The absence of public unity was a primary concern when America entered the war on April 6, 1917. In Washington, unwavering public support was considered to be crucial to the entire wartime effort.
On April 13, 1917, Wilson created the
Committee on Public Information (CPI) to promote the war domestically while publicizing American war aims abroad. Under the leadership of a muckraking journalist named George Creel, the
CPI recruited heavily from business, media, academia, and the art world. The CPI blended advertising techniques with a
sophisticated understanding of human psychology, and its efforts represent the first time that a modern government
disseminated propaganda on such a large scale. It is fascinating that this phenomenon, often linked with totalitarian regimes, emerged in a democratic state.....
Although George Creel was an outspoken critic of censorship at the hands of public servants, the CPI took immediate
steps to limit damaging information. Invoking the threat of German propaganda, the CPI implemented "voluntary guidelines" for the news media and helped to pass the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. The CPI did not have explicit enforcement power, but it nevertheless "enjoyed censorship power which was tantamount to direct legal force."....
One of the most important elements of the CPI was the Division of News, which distributed more than 6,000 press releases and acted as the primary conduit for war-related information....
The word "propaganda" has already been used several times, and the reader may wonder how this term is being used.
... According to Lasswell, "propaganda relies on symbols to attain
its end: the manipulation of collective attitudes."
Propagandists usually attempt to influence individuals while leading each one to behave
'as though his response were his own decision.' Mass communication tools extend the propagandist's reach and make it possible to shape the attitudes of many individuals simultaneously. Because propagandists attempt to
"do the other fellow's thinking for him," they prefer indirect messages to overt, logical arguments.
During the war, the CPI accomplished this by making calculated
emotional appeals, by demonizing Germany, by linking the war to the goals of various social groups, and, when necessary, by