Tag Archives: media

Woodrow Wilson’s war propaganda

U.S. government’s heavy hand altered American journalism

1917 executive order that created ‘the nation’s first ministry of information’  still smarts

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The censorship board. George Creel is seated at far right. Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress

by Christopher B. Daly, The Conversation

When the United States declared war on Germany 100 years ago, the impact on the news business was swift and dramatic.

In its crusade to “make the world safe for democracy,” the Wilson administration took immediate steps at home to curtail one of the pillars of democracy—press freedom—by implementing a plan to control, manipulate and censor all news coverage, on a scale never seen in U.S. history.

Following the lead of the Germans and British, Wilson elevated propaganda and censorship to strategic elements of all-out war. Even before the U.S. entered the war, Wilson had expressed the expectation that his fellow Americans would show what he considered “loyalty.

Immediately upon entering the war, the Wilson administration brought the most modern management techniques to bear in the area of government-press relations. Wilson started one of the earliest uses of government propaganda. He waged a campaign of intimidation and outright suppression against those ethnic and socialist papers that continued to oppose the war. Taken together, these wartime measures added up to an unprecedented assault on press freedom.

I study the history of American journalism, but before I started researching this episode, I had thought that the government’s efforts to control the press began with President Roosevelt during WWII. What I discovered is that Wilson was the pioneer of a system that persists to this day.

All Americans have a stake in getting the truth in wartime. A warning from the WWI era, widely attributed to Sen. Hiram Johnson, puts the issue starkly: “The first casualty when war comes is truth.”

Mobilizing for war

Within a week of Congress declaring war, on April 13, 1917, Wilson issued an executive order creating a new federal agency that would put the government in the business of actively shaping press coverage.

That agency was the Committee on Public Information, which would take on the task of explaining to millions of young men being drafted into military service—and to the millions of other Americans who had so recently supported neutrality—why they should now support war.

The new agency—which journalist Stephen Ponder called “the nation’s first ministry of information”—was usually referred to as the Creel Committee for its chairman, George Creel, who had been a journalist before the war. From the start, the CPI was “a veritable magnet” for political progressives of all stripes—intellectuals, muckrakers, even some socialists—all sharing a sense of the threat to democracy posed by German militarism. Idealistic journalists like S.S. McClure and Ida Tarbell signed on, joining others who shared their belief in Wilson’s crusade to make the world safe for democracy.

At the time, most Americans got their news through newspapers, which were flourishing in the years just before the rise of radio and the invention of the weekly news magazine. In New York City, according to my research, nearly two dozen papers were published every day—in English alone—while dozens of weeklies served ethnic audiences.

Starting from scratch, Creel organized the CPI into several divisions using the full array of communications.

The Speaking Division recruited 75,000 specialists who became known as “Four-Minute Men” for their ability to lay out Wilson’s war aims in short speeches.

The Film Division produced newsreels intended to rally support by showing images in movie theaters that emphasized the heroism of the Allies and the barbarism of the Germans.

The Foreign Language Newspaper Division kept an eye on the hundreds of weekly and daily U.S. newspapers published in languages other than English.

Another CPI unit secured free advertising space in American publications to promote campaigns aimed at selling war bonds, recruiting new soldiers, stimulating patriotism and reinforcing the message that the nation was involved in a great crusade against a bloodthirsty, antidemocratic enemy.

Some of the advertising showed off the work of another CPI unit. The Division of Pictorial Publicity was led by a group of volunteer artists and illustrators. Their output included some of the most enduring images of this period, including the portrait by James Montgomery Flagg of a vigorous Uncle Sam, declaring, “I WANT YOU FOR THE U.S. ARMY!”

Other ads showed cruel “Huns” with blood dripping from their pointed teeth, hinting that Germans were guilty of bestial attacks on defenseless women and children. “Such a civilization is not fit to live,” one ad concluded.

Frederick Strothmann/Library of Congress

Creel denied that his committee’s work amounted to propaganda, but he acknowledged that he was engaged in a battle of perceptions. “The war was not fought in France alone,” he wrote in 1920, after it was all over, describing the CPI as “a plain publicity proposition, a vast enterprise in salesmanship, the world’s greatest adventure in advertising.”

