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Breault 1 Melanie Breault Professor Todd Shack History of Mass Media October 22, 2008 Committee of Public Information What Was Wilson Really Telling Us? Nothing is what it seems. American society prides itself on being the hegemonic democracy of the world, but what does democracy really mean? Citizens elect officials, appoint congressmen, even vote. However, the question still remains: who are these officials and congressmen, and whom do citizens really vote for? Are they voting for whom they want or are they voting from a set of preconditions that a higher, unseen government decides for them? Once those people are elected to office, it is still uncertain what they do for their constituents. Some of them act in the interest of the public. However, there are others that have their own agendas and make the masses feel as though it was their agenda as well. How do they do this? It‟s called propaganda. They use this age-old tool to convince mass groupings of people to cultivate certain ideologies. This can be used for good or evil, depending on the propagandist. It can either lead a group of individuals away from the terrors of racist thinking or it can scare the blind into a world war. Human beings either put faith where they think people are worthy of it, or they generate faith into a fabricated reality. The 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, created a propaganda tool known today as the Committee of Public Information. During his presidency from 1913-1921 (Baliles, p. 1), he used this committee as well as scare-tactics from other professionals to persuade the American people to support entrance into World War I. With the help of popular public relations mastermind Edward Bernays, and muckraker Breault 2 journalist, George Creel, Wilson devised a plan to convince the American people that it was necessary to enter World War I because “violations of right had occurred which touched us to the quick and made the life of our own people impossible” (Wilson, p. 1). Propaganda wasn‟t even a word at the time of Wilson‟s presidency, but on April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany (Murphy & White, p. 17). Formation of a Committee Wilson‟s election campaign for 1916 had a “He Kept Us Out of War” slogan, which was fundamentally the deciding factor for his reelection (Baliles, p. 2). However, his platform changed after attacks were made on U.S. ships when Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare (Murphy and White, p. 17). Congress pushed for the idea of a declaration of war. Wilson accepted. Seven days after the U.S. declared war, Wilson created the Committee of Public Information (CPI) (Mock & Larson, p. 4). Wilson appointed George Creel, the former editor of the Rocky Mountain News and outspoken Wilson supporter, as the head of the committee (Duffy, p. 1). The committee would later also become known as the “Creel Committee” (Murphy and White, p. 17). It formed slogans such as “War to End War” and “Make the World Safe for Democracy” to sway public opinion (Mock and Larson, p. 9). Creel and Wilson hired secretaries from the State, War, and Navy Departments as members, as well as professional journalists, scholars, editors, artists, and “other manipulators of the symbols of public opinion” (Mock and Larson, p. 4) not only to spread the CPI‟s messages, but to make them seem as credible as possible. As James R. Mock put it, “a censorship has been established in the United States. Rumors instead of Breault 3 facts will fill the air” (p. 46). According to Mock and Larson, the committee‟s chief function was to manage negative public opinion about the war and use “affirmative propaganda” to reverse it, using “suppression of speech or publication inimical to the doctrines for which America believed it was fighting” (p. 19). Along with mass “distribution of various print materials” (Murphy and White, p. 18), the committee also used what was called “The Four Minute Men”. This was an army of volunteers who would tell stories of enemy inhumanity in public forums. They would give speeches, read poems, and anything else that could hold peoples‟ attention. Their name comes from the suggested length of four minutes for their speeches (Four Minute Men, p. 1). They were very strategic in their delivery and their message. One particular speech attempted to rally people together to give money toward the Liberty Loan. Four Minute Men Bulletin No. 17 said that German spies were watching citizens: “Do not let the German spy hear and report that you are a slacker” (p. 2). Four Minute Men could have been found around the country. A bulletin from May 22, 1917 gave countless suggestions for appropriate and affective conduct for these groups, saying things like “aim to be more successful, and still more successful so keep your eyes open” (p. 1) or “cut out „doing your bit‟ and „your country needs you‟ [because] they are flat and no longer have any force or meaning” (p. 2). Their popularity spread throughout not only the nation, but also the world. One of their speeches titled “The Meaning of America” was translated into seven different