CPI: Persuading a Nation to War

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The Committee on Public Information: Persuading a nation to War Dr Krystina Benson Assistant Professor Public Relations Human[i]ties Perspective Conference October 5 th 2012

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Video of the conference can be found here: http://media.ruc.dk/2012-10-05_3/iframe2.html Title: The Committee on Public Information: Persuading a nation to war Paper Abstract: This paper discusses findings from an archival case study of the Committee on Public Information about how the cultural systems of propaganda, journalism and popular culture can be used in persuading, informing and entertaining of audiences to galvanize support for a cause. The Committee on Public Information (CPI) was an American government propaganda organisation credited with successfully mobilizing public opinion to gain support to enter World War I. The CPI had over twenty divisions. This study analyses three: the Division of News, composed of newspapermen to gain media support; the Four Minute Men, a national group of rhetorical orators who spoke at motion-picture houses; and the Division of Pictorial Publicity, a group of famous illustrators who created the only colour images available of the war. A variety of opposed stakeholders, including immigrants of Irish and German descent, women who were considered dangerous pacifists, and businessmen whose industries were needed to generate war goods, were addressed through a transmedia campaign. Strategies of the campaign included media relations, endorsements by public figures and celebrities, and inducing citizen-to-citizen peer pressure at a local level, and social interaction on a local, state and national level. The CPI’s propaganda campaign utilized all media forms available at that time including the tactics of speeches, posters, buttons, music, school competitions, and fashion. The highly successful campaign rallied the nation to arms and war work, and convinced Americans to change their daily lives in order to ration war goods and financially support the war. The study contributes to understanding how the expectations of persuasion, truth and amusement relate to each other when mediated in cultural systems. An analysis using close reading of archival documents and Yuri Lotman’s concept of the semiosphere found that media credibility and transmedia bridged a gap between disparate cultural systems to create a successful campaign.

Transcript of CPI: Persuading a Nation to War

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The Committee on Public Information: Persuading a nation to War

Dr Krystina Benson Assistant Professor Public Relations

Human[i]ties Perspective Conference October 5th 2012

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•  Curiosity about general assumptions

•  Who is the CPI?

•  Research question

•  What did I find? CPI: Data: DoN, FMM, DPP

•  Methods and methodology

•  Modern relationship (thank you reviewers…)

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Curiosity about general assumptions: Different discourses

Propaganda Journalism

Popular Culture

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Committee on Public Information (CPI)

•  Created April 13, 1917

•  WWII - Official American government propaganda organisation

•  Creel – journalist, friend of President Wilson

•  “it was a plain publicity proposition, a vast enterprise in salesmanship, the world's greatest adventure in advertising. There was no part of the great war machinery that we did not touch, no medium of appeal that we did not employ” (Creel, 2006, 4).

•  Over 20 divisions: Four Minute Men, Division of News, Division of Pictorial Publicity

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Research Question What can the CPI tell us about the relationship between

propaganda, journalism and popular culture?

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National Archives and Records Administration II

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CPI: Division of News

•  Provide information about governments activities

•  Mimeograph service produced copies of press releases which Creel (2006) estimated at “20,000 columns per week” as an “extremely conservative estimate for the use made of the service by the press of America” (14).

•  “some 30,000 newspapers with feature articles, a weekly news service, and governmental publicity material of all sorts” (RG63, CPI 1-D1).

Published: June 30, 1917Copyright © The New York Times

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Division of News

•  “the channels of communication were literally choked with official, approved news and opinion, leaving little freeway for rumor or disloyal reports” (Mock and Larson, 1939, 11)

•  targeted audiences in press releases which specifically aimed to persuade businessmen, women and newspapermen and finally, strong themes of patriotism and peer pressure were propagated in news releases.

•  Ran voluntary censorship of the press •  Prescribed interactions for journalists,

which interfered with their ability to produce news

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CPI: Four Minute Men •  Radio before radio

•  4 minute speeches often in movie theatres between films

•  Over “75,000 speakers, operating in 5,200 communities, and making a total of 755,190 speeches, every one having the carry of shrapnel” (Creel, 1920, p. 7)

•  Volunteers of ministers, reverends, politicians, those with credentials, references and recommendations

•  Four Minute Men Bulletins and News

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Four Minute Men

•  Join Hoover’s food drive

•  Educational and fundraising campaigns for the American Red Cross, recruited for the Army, Navy and war industries

•  Propagated nationalism, patriotism, hatred for the enemy and democracy promotion

Niles Essanay

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Four Minute Men News Bulletin

Hatred has been stirred up in civilian popular in order to encourage enlistment . . . But whether the appeal be to hatred or fear, the fundamental of all is that it be based on truth … we want abiding truth, for it makes abiding conviction. Emotions may wave and surge. On the other hand, feelings built on beliefs, beliefs that are founded on profound convictions, and convictions dug deep into the rock of fundamental fact, these are not swayed and stirred like waves in a storm. Not an appeal to emotionalism, but an appeal to the emotions through conviction by statement of facts secures true converts, converts who when once convinced remain convinced” (CPI, B:B, 1-2, emphasis added)

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CPI: Division of Pictorial Publicity

•  Over 1,400 works, 318+ artists •  Most famous illustrators of the time

produced posters, murals, buttons, paintings, draw talks (right) and artwork

•  Particularly appealing to “the thoughtless person” (Vaughn, 1979, 155).