Buried in paper

For most journalists, the bulk of their contact with the CPI was through its News Division, which became a veritable engine of propaganda on a par with similar government operations in Germany and England but of a sort previously unknown in the United States.

In the brief year and a half of its existence, the CPI’s News Division set out to shape the coverage of the war in U.S. newspapers and magazines. One technique was to bury journalists in paper, creating and distributing some 6,000 press releases – or, on average, handing out more than 10 a day.

The whole operation took advantage of a fact of journalistic life. In times of war, readers hunger for news and newspapers attempt to meet that demand. But at the same time, the government was taking other steps to restrict reporters’ access to soldiers, generals, munitions-makers and others involved in the struggle. So, after stimulating the demand for news while artificially restraining the supply, the government stepped into the resulting vacuum and provided a vast number of official stories that looked like news.

Most editors found the supply irresistible. These government-written offerings appeared in at least 20,000 newspaper columns each week, by one estimate, at a cost to taxpayers of only US$76,000.

In addition, the CPI issued a set of voluntary “guidelines” for U.S. newspapers, to help those patriotic editors who wanted to support the war effort (with the implication that those editors who did not follow the guidelines were less patriotic than those who did).

The CPI News Division then went a step further, creating something new in the American experience: a daily newspaper published by the government itself. Unlike the “partisan press” of the 19th century, the Wilson-era Official Bulletin was entirely a governmental publication, sent out each day and posted in every military installation and post office as well as in many other government offices. In some respects, it is the closest the United States has come to a paper like the Soviet Union’s Pravda or China’s People’s Daily.

The CPI was, in short, a vast effort in propaganda. The committee built upon the pioneering efforts of public relations man Ivy Lee and others, developing the young field of public relations to new heights. The CPI hired a sizable fraction of all the Americans who had any experience in this new field, and it trained many more.

One of the young recruits was Edward L. Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud and a pioneer in theorizing about human thoughts and emotions. Bernays volunteered for the CPI and threw himself into the work. His outlook – a mixture of idealism about the cause of spreading democracy and cynicism about the methods involved – was typical of many at the agency.

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society,” Bernays wrote a few years after the war. “Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government.”

All in all, the CPI proved quite effective in using advertising and PR to instill nationalistic feelings in Americans. Indeed, many veterans of the CPI’s campaign of persuasion went into careers in advertising during the 1920s.

The full bundle of techniques pioneered by Wilson during the Great War were updated and used by later presidents when they sent U.S. forces into battle. Now, as the Trump administration begins to engage in military operations abroad, the American experience in WWI provides some timely warnings: The news media and all U.S. citizens should demand not propaganda, but accurate information in times of hostilities, and the government should never be allowed to equate dissent with disloyalty. §

Christopher B. Daly, Professor of Journalism, Boston University This article was originally published on The Conversation.

The witch doctor—unmasked


The real and very famous Dr. Ben Carson is indeed a witch doctor in the political stratosphere, full of ridiculous economic and foreign policy nostrums and voodoo.

by Dell Franklin

For a while it seemed the witch doctor possessed a suit of armor even the clever and pugnacious Donald Trump could not dent, much less pierce—he was a famously successful black man with a great American come-up-from-the-bootstraps story as well as blessed by the Lord and in the mold of ultra-conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, the exact kind of black man George H.W. Bush and the GOP brain trust loved to shove up the asses of politically correct white liberal Democrats.

The witch doctor did not use street lingo even if he was from the mean streets of Detroit and never uttered “y’all, or “you all.” The witch doctor carefully refrained from insulting his whiter-than-white competition and realized if he raised his voice or engaged in salty invective he would lapse into the stereotype of the white man’s version of the angry “uppity nigger.” The witch doctor was not an amen-shouting, gospel-singing, rocking-in-the-aisles Jesus-chanting Baptist but instead a deeply religious strangely serene Seventh Day Adventist who didn’t believe in evolution or climate change and claimed when he was at his lowest as a street psychopath he met God and found his path to being a world-famous neurosurgeon. The witch doctor was sweetly mellow and exuded a calm patience and tolerance toward his inquisitors when they tried to pigeon-hole him on his views, which he wriggled out of with some unusual circular double-talk that made absolutely no sense but was so coated in sugar that even his absurd flat tax or tithing and comparison of Obamacare to slavery was given a free ride.