languages (p. 3). There were about 75,000 speakers throughout 5,200 communities (Creel, p. 2). It is said that the CPI gained renowned importance due to George Creel‟s “persuasive powers of personal influence” (Mock and Larson, p. 20). Creel established Breault 4 significant relationships with members of Naval Intelligence, Military Intelligence, and certain Post Office officials (Mock and Larson, p. 20). With these relationships, he was able to bring the CPI to the forefront of public exposure and limit the committee‟s censorship. In January of 1918, Wilson gave the speech “Fourteen Points”, which laid out the reasons and goals of American participation in the World War. In this speech, Wilson‟s final line announced, “we wish her only to accept a place of equality among the peoples of the world—the new world in which we now live—instead of a place of mastery” (p. 4). The Committee of Public Information had representatives in Saint Petersburg and Moscow who were able to send the speech through the transatlantic radio and telegraph to the streets of Russia after it was delivered a mere four days earlier (Murphy and White, p. 18). The Committee continued to serve its purpose of “[managing] news and [soliciting] widespread support for the war at home and abroad” (Four Minute Men, p. 1) even after the war ended in 1918. Media Involvement or Lack Thereof The Committee of Public Information began to take full control of all media outlets. Some publications caught on to the techniques and propaganda the committee imposed, while others put complete faith in the committee‟s announcements. George Creel‟s members organized a “voluntary censorship of the press”, of which, about 99 percent of the press observed (Mock, 48). According to Mock, “since it was voluntary [the press] made little complaint about the denial of the freedom of the press” (p. 48). However, some newspapers did publish articles commenting on the content of the committee‟s information. In an editorial for the April 7 th issue of Editor & Publisher, it Breault 5 said, “it is becoming obvious that if the freedom of the press to usefully serve the nation is to be preserved, its preservation must be the work of the newspapermen themselves. The constitutional guarantee seems to weigh very lightly with some of our public servants” (Mock and Larson, p. 28). The general idea was that censorship was in the hands of the media, not the government. If the press received the information, it was their job to report it. However, at the time, the Committee of Public Information was the media. One of the ways in which the CPI could interpret public information was through the bi-laws of the Espionage Act of 1917. Section 3 of Title I states that a “$10,000 fine or 20 year imprisonment will be implemented for the interference of recruitment of troops or disclosure of information in corporation with national defense.” 1 In other words, if anyone used false information to promote the victory of their enemies, they could be fined or put in jail. According to Mock and Larson, “the CPI was no agency of prosecution, but law-enforcement bodies were always prepared to use this section of the act to force compliance with the Committee‟s wishes” (p. 42). During wartime, Creel was not only the head of the CPI, but he was also on the President‟s Censorship Board (Mock and Larson, p. 44). Between Creel and Wilson, censorship became the main problem with the media at the time of World War I. The purpose of this censorship was to give newspapers and other publications the chance to “impose self-censorship” and Wilson agreed to give them all the government‟s information (Mock and Larson, p. 49). However, the President had full rights to “request them from time to time to publish nothing, which might fall into the hands of the enemy 1 The summary of the Act was taken from http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWespionage.htm Breault 6 or embarrass war operations” (Mock and Larson, p. 49). At the time, newspapers seemed unfazed by the Espionage Act or this new information philosophy. As Mock put it, “the papers showed no antipathy toward the act and little fear of what it might mean to the American people” (p. 53). Journalists and reporters alike were more concerned with the war itself, and not whether there were obstructions of freedom of speech or press. Propaganda & Censorship Propaganda can be defined as “any form of communication in support of national objectives designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group in order to benefit the sponsor, either directly or indirectly” (Murphy and White, p. 15). When using this definition of propaganda, the Committee of Public Information should be called propaganda. George Creel adopted the ideas of Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud‟s famous nephew, to persuade the American people to support the First World War. As Creel put it, “We did not call it „propaganda,‟ for that word in German hands had come to be associated with lies and corruptions. Our work was educational and informative only, for we had such confidence in our case as to feel that only fair presentation of its facts was