Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Criticisms of George Creel, the Chairman of the first USG Propaganda Agency, The Committee on Public Information (1917-1919), in the Intellectual Press, 1910s-1960s

This entry is a work in progress; updated/reviewed 5/22/2016; suggestions welcome -- please email

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JB: On a personal note, may I especially recommend the piece
December 9, 1939. I. F. Stone. "Creel's Crusade," The Nation, Volume 149, Issue 24: 647-649, regrettably not cited in full below due to space/time limitations.

February 20, 1915. Walter Lippmann, The New Republic: 60-61.
The March issue of Pearson's Magazine contains an article by Mr. George Creel entitled "How Tainted Money Taints." Its purpose is to prove that Mr. Paul Kellogg, editor of the Survey, is corrupted intellectually by the influence of great wealth. ...
Mr. Kellogg is treated as if he and his associates were the paid apologists of the rich. It is preposterous, but it is cruel. It is one of the worst cases of brutal stupidity that muckraking has produced, and there is no excuse for Mr. Creel but to state the plain fact that he is a reckless and incompetent person who has at last revealed the quality of his mind. He has shown himself incapable of judging evidence, and determined to make noise no matter what canons of truthfulness he violates.
June 2, 1917. Editorial Note, The New Republic, Vol. 11, Issue 135: 119.
There is a good deal of common sense in the preliminary statement of the Committee on Public Information, which consists of the Secretary of State, of War, and of the Navy, with Mr. George Creel as chairman. But the statement contains also this extremely disquieting paragraph: "Speculation about possible peace is another topic which may possess elements of danger, as peace reports may be of enemy origin, put out to weaken the combination against Germany." The language is moderate and innocent-sounding, but in substance we have here the opinion of every anti-democrat, in every belligerent country, who believes that the making of peace is the exclusive function of all governments, and that the business of all the belligerent populations is first to keep their mouths shut about peace until it is handed down to them from on high, and then to accept this peace without scrutiny, no matter what its terms may be. No democracy can remain a democracy and behave itself in this way. Particularly in the United States, where lack of interest in our international relations has been enormous, and ignorance of them correspondingly great, it is necessary that there should be the fullest discussion of our aims in this war and of the kind of peace by which these aims can be attained. The paragraph we have quoted is dangerously like an invitation to the American people to close their eyes, preserve their ignorance, and let a wiser government do their deciding.
November 22, 1917. "Tattler," The Nation, Volume 105, no. 2734: 573.
What's the matter with George Creel? I pause for the usual response, but hear none. The crowds seems to feel no great enthusiasm for Creel, although Creel has an enthusiasm for crowds which amounts almost to a passion. And of all the units which make up this crowd, the one he specially singles out for favor is the little fellow, the intellectually and morally undeveloped, the obscure and the unnoticed, who might be trampled underfoot to nobody's care in particular. ...
You can no longer wonder that he was born in a Missouri village, but could not endure the narrowness of existence there after he had attained years enough to realize it; nor does it surprise you that he sought relief in so unredeemed a community as Kansas City then was, and, when that had grown too tame, struck out for Denver, as a place more in need of "reforming" than even Kansas City had ever been. ...
April 27, 1918. William Hard, The New Republic, Vol 14, Issue 182: 377.
When George Creel was reported the other day to have lifted up his voice to Almighty God and to have offered Him a sacrifice of praise for that we had not prepared to kill our fellowmen [JB: Creel had said that the fact that the U.S. was not military prepared for war was not to its disadvantage], the Republican party, instead of attacking Mr. Creel, should have sent him a shower of tuberoses for services rendered in helping to deodorize is own dead past.
Because of Republicans, because of Democrats, because of all of us, it came to pass, when we went into this war, that the whole long historic art of designing guns and gun-carriages was represented among us by just two small groups of men.
June 1, 1918. [Unsigned Editoria], "Propaganda," The Nation, Volume 106, No. 2761 (June 1, 1918): 642.
Precisely what is the purpose of war propaganda? To put the question in another way, why have war propaganda at all? ...