The Donald searched for an opening to wound the great witch doctor as he gained ground on him and passed him in the polls after the Donald smugly conceded he was a “nice guy” when he was ahead. None of the candidates knew how to puncture the now front-running witch doctor as he continued his slew of sweetness to the evangelicals who would vote for a person capable of destroying the planet with either war or the denial of climate change as long as he promised to eliminate Planned Parenthood and believed in the rapture.

But the Donald played his cards just right, waiting for the dreaded, hated and despicable media to nail the witch doctor, and when they did, on exaggerations and myth-making of his personal history, the Donald, who also despises the dreaded, hated and despicable media and makes no secret of it, pounced, making a mockery of the witch doctor alluding to his own words of characterizing himself—the witch doctor—as a “psychopath” as a young kid in the ghetto. Ahh, the Donald instantly went after the witch doctor like a shark in a feeding frenzy.

As soon as the media began finding lies in his great story of “Gifted Hands,” the witch doctor began whining and blaming and turned into a petulant aggrieved wounded black man who now had to absorb far more media abuse than the dreaded, hated and despicable Obama ever had to absorb, boohoo. In fact, the witch doctor had to, in his own words, absorb more scrutiny and “vicious lies” than anybody in the history of the country, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, or anybody else who ever ran for high office in America!

The witch doctor is being persecuted because he is so perfect and genuine that the dreaded, hated, despicable media, along with the cruel incompetent Democrats, cannot stand it. They are “desperate” to take him down because they are terrified he will defeat them. During a press conference where his honesty was questioned, the witch doctor’s calm and pleasant and always sweet demeanor became animated and his eyes turned stony as he lashed out at his inquisitors, waving his arms around, adhering to the last bastion for politicians caught in double-talk or outright deception—blame the media!


The witch doctor is indeed a DOCTOR! Doctors in this country are exalted, placed on pedestals as the last saviors between sickness, pain and death. We worship them. We go to them hat in hand in our ignorance of our latest maladies in shrieking fear they will maim or kill us, and doctors make it all better and we want to hug them out of appreciation and gratefulness.

Doctors do not accept anybody taking them to task. They are in charge. They tell nurses and lab techs and anybody in their paths what to do and show up only to operate or diagnose, and very briefly consult. They are our gods, and if they’re good enough to heal us, well, like the witch doctor, they’re good enough to run the country.

But like all control freaks and egomaniacs, the witch doctor was not satisfied with his accomplishments and needed to embellish them further so nobody could ever question his greatness, his rightfulness, and when they did, he was outraged. As the inquisition from the dreaded, hateful, despicable media increased in its frenzy, the more grumpily the witch doctor whined and double-talked and denied; and the more angrily he condemned the media the more outraged his deluded evangelical tribe became and the more money they poured into his coffers.

The real and very famous Dr. Ben Carson is indeed a witch doctor in the political stratosphere, full of ridiculous economic and foreign policy nostrums and voodoo unfit for anybody outside of his deluded evangelical tribe to swallow. When it comes right down to it, he is the low-key evangelist mesmerizing his flock with the identical bullshit that has bamboozled those who want to believe for eons, the same evangelists who eventually get caught with prostitutes of either sex or the greedy feathering of their own nests with profligate spending on luxurious mansions, and profess their great contrition in tearful humility as their patient wives hang on and the disappointed flocks hang on too, believing the Lord forgives, and of course he does, just like he will the witch doctor when the country finds out what a complete fraud he is. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur. He’s the author of The Ball Player’s Son, a memoir about his father, Murray Franklin, and the early days of big league baseball. Visit his website: dellfranklin.com

