The Perils of Propaganda
On the evening of June 23, 1918, a sign went up outside New York's Broadway Theater warning late arrivals that a film called The Yanks Are Coming would not be coming. In bold yellow letters, the makeshift poster ordered by a furious film producer declared that the showing had been: “STOPPED BY THE CREEL-HEARST COMMITTEE.”
It is unlikely that more than a handful of moviegoers coming to the Broadway Theater to see the short documentary about aircraft preparedness, filmed by the Universal Film Manufacturing Company at the DaytonWright Airplane factory, would have any notion of what the sign meant. Those already in the theater sat in silence as James M. Sheen, counsel for Universal, took the stage and explained the reason for the ban. The film was being stopped, Sheen said, because something called “the Committee” had maintained that the film was missing an appropriate permit and that it might in some way divulge military secrets. At the risk of bringing on a Justice Department investigation and possible criminal action, Sheen said, the theater had decided to cancel the screening. Finally, Sheen got specific, and he laid the blame for the banning of The Yanks Are Coming on the “Creel Committee” and its cozy relationship with William Randolph Hearst.
The “Creel Committee” was the Committee on Public Information (CPI), the United States' first ministry of propaganda, headed by George