Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to President Woodrow Wilson
Dear Mr. President: Washington. April 11, 1917.
I am enclosing herewith two drafts of a censorship bill,1 the main provisions of which were drawn up at the Army War College. I think the one you decide upon should be introduced early.
After our conversation about appointing George Creel as Chief of Publicity, with an army and military assistant, I wrote him and he will be over to-day. His ideas are summed up in the enclosed memorandum.2 Inasmuch as the work to be done will accelerate enlistment I hope you will feel that the appointment should be made to-day. Sincerely, Josephus Daniels
[Memorandum number 1]
Department of Publicity.
1. Censorship is a word to be avoided. It is offensive to Americans, and likewise misleading. While there is much that is properly secret, the total is small compared to the vast amount of information that it is right and necessary for the people to have. The suppressive features of the work must be so overlaid by the publicity policy that they will go unregarded and unresented. Administration activities must be dramatized and staged, and every energy exerted to arouse ardor and enthusiasm. Recruiting can be stimulated and public confidence gained; extortion can be exposed and praise given to the patriotism that abates its profits; and in the rush of generous feeling much that is evil and nagging will disappear.
2. The Department must have a single civilian head. A military management suggests the censorship we are trying to avoid. Also, since the work is to cover every governmental department, no single department should have control of it.
3. Navy, Army and State should each assign a representative to the Department of Publicity. With the civilian head, they would constitute the board of censors.
4. A small, carefully picked force of newspaper men must be gathered together. Not only will they prepare for publication the matter presented by Army, Navy and State, but it will also be a daily task to visit Agriculture, Labor, Commerce, Interior, Treasury and Justice to “ get the news, ” to develop “ stories, ” and to aid the Department in an expert way to put the best foot forward. . . .
7. Branch offices are not needed. There must be no attempt to pass upon everything that is written for papers and periodicals. The law and its penalties are plain. Matter that the authors consider within the meaning of the law will be sent in to the Publicity Department for approval. Either that, or they must be prepared to take the chance of punishment. Through Washington contact with the press associations, news agencies and bureaus, cables, wireless, etc., the great news channels are guarded.
8. Either through letters, or, better still, by personal explanation to groups and associations, the general policy of the Publicity Department can be made clear, I am convinced that the policy outline, when made clear, will elicit a tremendous response, and that space devoted now to “ knocking ” will be given over to “ boosting. ”
9. If, by reason of partisanship or prejudice, vicious attacks continue, they may be handled easily without exercise of despotic power. Such articles will be ordered sent in to the Department of Publicity in advance of publication, and all assertions and attacks will be checked up. If criticism is honest, delay will be requested pending efforts at rectification. If dishonest, the error will be pointed out. In this manner, I feel that we can end the whole ugly business of lying, malicious nagging.
10. The whole spirit of the Bureau of Publicity must be one of aabsolute co-operation. It must go upon the assumption that the press is eager and willing to do the handsome thing, and its attitude must be one of frankness, friendship and entire openness.
<by George Creel>
[Enclosure-Memorandum number 2]
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That whenever in time of war in his judgment the defense of the country requires such action, the President may issue a proclamation prohibiting the publication of information, referring to the armed forces of the Government, materials or implements of war, or the means and measures that may be contemplated for the defense of the country, except when such publication shall have been duly authorized, and he may issue such regulations as may be necessary to render such prohibition effective.
Sec. 2. That after the President shall have issued such proclamation as is authorized by Sec.1. of this Act, it shall be unlawful for any person or corporation or any officer, director or agent of a corporation in his capacity as such within the jurisdiction of the United States to publish or cause or procure or wilfully or through negligence permit to be published, or to assist in the publication of any information prohibited. . . . Any corporation which so offends shall be punished by a fine of not more than twenty thousand dollars, and any officer, director or agent of any corporation. . . [who shall] permit any violation of the provisions of this act. . . shall be punished by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars or by a term of imprisonment of not more than three years, or both. . . .
Sec. 3. That nothing in this Act shall be construed to limit or restrict, nor shall any regulation herein provided for limit or restrict, any publication or discussion, comment or criticism of the acts or policies of the government or its representatives, provided no discussion, comment, or criticism, shall convey information prohibited under the provisions of Sec. 1. . . .
Source Note: TD, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Special Correspondence, Roll 65.
Footnote 1: See the enclosures attached to the end of Daniels’ letter. DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Special Correspondence, Roll 65.
Footnote 2: Creel’s is memorandum number 1. In his diary, Daniels wrote on 11 April: “Creel came over & helped me & [Secretary of War Newton] Baker & I will try to get Department of Information going-.” DLC-MSS, Daniels Papers, Diary, Roll 1. On 12 April, Wilson responded to this letter of Daniels’ writing that he liked Creel’s memorandum “very much,” and only asked that “section 3” of the second memorandum be inserted “between sections two and three” of Creel’s offering. DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Special Correspondence, reel 65. On the same day, Wilson approved the appointment of Creel as head of the “Publicity Department,” only waiting on “the method” of appointment “& th[e] pay.” Entry of 12 April, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diary, Roll 1. On 13 April, Creel received the appointment. See: Diary of Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, 13 April 1917. Ibid. Wilson’s Executive Order creating the “Committee on Public Information” directed that the State, Navy, and War department each “detail an officer or officers to the work of the Committee,” "Committee on Public Information," Accessed on 4 April 1917, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=75409. On 17 April, Daniels, Creel, Baker, Lansing, and the Counselor of the State Department Frank L. Polk met to talk about censorship. According to Daniels’ diary entry:
“We Know nothing about it [i.e., censorship]” said L and P “Let us ask England to send an experienced man. [American Ambassador to Great Britain Walter Hines] Page says that they are willing to do so”- All mail to South America should be censored, said L. “The Germans have subsidized S. American papers, we should do the same-” Idea of L & P was for following E[ngland]’s plan to create a great censorship, touching all countries to the South of us and Europe‑ to cost millions of dollars. Not so B & I, & later we talked to the President who said he wished nobody brought over from E- & did not wish C’sorship to be big[.] Ibid.
British Adm. Montague E. Browning noted in a 16 April, cable to the leadership of the British Admiralty that Lansing, Baker, and Daniels had requested the step and “opined that the two functions of censorship and publicity ‘Can be joined in honesty and with profit.’” UK-KeNA, Adm. 137/655. Throughout the war, Daniels and the Navy were very involved in the activities of Creel and the Publicity Committee, which became known as the Committee for Public Information. For more on Creel and the Committee for Public Information see, Thomas Fleming, The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I (New York: Basic Books, 2003), 93-120.