Chapter 6 – House of Truth

In April 1917, one week after President Woodrow Wilson announced war on Germany, he established a campaign from the CPI, the United States Committee on Public Information. The CPI would be a propaganda effort for the U.S. at the time of war. They were to reflect popular public opinion and deliver it throughout the country.

Prior to April, the government planned to collect the predicted positive public opinion and plant it everywhere through propaganda. Instead, they began to discover hidden pockets of distrust the public had for Wilson, worries people had in the immigrant loyalty, and the possibility of secrecy. Wilson then found a past student and Progressive, Arthur Bullard. Bullard advised Wilson to create a publicity bureau, that would be in charge of reminding the public how important it was to support the men back at home. He then suggested that the government hire trained writers to feed Army stories at home to the public. Bullard claimed,

In order to make a democracy to fight wholeheartedly, it is necessary to make them understand the situation.”

President Wilson then asked Walter Lippman to create a timeline of events and suggestions for the publicity bureau and propaganda schedule. He then hired George Creel as Civilian Director for the bureau, a Progressive publicist who truly knew liberal public opinion and would be able to predict and shut down any opposition to the war. Hun_or_Home^_Buy_More_Liberty_Bonds.%22_-_NARA_-_512664The CPI then went on to create their own newspaper, the Official Bulletin, to be sent out to political officials, other newspapers, and large corporations who would then further distribute the information. The CPI took on a Pictorial Publicity division to further artistic efforts for the U.S. propaganda.

Persuasion was at an all-time high when along with the CPI’s own propaganda, D.W. Griffith released his film, Birth of a Nation. This film took on a whole new level of propaganda aside from the facts and news, it was entertainment. This propelled the CPI’s new film division towards propaganda efforts.

The CPI was not only a huge publicity agent, but a new way of thinking – utilizing symbols in any way possible. This was a new way to influence public opinion. Opportunities for publicists were growing.

Although the CPI dismantled at the end of the war, I see the creation of the CPI as a successful crisis management strategy by President Wilson and his advisees. Through the help of Bullard, Lippman, and Creel, President Wilson was able to forsee possible crises, plan, avoid, and influence. This was very important at a time when lives are at stake, with families at home waiting for their loved ones. Although the CPI used persuasion to further avoid crisis – or opposition of the war – in the end it was for the best I believe. Gaining support at home is important to give the country hope in their fight. Bullard’s idea to create the bureau was historical, and Lippman’s strategy was clearly effective. The rise in media forms for propaganda during the war was also vital to its success- the cartoons, the movies, etc.

Crisis management today, although based around corporations and not the government, is still very important. With social media allowing public opinion to spread like wildfire, companies must be able to act faster than ever. Strategy is vital, and some companies still do not have what it takes ….

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