needed.” (Murphy & White, p. 18) It is suggested that Bernays learned his techniques for effective propaganda from the CPI and worked with Creel to strengthen the Committee (d‟Aymery, p. 2). Bernays‟s philosophies of human behavior were very useful to all politicians including Wilson. Bernays believed that, “the voice of the people expresses the mind of the people, and that mind is made up for it by the group leaders in whom it believes and by those persons who understand the manipulation of public opinion” (Bernays, p. 109). Breault 7 With this idea, Wilson and Creel were able to take what they knew about human beings and their mindsets, and create images that would appeal to their inner most desires. The CPI used visual stimulators such as pamphlets, press releases and movies that could be distributed to the masses not only in the United States, but also around the world (Murphy & White, p. 18). The CPI along with major Hollywood film producers of the time like D.W. Griffith, made several propaganda films disguised as narrative war films, including “Pershing‟s Crusaders,” “The Prussian Cur,” and “Heart of the World” (Exulanten, p. 1). These and other films depicted Germans in the most negative light, usually making them the killers and either a Britain or an American, the war hero. The CPI made “special arrangements” with the War Trade Board that allowed them to have full control of exportation of motion pictures (Mock, p. 177). The CPI agreed that, “no American films were to be exported unless a certain amount of American propaganda film was included in the order” (Mock, p. 177). Posters and advertisements were created cautioning Americans to watch what they said, in case a German spy was listening (Mock & Larson, p. 14 & 65). The goal was to insight hatred for the enemy; encourage love for American allies such as Britain; and convince Americans that Germany as a whole, was an immoral country (Mock & Larson, p. ix). Propaganda was either respected or feared; either way it was effective at “giving the power to capture men‟s hearts and to bypass their rational processes” (Murphy & White, p. 19). The propaganda methods used by the Committee of Public Information became so effective that schools started to ban teaching German subject matter (Murphy & White, p. 19). Citizens were encouraged to report their neighbors, friends and fellow citizens to the Breault 8 appropriate authorities if they spoke against American values (p. 19). Some books were even banned or had their circulations stopped in selective cities. Lord Kitchener‟s Secret and England‟s Disaster was banned in New York due to its anti-British language (Mock, p. 158). Even Creel‟s writings weren‟t safe from this censorship. Two Thousand Questions and Answers About the War by the Review of the Reviews was banned by the Army, even with an introduction written by George Creel (Mock, 163). Many other books such as Behind the Scenes in Warring Germany and War and Waste: A Series of Discussions of War and War Accessories were also banned due to their anti-war and proGermany expressions (Mock, p. 165-166). The point of banning these and other books like them, was to “make certain that the right kind of knowledge was made available to young minds, states, municipalities, and groups of citizens” (Mock, p. 171). Not only were movies and books either banned or censored, specific articles from newspapers were as well. The Baltimore Evening Sun was prohibited from having several articles leave the United States in May and June of 1918 (Mock, p. 134). Even entire issues were banned from moving to other countries such as the June 8 th and June 15th, 1918 publications of the Saturday Evening Post in San Francisco to China, Japan and India (Mock, p. 134). The Committee not only wanted to protect the mindset of Americans, they wanted to preserve their relationships with allies. The CPI suggested that these and other articles and issues would “arouse the antagonism of Allied or neutral countries, or [they] might give the other nations a wrong impression about the United States” (Mock, p. 134). All types of military reports were strictly censored for national publications. One example involved a Senate investigation of an aircraft. United Press and the CPI worked with the Secretary of War on what could be included in the article Breault 9 (Mock, p. 136). The Secretary argued that, “such portions of it as would disclose information of military value to the enemy should not be submitted by cable abroad” (Mock, p. 136). One of the most influential approaches to the war was how Wilson and the Committee cultivated their own idea of “patriotism.” Ambrose Bierce in The Devil‟s Dictionary (1911) defines patriotism as, “combustible rubbish ready to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name. In Doctor Johnson‟s famous dictionary, patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer, I beg to submit it is the first” (Sandrolini, p. 1). It was patriotism that inspired citizens to do whatever was necessary for their country. All propaganda centered around this idea. As Sandrolini put it, “the ultimate method for inspiring apathetic citizens of the necessity