What demonstrable results has all this prodigious effort attained? ... [A] discouragingly large percentage of the publications which have professed to give only the simon-pure facts of the case have been so biassed [sic], or garbled, or positively inaccurate as to have no value whatever for one who wants to know the truth. ...
Some faiths have been strengthened, some prejudices confirmed, we doubt not; but the word which must be written across the face of far the larger part of the propaganda literature of the Allies and the Central Powers alike is failure.
What more fruitful harvest, them is to be expected from the entrance of the United States into a field which, in other hands, has yielded so dubious a return?  ... Mr. Creel is busy refuting error and confirming faith at home and abroad. ...
One cannot but think it a little strange that a war which is being fought to safeguard democracy in the world, and to insure liberty and peace against the recurrence of such onslaughts as they have to meet at this moment, should be deemed to need so much explanation and defence. ... Of one thing we may be certain: We shall never bring about democracy in Germany by taking about it. ... After all, the mightiest propaganda for a righteous cause is deeds, not words. 
October 12, 1918. "The Drifter," "In the Driveway," The Nation, Volume 107, no. 2708: 412.
[A] year ago Mr. Creel, according to current report, had never heard of the Ukraine and believed it to be a musical instrument.
December 28, 1918. Charles Stewart Davidson, The Nation, Volume 107, Issue 2791: 795.
During the war unaccustomed restraints have been placed on the press, on private correspondence, and on public and private speech. The public is more fully aware of the censorship exercised over newspapers and letters than of that over books; yet the latter has great interest. ...
[T]ake Veblen's "Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution." Brought out in 1915, it seems to have roused no official concern until June, 1918. The firm that had meanwhile taken it over was asked for a copy by the Post Office Department. On October 11 it was declared unmailable, although only a short time before Mr. Creel had advised a certain newspaper to print portions for propaganda purposes.
May 10, 1919. [Editorial],"Mr. Burleson, Espionagent, Volume 19, Issue 236: 42.
On May 16th, 1918, a President of the party of Thomas Jefferson signed an act of Congress providing among other things, that the mails should be closed to any "abusive" writing about the "form of government" of the United States. ... Mr. Creel['s] ... Committee on Public Information issued advertisements warning us in effect against criticizing even the physical conduct of the war. "Report the man who spreads pessimistic stories," said the Committee on Public Information. "report him to the Department of Justice."
April 4, 1919. Editorial, The Nation, Volume 108, Issue 2807: 598.
News of the revolt of American troops at Archangel comes like a sudden squall to fray out still farther the fag-ends of our Russian policy. American boys who went abroad to fight for democracy have discovered the meaning of the situation. ... To his [Wilson's] shame and ours be it said, our own Government gave its backing to the propaganda of falsehood against Soviet Russia. Once made, the error in policy had to be supported; and the power to give such support lay in the hands of an irresponsible bureaucracy. Messrs. Lansing and Creel and Sisson were given free rein, and the country was sadly misinformed.
September 29, 1920. H. L. Mencken, "Star-Spangled Men," The New Republic, Volume. 24, Issue 304, 119-120.
For the grand cordons of the order, e.g., college professors who spied upon and reported the seditions of their associates, state presidents of the American Protection League, alien property custodians, judges whose sentence of conscientious objectors mounted to more than 50,000 years, members of Dr. Creel's committee of American historians, the authors of the Sisson documents, etc. -- pensions of $10 a day would be enough, with silver badges and no plug hats. ...
The man who invented the story about the German plant for converting the corpses of the slain into soap did more for democracy and hence deserves a more brilliant recognition, than a thousand uninspired hawkers of ordinary atrocity stories. ...
