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Manipulating the Masses: Woodrow Wilson and the Birth of American Propaganda

Manipulating the Masses: Woodrow Wilson and the Birth of American Propaganda


Book Overview: Manipulating the Masses: Woodrow Wilson and the Birth of American Propaganda

Manipulating the Masses tells the story of the enduring threat to American democracy that arose out of World War I: the establishment of pervasive, systematic propaganda as an instrument of the state. During the Great War, the federal government exercised unprecedented power to shape the views and attitudes of American citizens. Its agent for this was the Committee on Public Information (CPI), established by President Woodrow Wilson one week after the United States entered the war in April 1917.

Driven by its fiery chief, George Creel, the CPI reached every crevice of the nation, every day, and extended widely abroad. It established the first national newspaper, made prepackaged news a quotidian aspect of governing, and pioneered the concept of public diplomacy. It spread the Wilson administration's messages through articles, cartoons, books, and advertisements in newspapers and magazines; through feature films and volunteer Four Minute Men who spoke during intermission; through posters plastered on buildings and along highways; and through pamphlets distributed by the millions. It enlisted the nation's leading progressive journalists, advertising executives, and artists. It harnessed American universities and their professors to create propaganda and add legitimacy to its mission.

Even as Creel insisted that the CPI was a conduit for reliable, fact-based information, the office regularly sanitized news, distorted facts, and played on emotions. Creel extolled transparency but established front organizations. Overseas, the CPI secretly subsidized news organs and bribed journalists. At home, it challenged the loyalty of those who occasionally questioned its tactics. Working closely with federal intelligence agencies eager to sniff out subversives and stifle dissent, the CPI was an accomplice to the Wilson administration's trampling of civil liberties.

Until now, the full story of the CPI has never been told. John Maxwell Hamilton consulted over 150 archival collections in the United States and Europe to write this revealing history, which shows the shortcuts to open, honest debate that even well-meaning propagandists take to bend others to their views. Every element of contemporary government propaganda has antecedents in the CPI. It is the ideal vehicle for understanding the rise of propaganda, its methods of operation, and the threat it poses to democracy.

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PublisherLSU Press
Publication Date2020-10-21
EditionFirst Edition
Dimensionsin x in x in
Weight lbs
John Maxwell Hamilton is a globally distinguished journalist, author, and educator, renowned for his perceptive insight in the field of journalism and communication. A hopkins P. Breazeale Professor at Louisiana State University, Hamilton has significantly contributed to academia while helming various executive roles, including the dean of the Manship School of Mass Communication. Hamilton started his career as a foreign correspondent, reporting from more than 50 countries for a myriad of reputed publications. His diverse experience as a journalist, coupled with his astute analytical skills, has made him an influential voice in media policy issues. Hamilton has authored numerous books on journalism, including the renowned "Journalism's Roving Eye," which became a vital resource in journalism history. In recognition of his immense contribution to media studies, Hamilton has been awarded various honors, including the DeWitt Carter Reddick Award and the Murray Endowment. His work consistently displays a strong dedication to journalistic integrity and a passion for improving the conscience of mass communication.

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