for incessant war is through the linguistic fuel of patriotism” (p. 1). Wilson used the word „peace‟ to rally citizens in support of the war. He said in his speech „The Fourteen Points,‟ “unless justice be done to others it will not be done to us…the program of the world‟s peace, therefore, is our program; and that program, [is] the only possible program” (Wilson, p. 2). This idea of bringing the American people back into peacetime scared many citizens into the war. Wilson and Bernays affiliated the words „war‟ and „peace‟ to make the former seem as though it would result in the latter. By showing what the enemy was doing to American and allied citizens, the administration could use “the mental clichés and the emotional habits of the public to produce mass reactions against the alleged atrocities, the terror and the tyranny of the enemy” (Bernays, p. 54-55). According to Bernays, if a politician were a real leader, he would be able to use propaganda in such a way as to make citizens feel as Breault 10 though the politician‟s ideas and methods for peace were their own. (p. 125-126). By laying out his fourteen points for peace, Wilson was able to mobilize the American masses without them, feeling as though it wasn‟t their idea to begin with. Some of the strongest censorship went to the foreign-language press. Papers such as the Illinois Staats-Zeitung and other publications through the German-American Publishing Company, suspended themselves due to “financial or patriotic reasons” (Mock, p. 142). The Post Office Department and the CPI used Section 19 of the Tradingwith-the-Enemy Act to strengthen the censorship of these volumes (Mock, p. 141). The act said that the foreign-language press could not publish, “any news item, editorial, or other printed matter, respecting the government of the United States, or of any nation engaged in the present war, its policies, international relations, the state or conduct of the war or any matter relating thereto” (Mock, p. 141). Walter Lippmann, who was at first an advocate for the war, soon realized that there was no purpose to a free press if “it could be manipulated through prejudice or by outside organizations” (Murphy & White, p. 19). Wilson and Creel knew the press was looking to them to find their headlines. As Bernays put it, “ by his power of giving or withholding information the politician can often effectively censor political news” (Bernays, p. 120). However, throughout his involvement with the CPI, Creel defended its actions and techniques for disclosing information. He said, “In no degree was the Committee an agency of censorship a machinery of concealment or repression…at no point did it seek or exercise authorities under those war laws that limited the freedom of speech and press” (Creel, p. 1). Breault 11 Manipulation Beyond Propaganda Woodrow Wilson understand the basic societal principles that, “communication usually arises outside one‟s immediate group and cannot readily be tested for error [and] the mass media provide nearly all of the information we receive” (Gerald, p. 3). Knowing that mainstream media outlets were and still are the principle ways citizens receive and interpret their information allowed Wilson to use his hierarchal position to manipulate the masses. With this position of authority, he interpreted „democracy‟ as not “a government by the people,” 2 but a people guided by government ideals. Bernays said in Propaganda, “only through the wise use of propaganda will our government…be able to maintain that intimate relationship with the public which is necessary in a democracy” (p. 126). Wilson defined his Commander-In-Chief relationship with the public by convincing them to put full faith into his political decisions. With the help of advertising firms, public relations firms and other financially focused groups, Wilson took the war in Germany and made it seem like it was a direct threat to the livelihood of American citizens. This war as the Wilsonian concept put it a, “People‟s War” (Mock & Larson, p. 187). It was Wilson‟s and the Committee of Public Information‟s belief that for the war to be won, “labor must be kept in line” (Mock & Larson, p. 189). The goal was to increase military production and keep the economy moving. As long as the economy was good, Americans would trust Wilson‟s judgments about the war. In May 1918, the CPI sent out a “workingman‟s propaganda plan” to mobilize unquestioned mass support for not only the CPI, but also Wilson himself (p. 198). The CPI War Industries Board sent letters to employers urging them to increase manufacturing of war materials and to satisfy 2 This definition of democracy was taken from the Merriam-Webster‟s Online Dictionary at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/democracy. Breault 12 their employees in order to prevent labor strikes (p. 198). While outlining this plan, Walter C. Hecker of Curtis and Company said, “We are endeavoring to spread among our men the real American propaganda…to strike is unpatriotic…If he does not make munitions, it is against the public interest, as it prevents the public having money for investing in bonds, Thrift Stamps, and other similar