But what of the vaudeville actors, the cheer leaders, the doughnut fryers the camp librarians, the press agents? I am not forgetting them. Let them be distributed among all the classes from the seventh to eighth, according to their deserts [sic]. And the agitators against German music? And the specialists in the crimes of the German professors? And the collectors of funds for the Czecho-Slovaks, the Armenians, the Syrians, the Lithuanians, the Poles? And the eagle-eyed scientists who discovered ground glass in pumpernickel, arsenic in dill pickles, bichcloride tablets in Bismarck's herrings, pathogenic organisms in aniline dyes? And the editorial writers and the headline writers? And the authors of books describing how the Kaiser told them the whole plot in 1913, while they were pulling his teeth or cobbling his shoes? And the ex-ambassadors? And the Nietzchefresser? And the Chautauqua lecturers? And the four-minute men [see]? And the reverend clergy? Let no grateful heart forgive them.
April 26, 1922. Hari G. Govil, Letter to the Editor: What Does Gandhi Look Like?" The Nation, Volume 114, Issue 2964: 496.
In connection with a vicious article about Mahatma Gandhi ... there has appeared in the  New York Times a hideous picture with the caption "Gandhi" ... which attempts to make Mahatma Gandhi out an anti-Christ.
This picture is what is known in newspaperdom as a "doctored" photograph. George Creel has explained the whys and the wherefores of this sort of business in a pamphlet that can be easily obtained. He says that when for any reason it is decided to make a person out to be other than he is photographs are made over to fit the occasion.
August 9, 1922. [Editorial], "The President's Penman," The New Republic, Volume 31, Issue 401: 296.
Nothing brought down President Wilson's administration to the level where it met the contempt and derision of common so fatally as his domesticated press bureau headed by George Creel of unhappy memory.
February 13, 1924. [O.V.G.?], "The Political Deeps Breaking Up," The Nation, Volume 118, Issue 3058: 158.
George Creel, the official publicity director and apologist for the Wilson Administration, fell over himself to take $5,000 in an oil transaction as the price of his influence with Mr. Daniels [Josephus Daniels, Secretary of he Navy, 1913-1921]. This, of course, is nothing new; it is all part of the easy political morality of Washington.
March 5, 1924. Felix Ray, "With Charity for All," The New Republic, Volume 38, Issue 993: 42.
This George Creel was ambling along one night, never suspecting that he had a friend in the world, when a guy with clear blue eyes sneaked out of a dark alley and slipped him five thousand bucks.
July 7, 1926. Robert Morss Lovett, "Rough Justice," The New Republic, Volume 47, Issue 605: 203.
The undertakers of the late War at first relied on fiction as means of propaganda. ... But in the end the undertakers must have felt that the story-tellers let them down badly. Long before the War was over they were suppressing fiction instead of encouraging it., and falling back on the more adaptable arts of Lord Northcliffe [see] and Mr. George
July 1, 1925. Sinclair Lewis, "An American Views the Huns" [satire], The Nation, Volume 121, Issue 3130: 19.
During the Great War I learned thoroughly at the skilled hands of Mr. George Creel that whatever the Germans were, they were brutal. I learned that all German officials were tyrants, and that everywhere in Germany there were signs "Strengstens Verboten." It was with a certain thrill of risk that I entered Germany four months ago.
January 26, 1927. Ernest Gruening, "Interpreting Mexico" [book review that includes review of Creel's The People Next Door], The New Republic, Volume 49, Issue 634: 282.
Mr. Creel blames Mexico's politicians alone for the loss of their territory and our northern party and subsequent historians for creating and perpetuating the doctrine of American guilt. This point of view Justin H. Smith's histories have established convincingly and exhaustively. Mr. Creel's special contribution is an attempted exoneration of the "slave-holding South" from the charge that it fostered our southward expansion to increase the slavery area. ...
Mr. Creel entitles one of his chapters Truth versus History, and denounces historians, and in particular Hubert Howe Bancroft, for "falsification." Now iconoclasm has become a healthful fashion among modern writers, but to merit consideration it surely must be based on a more thorough searching for and weighing of the ultimate scrap of evidence. Mr. Creel does not hesitate to cite as an authority in one place one whom he excoriates in another.
How then does he handle a later international drama in which he was at least admitted behind the scenes? Why, in the manner of the Committee on Public Information. The case for President Wilson's Mexican policies is a good one, but Mr. Creel would have it perfect by selecting only such acts and utterances as paint admirable consistency triumphantly vindicated. ... Victoriano Huerta, Admiral Mayo, Congress, are all to blame, but not Mr. Creel's impeccable hero.
