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In Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Box OV 7, the following item can be found in a folio scrapbook, p. 7: "The Creel 'Elaboration' A Flagrant Example of Misleading Censorship by Government Officials" [penciled in at the margin in barely legible handwriting S F Examiner, no date, but most likely summer of 1917]:
Just what this Government wants with a press censor, and what this Government would do with a press censor if it had one, is pretty clearly illustrated in the recent blundering performance of Mr. George Creel.
Nobody knows by what authority of Government Mr. Creel is sitting in the seat of the censor or what particular fund is paying him for his rhetorical services. Senator Penrose has introduced n the Senate a resolution to ascertain this information.
But it does not matter. Mr. Creel has for some time been rioting rhetorically in the title of Chairman of the Committee on Public Information. The President placed him there. He evidently is not working for nothing, and his work is applauded by the Secretary of the Navy, even if it is resented by the public that pays the salaries of both.
The Secretary of the Navy, who is to be credited with some recent excellent work against the coal barons and the oil magnates, is sharing in the indignant ridicule being heaped upon the wanton “elaborator” of the succinct and sufficient dispatches of Admiral Gleaves.
Admiral Gleaves wrote a clear, definite official account of the contact with one or more German submarines of the convoys accompanying our soldier-laden transports to France. Creel, “the Administration’s censor,” took the dispatch and rewrote it with the reckless rhetoric of as the Fourth of July orator into the thrilling battle of our navy with German submarines "in force," and made a flaming story without foundation of fact. Creel wrote it. Daniels chuckled over it and sponsored it with his name, and thought it was fine. And the public would laugh at both Creel and Daniels if it was not thoroughly indignant with them both.
But the whole incident furnished a sample of the Administration’s idea of a censor, and the sample is promptly repudiated by the American people. If the public had not risen indignantly to rebuke the performance, it would doubtless have been repeated all during the war – since there was not a chirp of audible condemnation in Government circles over the highly colored, inaccurate and untruthful story concocted out of Admiral Gleaves’ official dispatch. [NB: The below in capital letters in the text.]
THE EVIL OF SUPPRESSING THE NEWS OF A VITAL WAR PERIOD LIKE THIS SHOULD ONLY BE LESS CRIMINAL THAN THE EVIL OF FALSIFYING THE NEWS! …
‘IF ANY PARTY OR ADMINISTRATION IS GIVEN THE RIGHT TO ALTER FACTS IN THE NEWS IT WILL SURELY ALTER THEM IN ITS OWN INTEREST.” …
THE PEOPLE WILL NEVER KNOW WHAT HAS ACTUALLY HAPPENED, BUT ONLY WHAT THE ADMINISTRATION WOULD LIKE THEM TO HAVE THEM BELIEVE HAS HAPPENED. …
THE ADMINISTRATION PRESUMES TO IMPRESS UPON THIS PEOPLE THAT THIS IS THEIR WAR.
WHEN, IN POINT OF FACT, THE PEOPLE ARE NOT EVEN ALLOWED TO NOW THE TRUTH ABOUT THIS WAR!
An article summarizing the hostility of Senator Sherman from Illinois toward Creel gives a flavor of how much he was despised by some members of Congress and the public, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Box
OV 7 [penciled in “San Diego Paper’; n.d. [probably July 1918]; folio scrapbook, p. 67.
Merely as an example of what an American statesman can do in the way of satirical invective, we shall devote this editorial space solely to extracts from a speech from Senator Sherman of Illinois against government control of the telephone and telegraph. The object of the Illinois senator’s “barbed shafts” was George Creel, a shining mark and vulnerable to the winged thoughts of a thousand merry marksmen.
Senator Sherman took the view that if the measure under debate was enacted into law, George Creel, chairman of the committee on public information, might become the wire censor, as he is now the “public censor.”
Continuing, Senator Sherman reviewed the activities of the committee. Note the pungency of the allusions and the picturesqueness of the diction: “Creel is the parent trunk, which forks so near the ground that no saw timber can be got out of it. Moving pictures and professors of elocution synchronize themselves in voice and action. Speakers are classified into four-minute squad and those who run an oratorical marathon. The long-distance men are usually hardened miscreants who can talk for hours without obtaining permanent relief. Some have a chronic propensity to part their names and hair in the middle and wear lavender spats in the corn belt. Mr. Creel suffered intensely from their refusal to harmonize themselves with the western landscape.”
Speaking of what he called a “reprehensible type of journalism to which he (Mr. Creel) contributed 10,000 words before he was regenerated," Senator Sherman said: “It aimed at shock rather than sense, and usually hit its mark. It was miserable. It cannot be denatured without being defunct. Its brilliancy is the glow of putrescence. It shines with the fitful glimmer of decay, like the phosphorescence of a deceased fish.”
Referring to the Creel bureau’s feature story on Secretary Baker, Senator Sherman declared that “It identified unmistakably the toad-eater from whence it came. He then described the feature, which was entitled “Round the Clock With Baker,” and purported to relate to the Secretary’s activities, his dress and his recent trip to France. “After enduring this from Creel, the terrors of a Hun invasion are considerably mitigated,” said the caustic-tongue senator. “Congress is stigmatized as a slum [SEE BELOW – JB]. After this, any servile deputy candle-snuffer is at liberty to revile us at pleasure. Any gangrened egoist afflicted with ingrowing conceit may spurn Congress and demand appropriations to feed him, with the complacent assurance that precedent now justifies anything.”
George Creel may be impervious to this sort of things. He is himself in his unofficial function, something of a dabster at verbal calumny. He has mucked much with the rake of the journalistic scavenger. Now that his pen is guided by the policy of the administration which he serves, his powers of vehement retort are largely curtailed, although he did manage on one memorable occasion to say that he “never went slumming into the hearts of congressmen.” He probably contents himself with the bitter laugh of the scorner when his contemners [sic] charge hil [sic] with “Creeling” [my emphasis] the press of America and writing stuff the brilliancy of which shine with the fitful glimmer of a dead mackerel in a dark cellar. Unhappily for George Creel, the sardonic smile is now his sole defense and consolation. He is naked to his enemies, not is the bleak wind of their disesteem tempered in kindliness for his nakedness; it blows chill as an Alaska gust on a cool September morn. And Creel must “Say it with a smile,” or say it not all.
But wait until the war is only history; wait until the fetters are stricken from the aching wrists of this “public censor,” wait until the clarion cry of Creel shall be “Havoc!” ere he lets slip the dogs of another war! Wait – watchfully – if you will; but wait – patiently if you must. There’ll be doings in the old town when Creel is once more free to shoot it up. There’ll be grudges to wipe out, feuds to fight to the finish, vendettas to pursue, revenges to expiate, scores to write off the long-standing account. And trust George Creel to make good for all he suffers when once again he swing his vorpal pen in the dusty arena of gladiatorial journalistics.
image from, with caption: John Tenniel's original illustration of "Jabberwocky" from Through the Looking-Glass features the vorpal sword.