good causes” (Mock & Larson, p. 197). The CPI also used images in motion pictures of workingmen in France, England and parts of the United States to “arouse the competitive spirit” (p. 197). The CPI ended up taking over the publicity sector of the Labor Department, leaving Americans with no choice but to turn to them for their knowledge of labor instructions at home and abroad (p. 208). To appeal to the emotional interests of the public, Creel commented on the covetousness of some industry leaders at the expense of their workers. At the same time, he prompted workers to not become slackers worthy of economic criticism. He said, “the fact that there are so many employers who put greed before patriotism makes it very difficult to level any blanket attack against workers, who are likewise guilty of thinking of themselves before their country” (Mock & Larson, p. 212). Another way to appeal to the masses of working men and women was through advertising. In 1917, newsprint was gold and big businesses wanted to use this newfound media tool to increase their revenue. Newspapers knew they needed advertisements to keep them in business, to the point that some even donated space to increase their circulation (Duffy, p. 4). Bernays quickly realized that when the masses were told they needed or desired something, they would buy it. As he said, “A campaign for the preservation of the teeth seeks to alter people's habits in the direction of more frequent brushing of teeth.” Since he knew the masses were being manipulated into buying Breault 13 material items, he knew that with extensive advertising campaigns, they could be manipulated into buying political ideas as well. Research was then conducted as to how information could reach the masses in different and creative ways. The CPI was composed of nineteen divisions with the sole purposes of propaganda and advertising (Duffy, p. 3). Creel created the Division of Pictorial Publicity for those of the population that didn‟t read the newspaper or watch movies (American Experience, p. 1). He recruited America‟s most popular artists of the time such as Charles Gibson, N. C. Wyeth and Joseph Pennell to create illustrations and cartoons to visually appeal to the masses in support of the war. Fred Strothman designed a poster named “Beat Back the Hun” with a picture of a gruesome-looking German clawing over Europe across the ocean toward America. On the poster it said, “Beat back the HUN with LIBERTY BONDS.” Due to this poster and ones like it, more than $23 billion worth of liberty bonds were bought to support the war effort. 3 Probably the most famous World War I poster was “I Want You” done by James Montgomery Flagg. Showing the patriotic symbols and the intimidating finger pointer Uncle Sam, this poster became so popular that four million copies were created during the war. 4 Wilson had reached almost all levels society with these advertisements as well as corporate support. To appeal to the intellectual facet of the population, he hired scholars and educators to head his committee‟s Division of Civic and Educational Cooperation (Duffy, p. 3). This division was in charge of making pamphlets and academic papers to 3 A picture of the poster with the continued information on it can be found in the poster gallery of the American Experience website, specifically at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/wilson/gallery/p_war_04.html. 4 Also from the American Experience poster gallery at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/wilson/gallery/p_war_11.html. Breault 14 show the „intelligence‟ for going into the war. Some titles included, “The German Whisper,” “German War Practices” and “Conquest and Kultur” (Duffy, p. 3). However, not all scholars were convinced by this division. Randolph Bourne was a student of John Dewey, a well-respected professor and a dedicated Wilson supporter. He wrote several wartime essays criticizing his mentor and other colleagues of their support for the war. In one essay he wrote, “The German intellectuals went to war to save their culture from barbarization…Are not our intellectuals equally fatuous when they tell us that our war of all wars is stainless and thrillingly achieving for good?” (Duffy, p. 3-4). Wilson himself wrote scholarly reports and had them distributed around the country. The War Message and the Facts Behind It was an annotated version of one of his own speeches, outlining American foreign policy and reasons for the war against Germany (Mock & Larson, p. 160). He had 2,499,903 copies made and put in several newspapers and magazines (Mock & Larson, p. 160). Bernays also knew of the importance of educational support from the masses. He believed that training for educators required two concentrations: “education as a teacher and education as a propagandist” (Bernays, p. 136). The educators needed to be prepped with not only information, but also societal understandings. During the Red, White and Blue Series, a pamphlet addressed “To the Teachers of America” was sent out stating, “It is the earnest wish of your government that everybody be given an opportunity to learn that facts regarding the causes for