May 4, 1927. "Books in Brief" [includes brief evaluation of The People Next Door by George Creel], The Nation, Volume 124, Issue 3226: 509.
Chiefly a rehash of what others have written.
May 5, 1929. Devere Allen, "The Peaceable D.A.R.," The Nation, Volume 128, Issue 3330: 528.
In response to the gift [from the Daughters of the American Revolution, which "twenty-five years ago ... cooperated in peace propaganda"] [the philanthropist Andrew] Carnegie soared a bit into what has revealed as a rather reckless prophecy: "I shall keep that [peace] flag always, and it shall never float over men killing each other, but shall remain a glorious heritage to my successors." Ten years later, almost to a day, his successors in the ten-million-dollar organization for peace which he left behind were putting in red letters at the head of its stationary, "Peace Through Victory," and were turning its Washington offices over to the Creel Bureau of Public Information, the American war-propaganda machine.
August 22, 1934. Carey McWilliams, "Upton Sinclair and His E.P.I.C.,"The New Republic, Volume 80, issue 1029: 39.
Handicapped by his association with Messrs. Bonfils and Tamment of the Denver Post, a short residence in California and the notoriety of having accepted $5,000 to run some vague errand for E. L. Doheny in the Teapot Dome scandal, Creel has failed to arouse a spark of enthusiasm [in seeking the Democratic nomination for governor of California].
November 7, 1934. "The Weekend," The New Republic, Volume 80, Issue 1040: 349.
Mr. Creel has never been anything in politics but someone's errand boy.
December 7, 1934. [Editorial], "Sinclair, La Follette, and Cutting,  The Nation, Volume 139, No. 3618: 522.
George Creel, after waiting as long as possible to see what the outcome of the [California 1934 gubernatorial Democratic race in which he and Upton Sinclair took part] would be, has repudiated Sinclair in a letter that reeks of self-rightenousness.

December 9, 1939. I. F. Stone, "Creel's Crusade," The Nation, Volume 149, Issue 24: 647-649.
In "Words That Won the War," by James R. Mock and Cedric Larson [see], the records left by Creel's Committee on Public Information are examined for the first time. Creel was Wilson's "propaganda minister," and "Words That Won the War" is a close-up of the greatest war-propaganda machine the world has ever seen. Creel himself one of its victims. In 1916, in his "Wilson and the Issues," he termed the European war an imperialist struggle from which the United States should stand aloof. In 1920, in his "War, the World, and Wilson," Creel was still so strongly under the influence of his own propaganda that he bitterly attacked Keynes's "Economic Consequences of the Peace," Had the Germans been stripped on every asset and subjected to vassalage for generations to come, still would the punishment have fallen far short monstrous crime."
There are differences between this war [WWII] and the last war. But there are also strong similarities, and these become stronger as one approaches the problem, not of the war, but of the peace to be made after Hitler. It is at this point, I think, that Creel's career becomes most instructive. It was he who set up the megaphones through which his master, Wilson, proclaimed that this was a war to end war, and both must be judged not by the Second Battle of the Marne but by the battle fought at Versailles. One learns from Creel's story that idealists are as necessary as brass bands in war time. One also learns that the idealists tend to suffer from the delusion that they are running the war, when it is the war that is running them. ...
Creel was asked whether he was an I. W. W. and a Socialist. Just as business would have preferred a Hughes to a Wilson, so it would have preferred some right-wing writer to a Creel. But wisdom was dawning in some quarters. ... The upper classes were soon to find out that history has chosen more wisely than they. A Chamberlain would have left the American masses apathetic. It took an eloquent social reformer to create enthusiasm for the war. ...
Creel ran a campaign that remains a press agent's dream, and some of our ablest public-relations counselors obtained their training in well-poisoning as Creel's assistants. ... Its Advertising Division obtained more than $1,500,000 worth of space for layouts that ranged from "Bachelor of Atrocities" ... to "How Wear ever [aluminum] utensils Are Helping to Win the War." ...
