Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to Captain William D. MacDougall, United States Naval Attaché in London
RECEIVED: 19 May, 1917. TO: Naval Attache No. 27017.
Please communicate the following to Admiral Sims, Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, European waters:-
The American Press Association printed news to the effect that the Admiralty has given official approval to the announcement that the United States Destroyers have arrived on your side.1 Please inform the Department at once if such announcement was actually made, and you were informed of it at the time. The American papers have consistently refrained from printing any news touching this subject, as the Department deemed itto be of prime importance to guard against its publication. It is believed that all future announcements concerning the movement of the United States ships should be made from the Department or at least simultaneously from London and Washington after the approval of the Navy Department has been secured.2
NO. OF COPIES. 2. REFERENCE NO.
Source Note: CCy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517.
Footnote 1: RAdm. William S. Sims. In contrast to how the British handled press censorship during the war, Daniels—a former newspaperman himself—and the United States Navy, relied on voluntary censorship. In his memoirs, Daniels wrote:
As the first destroyers were sent across the seas, I secured a conference with representatives of the press associations and Washington correspondents, seeking an understanding and coöperation. I informed them in strictest confidence of the sailing of the ships—told them that if printed on either side of the Atlantic, the man giving it currency would be responsible for deaths resulting from U-boat actin. I found my fellow journalists as keen not to give publicity to any news that might aid the enemy as they were zealous to score scoops. Their response justified my confidence and, during the war, it was abused only two or three times.” Years of War and After, 221.
The British gave the arrival of the American destroyers extensive press coverage, including a “moving picture man” who took shots of the commander of the division, Lt. Cmdr. Joseph K. Taussig, walking down his ship’s gangway. Joseph K. Taussig Papers, Mss. Coll. 97, Naval Historical Collection, entry of 6 May. The Admiralty released the news officially on 17 May, and it appeared in British papers on 18 May. Ibid., entry of 19 May. There was concern that the Germans learned of the destroyers coming and that they mined the entrance to Queenstown harbor and there was even a false report, printed in some American newspapers, that some of the destroyers were sunk. Ibid., entry of 14 June. In denying this report, which he called “A campaign of vicious rumors,” Daniels asserted that the Navy gave “repeated assurance that its policy is to be one of absolute frankness with respect to disaster.” Ibid.
Footnote 2: In a diary entry of 16 May, Daniels wrote: “Telegram from London saying our destroyers had arrived[.] Admiralty gave it out – Got out press notice & sent to the President who wrote ‘Dear Daniels, This is all right, but I hope Creel will remind the newspaper men of their requirement not to publish news of movements of our naval vessels’ – I telegraphed Sims to await advices before giving out news for London[.]” DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diary, Roll 1. “Creel” was George Creel, head of the Committee on Public Information, which was the official information agency for the U.S. Government. The “President” was Woodrow Wilson.