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Episode from the podcastSpectrum

American Governmental Propaganda Starts in WWI but Still Thrives Today

Released Tuesday, 13th October 2020
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In World War I, President Woodrow Wilson started an agency for governmental propaganda. It became the precursor and template of today’s governmental manipulation of information which often creates fictions and promotes those in power.

Author, scholar, and journalist Dr. John Maxwell Hamilton delves into the birth of American government propaganda in his new book “Manipulating the Masses: Woodrow Wilson and the Birth of American Propaganda“ and traces its impact on the American Presidency from Woodrow Wilson to President Donald J. Trump.

The first governmental propaganda agency was created just eight days after the USA entered World War I and only existed for 1.5 years, but it became the template for how the government can manipulate information to steer public opinion, says Dr. Hamilton

The Committee on Public Information (CPI) was America’s first and only ministry of propaganda but it left a powerful legacy.

Hamilton explains the pervasiveness of the Committee’s reach. It touched every part of America including advertising, artists, universities, travelling salesmen and even the Boy Scouts, according to Hamilton.

He notes that the CPI did instill some valuable information practices such as creating the “Federal Register” to bring governmental information to the masses and to delve into international policies.

However, he also says that the CPI was often racist, undemocratic and coercive.

Today, Dr. Hamilton writes that governmental propaganda is “out of control. Too large to control. And, we have insufficient guardrails to curb it.”

It has developed cynicism about government among our citizens and it’s a precursor of many of the techniques we see used by Presidents and other politicians today.

Hamilton is the Hopkins P. Breazeale LSU Foundation Professor of Journalism in the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University. He also is a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. Dr. Hamilton also serves as a senior associate for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

The book is published by the LSU Press.
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