Saturday, October 18, 2014

Propaganda and Censorship: Committee on Public Information Creel's Powers over the Press

Note for a Planned Article
"Creel, Lippmann, and the Origins of American Public Diplomacy"
(comments welcome; draft, not for citation)

Committee on Public Information (1917-1919) Chairman George Creel's censorship powers/responsibilities is well described in article (which cites the key works by Mock and Larson and by Vaughn on the CPI) by Bruce Pinkerton, "The Campaign of the Committee on Public Information: Its Contribution to the History and Evolution of Public Relations," Journal of Public Relations Research 6 (4), pp. 230-1:
The Creel Committee possessed no official censorship authority. Creel advocated voluntary censorship opposing the severe restrictions favored by the U.S. military leaders and already in use in Britain and France  [JB note: Secretary of State Lansing also favored restrictions]. In May 1917, the CPI issued a "Preliminary Statement to the Press of the United States," dividing news into three categories: dangerous, questionable, and routine. The dangerous category contained news items relating to military operations in progress, threats against the life of the president, the movement of official missions, and related service matters. This information was never to be printed. The questionable category included information concerning training-camp routines, technical innovations and war-related rumors. The bulk of news materials fell into the routine category and was of no concern to the CPI. 
Image from, with caption: An unidentified group of American military censors at work in an unidentified location during the First World War. During this conflict, the US military began its first large-scale censorship of troop mail. Censors were on the alert for anything that might aid the enemy. References that were almost certain to be cut or blacked out were those to troop locations and movements.
Despite the voluntary nature of this agreement, Creel was a member of the Censorship Board [JB note: established by Wilson's executive order on October 12, 1917] and possessed a high degree of influence. From his position, Creel could suggest that the Department of Justice prosecute an editor, prohibit a newspaper from using the mail, or cut off a newspaper's supply of newsprint. Evidence indicates that Creel sought to suppress information that portrayed the United States unfavorably or that contained ideas he felt were too dangerous for the U.S. public

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