20 photos, for which he won the Pulitzer, basically depicted wartime heroism of the terrorists shooting rockets and executing people on the streets. There were accusations that those photos were actually facilitated by the terrorists themselves. Finally, Bilal was arrested by the US in 2006.

Pulitzer’s description of Kashmir as “independent” defies all logic because the region’s political status is a primary general knowledge. It is another matter that some Indian leaders who have problems with this general knowledge jumped in and congratulated the journalists and their awards prematurely. What exposed Pulitzer further was their clandestine amendment to their own statement. “For striking images captured during a communications blackout in Kashmir depicting life in the contested territory after India stripped it of its semi-autonomy,” the amended statement reads now. Kashmir’s “independence” is suddenly missing.

No one is above mistakes. Pulitzer would have overcome criticism had they admitted their mistake publicly instead of amending it slyly. “Let us agree on what facts are” – I am borrowing from Eugene’s statement.

Ram Madhav is national general secretary, BJP, and member, board of governors, India Foundation. Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism


  1. Did they ever consider the photos of Daniel Pearl’s killing for a Pulitzer? We have no clues. A guy from London School of Economics would have been an eminent candidate for a Pulitzer. Will the Committee consider it for the next session if they have not done it already?

  2. Shame on these so called journalists for faking the news. Copying an old image of mother whose child was killed by terrorists was depicted as after sequelae of aborgation of article 370. Time for these fake joirnalists to go to jail and the matter should be thoroughly investigated to find the terrorist links of these idiots. Kashmir is and always will be integral part of india and it’s time to accept this . The so called pseudo-intellectials and terrorits no matter how hard you try and cry. It’s time to get your asses whipped till you accept this bitter reality.

  3. Does the author of the article deny anything that the photographs of the three award winning photo journalists show? If no then he has no case Period.

  4. What you expect from a general Secretary of a ruling party BJP whose policies and actions are anti Muslim and anti Kashmir These people oppose free journalism and truth To prove that these journalists from Kashmir don’t deserve the Pulitzer award why India doesn’t allow journalists from other parts of world to go to Kashmir so that they can get first hand information about atrocities carried out by Indian armed forces in Kashmir
    Please stop lying about Kashmir

  5. Speaking of German, Nazis also coined another phrase, White Jews. Max Planck, Sommerfield and Heisenberg were called White Jews because they taught Einstein’s relativity theory.

  6. I agree with the writer on the word ‘independence’. In fact, media and its award-givers are of late tilting towards left to the center. Ravish Kumar’s Magsaysay award is also a point. Ravish for all his talent, confidence and courage is at best an activist in the guise of journalist. Journalists like him are probably salivating to become the opposition who is sitting at the far end of the scale and whose job to always criticize the Government is a legitimate and constitutional one.
    In the instant case of photojournalists however I do not grudge the type and content of their photos. Even though some have objected saying that it projects the wrong image of India. I disagree with that. If those things happened in Kashmir, their photos are are not anti-India. They did their job.

    • Independence does not exist just in a extreme shades of black & white but in multiple shades of grey. Let us be honest, the degree of independence that Kashmiris enjoyed has been reduced constitutionally by abrogating art 370 & administratively by imposing many restrictions like 4G ban. One can justify it but cannot deny it. I agree with rest of your comment.
      Lying press/‘Lügenpresse’ is a reality. However Trump supporters are wrong in identifying it. They need to read various fact-checkers to understand it.

  7. Pulitzer is for brave and independent journalism not for RSS/BJP paid servile, bootlicking Godi media which peddles hate and lies day in and day out. It is a shame that more than 95% of the media in India is completely sold out.

  8. An effective expose of the political bias of the Pulitzer Prize jury and also of those who don’t brook any criticism of the media, even as the media itself in many cases is tendentious & one-sided.

  9. All over the world, journalists put themselves in harm’s way and bring us the truth. I don’t think anyone would nominate Arnab Goswami – or other members of his large tribe – for a Pulitzer.

    • What could you expect from general Secretary of a party whose anti Muslim and anti Kashmir policies are known not only to Indians but to whole world These people promote hatred and what they say does not mean anything to us

  10. Glad to learn that the BJP is not protesting the journalists but the statement from Pulitzer. Please ask your spokespersons also to clarify this as they are making it look like the Journalists are at fault.

  11. This very article by general secretary of BJP, Mr. Ram Madhav shows that ThePrint is slowly but surely rising as a true Liberal news platform where people from different ideologies can express their views. Kudos to ThePrint.

  12. Dear Sir, Will you call a photojournalist from Karnataka as Karanatki photojournalist or Indian photojounalist?

Comments are closed.