October 12, 2017

1935. Benito Mussolini Bans the New York Times

Fascist Italian Regime Slams Critics
"Mussolini" by Lorenzo Viani, 1927 (source)
This article is part of a series of posts on how newspapers covered the rise of fascism. In June 1935, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini banned The New York Times from Italy shortly after the newspaper printed an editorial entitled "Baldwin and Mussolini."

Mussolini accused the newspaper of biased criticism which could "shake the confidence of the Italian people in their leader" during the Abyssinia Crisis, four months ahead of the outbreak of the Second Italo-Ethiopian War.

He took particular offense with remarks near the end of the editorial: "Mussolini has kept himself in power longer than most people thought possible, but the earth always trembles where he stands. Any day a great public catastrophe or a vast shaking off of Italian fetters in order to be free might leave him helpless on the ground, a shorn Samson."

From The New York Times, June 13, 1935, pp. 1, 10:
Mussolini Bars New York Times Because of Criticism in Editorial
Dictator Resents Hint of His Fall—Also Angered by Possible Shaking of Confidence of His People on Eve of Italy's African Adventure—Ban Is for Indefinite Period

ROME, June 12 — The office of the Under-Secretary for Press and Propaganda has forbidden the entry of The New York Times into Italian territory till further notice and has given instructions to the Ministry of Internal Affairs to seize all copies of the newspaper at the frontier from today onward.

This severe measure, which has been taken against only a few newspapers of much less standing and authority of The Times, was adopted because of an editorial entitled "Baldwin and Mussolini" that appeared in The Times on Monday.

It was explained to this correspondent that the Italian Government objected to the editorial's whole tone and particularly to its remarks about dictatorships. A phrase implying that the Italian people were in chains was particularly resented. The following phrase, hinting that Premier Mussolini might be overthrown, was considered entirely uncalled for.

It was asserted further that the Italian Government considered it outside the scope of fair newspaper criticism to write things that might shake the confidence of the Italian people in their leader just when they were about to embark on a difficult venture in Africa on which their future might depend.

The position occupied by The Times in United States journalism undoubtedly had much to do with the adoption of today's measure. It was admitted that many newspapers in the United States and elsewhere printed things about Premier Mussolini that were considered here to have been even more unjustified than The Times editorial. It was explained, however, that they were newspapers of less importance and that the Italian Government could not remain insensible to what newspapers that shape United States and world public opinion wrote about Italian affairs.

No time limit was placed on the ban on The Times. The instructions given to frontier officials are to prevent the entry of the newspaper "till further notice." No official was able to hazard even an approximate guess as to how long the measure would remain in force.
Editorial That Aroused Ban

The editorial published in The New York Times on June 10 to which Premier Mussolini took objection follows:


In giving a general outline of the policy which his new government means to follow in foreign affairs, Prime Minister Baldwin said some blunt and bold things. They related chiefly to countries under dictators. The ideal being stable government, coupled with freedom of expression, he ranked Great Britain first in that regard. He pictured the United States as still struggling with immense difficulties. The instability of the French Government was again, he said, giving anxiety to all of his friends abroad. Even while Mr. Baldwin was speaking, however, the French people were demonstrating once more their capacity to make a sharp political turn and to set up a government which at least has the promise of being stable. Concerning Italy, the British Prime Minister had a hard word to say. The Italian Government was proceeding with military measures in East Africa which were disturbing the peace of the world, although there was no "concerted public opinion in Italy" behind Mussolini in that venture. Italians will point, to controvert this, to the great crowds which cheered Mussolini's belligerent speech on Saturday, but as there is no real liberty of the press or freedom of expression of Italy, Mr. Baldwin may be right, though his statement was admittedly somewhat rash.

He declared that British foreign policy is now founded upon the League of Nations. That was the main reason he gave for having strengthened the Foreign Office by adding a Minister, Captain Eden, who should represent the Government in all matters relating to the League of Nations. To that agency he gave the credit for arriving at a preliminary agreement to arbitrate the differences between Italy and Ethiopia, but so far as language can do it, Mussolini has already repudiated that form of settlement and affirms that now, having two scores to settle—one with Abyssinia and one with Ethiopia—he means to go ahead and do it without any regard to opinion in other countries. Obviously referring to Great Britain, he protested that he was proposing to do only what the British did in building their empire. They went straight to their desired objective without tolerating interference by any other Power. Granting this to be true, it is in order to remind Mussolini that, at the time to which he alludes, there were in existence no such agreements to renounce war as an instrument of international policy, no such treaties pledging peaceful measures and a resort to arbitration, as now constitute a solemn international obligation for Italy. She has put her name to treaties and declarations of policy which fly directly in the face of her military expeditions in East Africa. It would be strange if the Council of the League did not, in these circumstances, take further action in this matter. Captain Eden has pressed for such a course and evidently expects to see it adopted.

Prime Minister Baldwin had some general remarks to make about dictators. It is true that they often present for some time a semblance of governmental stability. It is still true in Italy, as Cavour said it was years ago, that "anybody can govern under martial law." To do it with the courts open and the press free is another matter. Dictators, asserted Mr. Baldwin, are always vanishing personalities. They last only so long as they can maintain themselves by force. They found no dynasty and leave no successors. Mussolini has kept himself in power longer than most people thought possible, but the earth always trembles where he stands. Any day a great public catastrophe or a vast shaking off of Italian fetters in order to be free might leave him helpless on the ground, a shorn Samson.

Rome dispatches say that Mr. Baldwin's speech was taken there in very ill part. The better part would be for the Italian people and government to take it seriously, and not to imagine that they can indefinitely go on setting at naught the considered judgment of mankind.