Propaganda & Mass Persuasion: The WAR, CPI and a Crisis of the American Media

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The WAR, CPI and a Crisis of the American Media

The Generative Crisis of the American Media
The coming of the World War One puts American media into a generative crisis: the international climate at that time were tending to have government control over media—those with that kind of tradition, like Germany and Russia strengthened it; and those did not have that before, like Britain, as Paul Starr said, also “built up propaganda as well as censorship capacities.” In 1914, British government built up Britain’s first central propaganda bureau, the Department (later the Ministry) of Information.
Then President of the United States, Wilson, as Starr narrated, “faced the challenge of converting much of the public from a belief in neutrality that he had encouraged.” In order to achieve the goal as to make Americans willing to get into the War, he appointed George Creel to be the director of the Committee on Public Information, a federal office intending to manage public opinion.
George Creel used to be a progressive journalist, and after he get into the office, employed every channel of communication, to influence the public sphere and latter “turned to censorship.”
George Creel, as he said in his work, Public Opinion in War Time, did not believe “public opinion has its rise in the emotions, or that it is tipped from one extreme to the other by every passing rumor, by every gust of passion, or by every storm of anger.” He believed he could use the control over the press to influence and even control the public opinion and he really did that.
In addition to that, he proposed that after a period of direct influence on the pblic, censorship of speech will not need to be “imposed by Washington, but by the intolerance and bigotries of individual communities.”
His assumption was pretty close to the reality at that time. In order to guarantee the victory on the field, the Congress passed The Espionage Act and then The Sedition Act, giving the President the right to censor the public opinion. President Wilson soon established a Censorship Board, which included Creel, Burleson, and Attorney General Thomas W. Gregory. After that, as Starr said: because absence of the fear of legal consequences, “mobs of vigilantes attacked, beat and in a few cases murdered people whom they suspected of disloyalty.”
After World War One, immigrants began to get into the United States massively, and this made some local Americans uneasy. That fact, in addition with those things happened in Germany and Russia, made some progressives to try to regulate and “Americanized” new immigrants. Robert E. Park wrote in his work, Controlling Through Alliance: “The desire of native Americans (maybe he did not know that one should be local Indians) to control the foreign-language press has a very logical basis ”—Immigrants are different, and so, they are evil if they refused to be Americanized.
Being different from President Wilson and Gorge Creel, he did not intend to use institutional or legislative means to achieve his goal, instead, he wanted to use economical means—business commercials to influence new immigrants at that time.
But things at that time did not go as what they thought: after the War, more and more people began to realize that the War was not used to protect the democracy, instead, it was used to suspend the rights of the people. And this made those “Progressives” to evolutes to “Liberals”, “returning to the classical political liberalism of the eighteenth century, through not to the economic, laissez-faire liberalism of the nineteenth.” (Paul Starr, the Creation of the Media, Chapter Eight)

Most part of this blog is from the Book:
THE CREATION OF THE MEDIA, New York, Basic Books, 2004


Blogger A. Mattson said...

A good, substantive post. The U.S. government had to strike a balance between what Creel calls "expression and suppression." Clearly the government did like all european governments engage in censorship and even the arrest of anti-war agitators who spoke out against conscription. But the CPI was not a direct part of that censorship apparatus. It was a ministry of expression.
There was a lot of self-censorship that occured because people were afraid of being accused of disloyalty. That campaign against disloyalty was a part of CPI propaganda. Proving your loyalty to the nation became a major theme. The loyalty of immigrants was a big question and "Americanization" became an important campaign for the CPI. Creel sold "America" not war. This was a war for America to "make the world safe for democracy." The selling of American idealism was the primary function of the CPI at home and abroad.

2/23/2006 11:24 AM  

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