•  Creel (2006): “the printed word might not be read, people might not choose to attend meetings or to watch motion pictures, but the billboard was something that caught even the most indifferent eye” (133).

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Division of Pictorial Publicity

•  Function - communicate a specific emotional message that was connected to another portion of their campaigns

•  Posters are a branch of advertising specifically and of persuasive arts generally (Gowans, 1984, 9).

Published: October 28, 1917Copyright © The New York Times

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•  Based in Media and Cultural Studies

•  Archival contextualization (Wodak, 2001; Silverstone, 1999)

•  Close reading

•  Semiotics (Pierce)

•  Context: Relevant factors to consider?

•  Medium: What is it made of ?

•  Content: What is ‘in’ the text?

Mr and Mrs Woodrow Wilson at the Fourth Liberty Loan Parade

1918, 5th Ave. New York

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Archival contextualization •  Varied audience to persuade: Immigrants of Irish and

German descent, women (‘dangerous pacifists’), Businessmen (financial interests), Children (in own right and to influence parents)

•  Muckraking journalism – journalists on both sides •  Espionage Act 1917 & Amendment Sedition Act, 1918

No one “shall wilfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States” (US Sedition Act, 1918)

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Recall general assumptions: Applying Lotman’s semiosphere

Propaganda Journalism

Popular Culture

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Lotman’s Semiosphere based on Vernadsky’s Biosphere


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Yuri Lotman’s Semiosphere

•  Applied to Russian literature and translation

•  Some can be translated and some cannot

•  As applied here, “translation” is e.g. a piece of propaganda published in a newspaper that IS recognised as such

•  Untranslation is when it is not = implications: transmedia, and media credibility

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Findings: War propaganda transmedia campaign

Propaganda Journalism

Popular Culture

•  Cultural expectations (boundaries) encourage and discourage transition between semiospheres according to their permeability

•  As Lotman (1990) explains, “innovation comes about when the principles of one genre are restructured according to the laws of another, and this ‘other’ genre organically enters the new structure and at the same time preserves a memory of its other system of encoding” (137)

•  People unable to distinguish between?

•  Ethical?

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Findings: Semiosphere

Propaganda Journalism

Popular Culture

•  Semantic untranslation describes the movement from one semiosphere into another without a change in the cultural expectations while it ‘performs’ in the ‘new’ semiosphere

•  The semiosphere then contains its original cultural functional expectations, but with actual performative differences (credibility)

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Findings: Transmedia

•  Jenkins (2006) - Transmedia

•  FMM are asked to “please make it your duty to inform [your local papers] fully concerning our plans for the week and make certain that you are given the “Four Minute Men” care (CPI, B:10, 1917,1 ).

•  Arnold Daly (FMM speech), Betty Blythe, Jack Pickford, Richard Barthelmess and Tom K. Corless

New York Tribune, April 7, 1918

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Findings: Peer pressure and transmedia

•  Peer pressure – pin backs to show you have purchased a war bond

•  “Patriotism and profits ought never in the present circumstances be mentioned together. … Patriotism leaves profits out of the question. … When they are giving their lives will not he give at least his money?” (Wilson cited in CPI 4-A1).

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Findings: Media credibility •  A continual process of semiotisation occurs

between boundaries that are both translated and untranslated

•  Propaganda gained credibility when published in newspapers and was sustained through popular culture

•  Popular Culture – such as posters, confirmed messages from other media forms and also introduced new messages which were given credibility through a transmedia campaign

•  Journalism - censorship, sedition act and generally journalists following the voluntary agreement

“the emphasis on the possibility of a German invasion in the publicity for the Fourth Liberty Loan was one of the reasons for its tremendous success” (van Schaack, 2006, 43)

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The U.S.Army's Office of the Chief of Public Affairs, West Region Branch goal: •  to educate American

and global audiences about the U.S. Army

•  by ensuring realistic/ plausible portrayal of Soldiers in the entertainment media.

-Mr. Ken Hawes, OCPA-West Chief

The modern relationship

Transformers (2007) http://screenviewer.blogspot.de/


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The modern relationship

•  Less than 1% of the U.S. population is in the armed forces

•  “Whatever their fond sentiments for men and women in uniform, for most Americans the war remains an abstraction – a distant and unpleasant series of news items that do not affect them personally” (U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Flaherty, Huffington Post, 2010)

•  The press still is censored and self censored

•  The Daily Show: Let’s see more graphic images of war events depicting the “tragic reality of war,” because “we can only make decisions about war, if we know what war really is” (Stewart, 2011).

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Pentagon to Troops: Taliban Can Read WikiLeaks, You Can’t (Wired, Shachtman, 2010).

“You can’t handle the truth”

A Few Good Men http://www.youtube.com/


The modern relationship

“This is the truth” WikiLeaks



“What is truth, who knows it?”