Creel tried to keep the whirlwind under control, but his job was beyond any man. ...
Creel's greatest fight was his "fight for the mind of mankind." ... But our allies had no intention of letting this [Wilson via Creel] idealism run away with them. ... The committee's agent in London reported, "There exists a large imperialist class here that is secretly hostile to all international ideals and regards our policies with the deepest hatred."
The Creel committee sought to "sell" democratic idealism to the Bolsheviks as well as to the Tories. ... It would take an O. Henry to do justice to  ... the committee's activities [in Russia].
The allies made sure that the words which won the war would not win the peace.
December 9, 1939. I. F. Stone, "Mr. Hull's Troubles." The Nation, Volume 149, Issue 24: 382.
George Creel may be a poor propagandist, but he is a good prophet. The War on Dordell Hull, in Collier's for March 11, Mr. Creel predicted that the drive against Hill "is only suspended ... attacks will start again." ...
In Mr. Creel's official portrait Mr. Hull appeared as a saintly and selfless fellow besieged by the yaping hounds of "the self-styled Liberal Front ... led by Earl Browder." ... It is difficult to expect current criticism of American foreign policy to be understood and met by people who take so simplistic, melodramatic, and self-pitying a view of their position."
March 16, 1940. George Creel, "Never a Socialist," Letter to the Editor, The Nation, Volume 150, Issue 11: 376.
Dear Sirs: In your issue of December 9, 1939 [see], in a review by James Rorty, he lists me along with others as a Socialist. Never at any time in my life was I a member of the Socialist Party, and I cannot imagine where Rorty obtained any authority for the statement.
November 11, 1941. T. R. B., "Wanted: A Ministry of Information," The New Republic, Volume 105, Issue 19: 620.
Administration leaders are doing a lot of thinking and talking about the propaganda problem. Most of them are ready to acknowledge that the government's effort to tell the people of this country and of the world what the United States is up to has been a monumental flop. ...
As matters stand, no agency is responsible for this kind of thinking and planning. Lowell Mellett, chief of the Office of Government Reports, who was first expected to direct propaganda activity, is a firm believer in the theory that a free, uncensored, unguided press will eventually create a unified public opinion in this country. He opposes censorship and guidance on principle. Taking that position, he could not be this war's George Creel.
Other who believe that public opinion at home as well as abroad must be helped to find its way have now undertaken to do certain parts of the job, Nelson Rockefeller and his committee have taken on the task of implementing the good-neighbor policy with propaganda in Latin America. William.  J. Donovan is doing the same thing with other parts of the world. ...
But there still is  no over-all agency to plan and coordinate. ... Out of the confusion a sort of ministry of information may emerge.
December 29, 1941. T. R. B., "Censorship Starts and Unity Ends," The New Republic, Volume 105, Issue 26: 891.
The censorship arrangement finally approved by President Roosevelt has much to commend to it. In theory, it is a big improvement over the First World War set-up. ...
Byron Price, executive news editor of the Associated Press, has been appointed chief censor. ...
The essential difference between Prince's office and that of George Creel, who occupied a comparable position in the First World War, lies in the complete separation of the censorship function with the propaganda function. Price will confine himself to determination of what should not be printed. Creel undertook to decide not only what should be printed but what, for purposes of stimulating national morale, should be printed. This time the censor will not be a propagandist too.

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October 19, 1942. John Gale, "Government Press Agents," The New Republic, Volume 107, Issue 16: 490.
Pearl Harbor caught the United States with no clear-cup information policy. George Creel maintains that he did the job quicker, better and cheaper. ...
Generally, information men do not make policy but rather advise on it. They are preëminently practical men, whereas their bosses may be dreamers. Archibald MacLeish is one of the few information men who have made policy -- and he is not strictly an information man. Yet if the United States is developing a Red, White and Blue propaganda, it is news to most Washington information men. And they are at an equal loss on how to scotch recurrent malicious rumors, among them that government press agents are superfluous. Was it not Lincoln who once said, "Without public opinion, nothing can succeed; with it, nothing can fail"?
