Words That Won the War: The Story of the Committee on Public Information, 1917-1919

By James R. Mock; Cedric Larson | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
GEORGE CREEL'S IMPROVISATION

THE structure of the Committee on Public Information defies blueprinting. It was developed according to no careful plan. It was improvised on the job, and the job was never completed. From the moment of its birth in April 1917 until it passed into history half a year after the Armistice, the Committee's organization, activities, and personnel changed incessantly. The staff was always coming and going in important haste, and the work itself underwent continual change of scope and direction.

Main objectives were fixed, but two hours never passed without a new idea for achieving them. Bureaus were thrown together in an evening on the flash of someone's four o'clock inspiration, and on some other day might be as speedily closed down, merged with another office, or directed to assume entirely new duties.

Three of Woodrow Wilson's Cabinet members had presented the germ of an idea, and Presidential proclamation had ordered its development; but it was the brilliant and restless mind of George Creel that took this idea and created a vast and complex organization of which the President and his advisers could not have dreamed when they inaugurated the CPI in the first week after declaration of war.

Mr. Creel was called in to rectify an appallingly bad and chaotic system of government news release which had tried the patience of working newspapermen and at the same time had failed to satisfy federal officials. The press could not get as much information as it wanted, yet the State Department and the war-making divisions of the government were angered by publication of some of the news that the papers had secured.

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