Benson Photo: Max Whittaker/Corbis


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Applying lessons

•  How can social media be used in conjunction with other sources – i.e. journalism and popular culture in order to educate a community about the benefits of a long term transit project?

•  What content, frequency, messaging, media mix etc. would serve the needs of the community best?

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I welcome your questions, comments and feedback.

Thank you!

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Acknowledgements Thanks to my crew: NARA archives I & II, the Library of Congress, and the

Australian Government for awarding me the Endeavour International Postgraduate Research Scholarship and to QUT Grant in Aid Scheme, and Bond University

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References Creel, George. (2006 [1920]). How We Advertised America: The First Telling of the Amazing Story of the Committee on Public Information that Carried the Gospel of Americanism to Every Corner of the Globe. New Hampshire: Ayer. Flaherty, Anne. (2010). “Robert Gates: Too Few Americans Bear The Burdens Of War.” The Huffington Post. September 29, 2010. Retrieved online at: <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/29/robert-gates-war-burdens-too-few- bear_n_744536.html?igoogle=1> Accessed on December 27, 2010. Gowans, Alan. (1984). Posters as Persuasive Arts in Society. Art Journal. Vol. 44, No. 1, The Poster. 9-10. College Art Association. Retrieved online at: <http://www.jstor.org.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/stable/776667> Accessed March, 20, 2010. Jenkins, Henry. (2006). Convergence culture: where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press. Lotman, Juri. (1990). Universe of the Mind: A Semiotic Theory of Culture. Trans. Anne Shukman. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Lotman, Juri. (2005). “On Semiosphere.” Translated by Wilma Clark. Sign Systems Studies, Vol. 33, No. 1, pp. 205–29. Lotman, Juri. (2009). Culture and Explosion. Ed. Marina Grishakova, trans. Wilma Clark. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. Mock, James R. and Cedric Larson. (1939). Words That Won the War Words that Won the War: The Story of the Committee on Public Information, 1917–1919. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Niles, California, USA. Shachtman, Noah. (2010). “Pentagon to Troops: Taliban Can Read WikiLeaks, You Can’t.” Wired. August 6, 2010. Retrieved online at: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/08/pentagon-to-troops-taliban-can-read-wikileaks-you-cant/ Accessed August 8, 2010. Stewart, John. (2011). The Daily Show. Retrieved online at: <http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/wed-may-4-2011-david-barton> Acessed May 5, 2011. USAEO. United States Army Entertainment Office. (2010). United States Army, USA Facebook Page. <http://www.facebook.com/USArmyEntertainmentOffice>. Accessed 11!November 2010. Van Schaack, Eric. “The Division of Pictorial Publicity in World War I.” Design Issues Vol. 22 Winter. pp. 32–45. Vaughn, Stephen. (1980). Holding Fast the Inner Lines: Democracy, Nationalism, and the Committee on Public Information. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. Vaughn, Stephen. (1979). “First Amendment Liberties and the Committee on Public Information.” The American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 23, No. 2, pp. 95–119. Wodak, Ruth. (2001). “The Discourse-Historical Approach.” In Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis, Eds. R. Wodak and M. Meyer. London: Sage, pp. 63–93.

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References LEGISLATION Sedition Act 1918 (May 16, 1918, ch. 75, 40 Stat. 553). ARCHIVES AND COLLECTIONS National Archives and Records Administration, Archives II, College Park, MD Record Group 63 Committee on Public Information Record Group 4. Still Picture Records Section, Special Media Archives Division, College Park, MD. Key to in text citation: (Author, RG4, Section Number-Descriptor, year). E.g. (CPI, RG4, 70, 1918). Record Group 59. General Records of the Department of State. 811.911/13 Wilson, Woodrow. (1917). “Title page.” In Eds. Committee on Public Information (CPI). National Service Handbook, Red, White and Blue Series, No. 2. Washington, DC: US Government. Library of Congress, Washington, DC Bulletin/4 Minute Men 4. [Washington, DC: Division of Four Minute Men, Committee on Public Information], 1917–1918. LC Control No.: 85064817 Key to in text citation: (Author, Bulletin: Number, page, year). E.g. (CPI, B:F, 8, 1918). CPI, 1918. Beat back the hun with Liberty Bonds/F. Strothmann. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/94505100/ CPI, 1917. Teamwork builds ships / W.D. Stevens. <http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002722566/> CPI, 1918. That liberty shall not perish from the earth - Buy Liberty Bonds Fourth Liberty Loan / / Joseph Pennell del.; Ketterlinus Phila. imp. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002712077/ CPI, 1918. They give their lives, do you lend your savings? W.S.S.--War Savings Stamps issued by the United States government / / H. Devitt Welsh. <http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003652826/> CPI, 1918. Pershing's crusaders--Auspices of the United States government / The H.C. Miner Litho. Co. N.Y. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/pos/item/2002712072/ CPI, 1918. We've fought in the open - bubonic plague, yellow fever, tuberculosis--now venereal diseases / H. Dewitt Welsh. <http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/96502763>