Trump and the Jesus factor

COMMENT.Donald-Trump-Thumbs-Up-665x385-433x256by Talmadge Jarratee

Just as the 14 incredibly shrinking men and the shriveled wicked witch running for the GOP presidential nomination fawn over and pander to and curry favor with the billionaires usurping the power of the people for money, they are now trampling all over each other as they pander to and fawn over and seek favor with Jesus. All the incredibly shrinking men have made it resoundingly clear that Jesus is THEIR friend and inspiration. Huckabee, the Christ-crazed huckster, appears to have stamped his patent on the Jesus factor, therefore herding evangelicals and rhapsodic worshippers. Whiter-than-white, pencil-neck Governor Walker, whose feeble presence seems a minute notch above Jeb Bush, smugly claims his adoration of Jesus because his father was a clergyman who obviously set hisCOMMENT.TRUMP.HAPPY JESUS son on the course of the single-handed ruination of the state of Wisconsin. Others, like Santorum and Cruz, who would love to abolish all manner of abortion, same-sex marriage, as well as voting rights, Obamacare and anything else that might aid the poor, seem almost biblical in their praise of Jesus.


As a party, the GOP has gotten down on its hands and knees before the sanctimonious American public and observed Jesus as their savior and the moral compass of the Greatest Nation ever in the world! When questioned a few years back at a debate on whether they believed in Jesus, every hand went up, accompanied by beneficent smiles.

The Donald takes another tack. The Donald momentarily notches down from his stern terse nonstop bombastic dominance and sweetly admits he likes church. The Donald says he liked Sunday school, a place hated by most kids growing up because public school was enough and Sunday school was on a par with church and sermonizing when it came to interminable and insufferable boredom. The Donald likes the bible. The Donald talks of his past and current church with the warmth and appreciation of an astute businessman schmoozing a stern and imperious bishop or pope. How else could the Donald fill a stadium in Mobile, Alabama, with a horde of more than 30,000 fat God-fearing white folks and perhaps a three or four black Baptists?

When asked how often he attended his church by a sharp and leery inquisitor of the media, Trump casually claimed “as much as he could,” which seemed odd from a nonstop busy, mercurial, expedient and impatient person as Trump, a person who seems incapable of enduring the humbling of himself before anybody, much less lose the center of attention to a cloaked and gowned ecclesiastic droning on about such stale subjects as sacrifice, salvations, quotes from the bible, and other assorted lectures aimed at guilt-mongering and money-snatching; the former something the Donald will ignore, the latter he will fulfill as he has the coffers of those he needs for future exploitation.

I was starting to really like the Donald in all his swinishness because I felt deep down inside he thought all this Jesus stuff is bullshit,  just another charade by typical phony politicians trained to pose and lie, and would spank these incredibly shrinking hypocrites for their cheesy hero-worship of The Man, because Jesus would never in His right mind approve of their mean-spirited behavior and dehumanizing comments and treatment of immigrants, something an unshackled nonbeliever like I thought the Donald was could get away with.

I wonder if at some point the Jesus punditry so commonly seen on cable news stations

begin issuing doubts about the Donald’s devotion to Jesus. Will they not be happy until the Donald walks among the nut-house zealots as a skulking born-again like the blundering Bush who corralled the entire evangelical born-again populace to win office in 2000 and go on to wreck the country? Like Bush, will he allude that Jesus talked to him about his major decisions, and especially the one to go to war and bomb the living be-Jesus out of Iraq?

This remains to be seen. Trump continues to climb in the polls. He is becoming a brighter and bigger star every day, delivering riveting speeches without notes and showing his mental agility and feel for the podium each passing day as he lands in his own plane and addresses huge crowds as a savior/potentate. The question is, will the Donald at some point feel he is bigger than Jesus? The 14 incredibly shrinking men and the shriveling wicked witch certainly hope so, because it might be their last gasp to jump on him and accuse the seemingly unstoppable and indomitable Donald as a thrice-married, draft-dodging, money-grubbing, sinning heathen.

Talmadge Jarratee writes about politics and occasional sketches of San Francisco and, because of his views, may soon be homeless. For more on Talmadge, visit dellfranklin.com