October 31, 1942. Editors of the Nation, "In the Wind," The Nation, Volume 155, Issue 18: 451.
From and article on government press agents in The New Republic: "Pearl Harbor caught the United States with no clear-cut information policy. George Creel maintains that he did the job quicker, better, and cheaper.
February 6, 1943. I. F. Stone, "Capital Notes," The Nation, Volume 156, Issue 6: 188.
The State Department marked the tenth anniversary of Hitler's accession to power by issuing a 510-page volume on National Socialism. Though the book contains little that is new about Hitler or Hitlerism, it tells us a good deal -- by implication -- about the department. Much of it might have been written by George Creel. The volume consists of two sections, a 350-page hodge-podge of documents and a 150-page "treatise" on National Socialism. The treatise sounds as though the four officials who wrote it were bored to death with their task and had no difficulty in maintaining a diplomatically correct objectivity.
January 10, 1948. Upton Sinclair, "Sinclair's Side of It," Letters to the Editor, The Nation, Volume 166, Issue 2:55.
Dear Sirs: In his recently published memoirs, "Rebel at Large," George Creel has given his version of what occurred ... after I had defeated him for the democratic nomination for governor of California in September of 1934. ...
Raymond Motley in his book states that it was Creel who persuaded Roosevelt that I was going to be beaten, and so the support of the Administration was withheld."
April 11, 1949. Richard E. Lauferbach, "Communiques from the Cold-War Front" [Book Review, including of Russia's Race for Asia, by George Creel], The New Republic, Volume 120, issue 5: 20-21.
George Creel, trained propagandist that he is, has undertaken to unsell the American people on several debatable ideas about China foisted on them by Reds, fellow travelers and credulous liberals and to sell them a bookful of gleaming half-truths, or almost his own. It is a fascinating job of scissor and paste work, of slashing frontal attacks and of gaudy but certainly not neat knives in the back. The end result might have been entirely successful and devastatingly persuasive if nobody but Creel, and perhaps General Chennault, had ever been to China in recent years or had ever studied that nation's history. ...
Creel's propaganda path and sort the facts from the fictions would require a book almost as long and tedious as his.
April 9, 1951. Jean Begeman, "Million Dollar Senators," The New Republic, Volume 124, Issue 15: 16.
One of Nixon's henchmen, George Creel, who headed the "Democrats for Nixon" [in the 1950 California Senate race - JB] club, is reported to have been paid $16,000.
February 2, 1970. Howard L. Reiter, "How Nixon Plays his Hand," The Nation, Volume 210, Issue 4 (February 2, 1970): 105. 
It should be clear by now that when Richard Nixon ventures into reformism, he does so more like the Progressive than the New Dealer. Moreover, there are indications that he identifies with the Progressive movement of 1900-20. The two presidents most frequently quoted in his 1968 campaign speeches were Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and in his first day in the White House he secured Wilson's desk, saying "I had always liked the Wilsonian background and also like the desk itself." ... When he ran against Helen Gahagan Douglas in 1950, one of his key campaign aides was George Creel, the old Wilson Progressive.
February 5, 1951. George Seldes, "New War on the Press: 'Reform from the Right,'" The Nation, Volume 180, Issue 6: 114.
Who are the apostles of the "new" criticism, the supporters of the McCarthy creed? The following is an incomplete list of publications and individuals who are supporting the Senator. ... Journalists: ... George Creel.
December 9, 1969. [Editorial], The National Review, Volume 21, Issue 48: 185.
There have always been atrocities in war, but atrocity campaigns are an innovation of this century. The first large-scale atrocity campaign was conducted by the British, later joined by the Americans under George Creel, against the Germans in World War I. Atrocity propaganda has been a feature of nearly every year since then.
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Mely Arcady said...

Sorry, are these primary sources?

John Brown said...

They are sources found in the Library of Congress's Creel Papers -- they are not "primary" in the sense that they were not penned by Creel himself in mss. form -- or so is my understanding; I stand to be corrected.