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 4
FIGHTING WITH PRINTER'S INK: WORDS AND PICTURES

NEWS was the life-blood of the CPI--news from the front, from training camps, from the White House, from farms and factories, from worker's homes, from every place that had a story to tell regarding the American people in the war. This news had to be selected, interpreted, cast into new form, translated into different languages, expressed through new media, but without it there would have been no Committee on Public Information. Dean Ford and his corps of scholars, Charles Dana Gibson and his world- famous illustrators, William Johns and his advertising men, Ernest Poole and his Foreign Press Bureau--none of these would have had material with which to work if it had not been for the spade work by the News Division, the primary source of information about the war.

As George Creel and many other people have repeatedly emphasized, press cooperation with the CPI and its support of the war rested on a "voluntary" basis, but the reader has seen in Chapter II that impressive legal authority lay behind it. This authority was gradually extended, by Congressional and Presidential action, as the war progressed, and by the time of the Armistice the government's potential control of the press was nearly complete. A self-denying ordinance by Mr. Wilson and Mr. Creel was all that stood in the way of an attempt to impose a harsh, rigorous, and thoroughgoing censorship.

Even before the CPI, an agreement for voluntary censorship had been reached by representatives of the press and of the Departments of State, War and Navy. Then, on April 16, 1917, ten days after declaration of war and three days after

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