America‟s entry into the war, to see clearly our motives and aims and to learn why this conflict must continue until our aims are achieved” (Mock & Larson, p. 181). Education is a very strong and influential tool that can not only manipulate the masses of adults, but can also mold the minds of impressionable children. Once a human being Breault 15 learns a specific set of values, it is very hard to break them of it without extensive alternative exposure. Wilson was fully aware of this common knowledge ideal. The American people had very few alternate outlets of information other than the CPI and President Wilson. Sandrolini said, “these mind-bending messages of manipulation would fall from politicians‟ lips to the ground with a thud… [and] the mass media are their single most important accomplice” (p. 1). The most important division of the Committee of Public Information was its Division of News. This section was responsible for 6,000 war-related press releases and more than 20,000 newspaper columns in any given week during the war (Duffy, p. 3). It was matter of either listening to what was available or not listening to anything at all. Revisionist History: What America Knows Now There have been many books published within the last several decades describing the atrocities Woodrow Wilson performed during his presidency. Wilson‟s War: How Woodrow Wilson‟s Great Blunder Led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin & World War II, written by Jim Powell, is a recount of specific military events, pre-war societal conditions and post-war consequences. Powell calls Wilson‟s actions as president foolish and believes the country was in a better economic state before he forced America into the war. He says, “Maintaining a separation of the economy and the state would have prevented politicians from turning business competition into political and military conflicts… if governments had let people live their lives freely on one side of the border as the other, there wouldn‟t have been much political support for the war” 5 (p. 1). 5 The book itself could not be obtained. All information regarding it is derived from a detailed review by George C. Leef, Posted May 5, 2006 http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd0601g.asp. Breault 16 Walter Karp in The Politics of War also found faults in Wilson‟s administration by saying, “For the burdens he was willing to inflict upon an unwilling America only a transcendent goal unsullied by the skeptical judgment of practical statecraft could possibly serve as adequate justification” (p. 175). These and more books, movies and articles would be written for the next nearly a hundred years. However, what becomes forgotten is the fact that America still entered yet another world war against Germany. Whether or not Wilson‟s presidential actions and committee were the cause of that are questionable, nevertheless, propaganda of many kinds still occurs and still rallies Americans into unnecessary wars today. Some historians and journalists alike went against Wilson with the resources they had, during his presidency. The New York Times in an article from June 20, 1917 titled “Official „Red, White and Blue‟ Series to Explain America‟s Part” reported on the fact that millions of letters were being sent to the administration asking what the purpose is of America‟s involvement in the war. It said that this series had been created to ask the government for “an exact and comprehensive statement of why the United States went into the war” (p. 1). Americans were obviously concerned with the United States going into a war that resulted in the deaths of nearly 117,000 citizens (Leef, p. 3). Bernays said that, “undoubtedly the public is becoming aware of the methods which are being used to mold its opinions and habits” (p. 167-168). Americans and citizens everywhere are fully aware, most of the time, of the propaganda they encounter everyday. They see the billboards and commercials and they know their ideas are being sold to them. They know that every time they open a book, magazine or newspaper they have to take what they read with a grain of salt, knowing this author could be pretending Breault 17 to be objective and truthful. However, it doesn‟t change the fact that human beings still partake in wars or pay for advertisements or go to the same sources over and over again. Propaganda hasn‟t changed since 1917. Americans just know now what to call it. Thousands upon thousands of theories have been derived from Bernay‟s and Freud‟s original ideas about human nature: why humans are manipulated or how they can be. There will be thousands more throughout the history of the world. This is never going to change. It is only through practice and cultivation that change can really happen. For those of the human population who don‟t know what propaganda is and haven‟t had the luxury of a formal education, it is the job of those privileged enough to have had one to teach them. Once everyone understands the way the world really works, then and only then can change really happen. The trick is to keep learning and asking questions.
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