Selling the Great War: The Making of American Propaganda

Alan Axelrod, Author . Palgrave MacMillan $26.95 (244p) ISBN 978-0-230-60503-9

In the early 20th century, propaganda had yet to acquire the sinister name it would gain by the Cold War. One of the most important episodes in understanding the relationship between propaganda and American culture is WWI. Many American were not yet ready to support the total war effort needed to defeat Germany, and President Wilson was worried about bringing the public along. Enter George Creel, a journalist and Democratic Party activist, who brought modern marketing to American politics. Appointed to the Committee on Public Information to control public opinion, Creel imbedded reporters in various governmental agencies, totally controlled information, planted stories and threatened outright censorship. Within months, Creel had an army of public speakers, hundreds of reporters and a propaganda machine unimagined in American history. While this is an important story involving a remarkable character, Axelrod’s (Patton on Leadership ) shoddy research undermines the book: the author has not consulted either archival material, the vast newspaper sources or government documents. Instead, he relies too heavily on Creel’s writings. Nor does Axelrod place his subject in the larger sphere of either media or marketing history. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 12/15/2008
Release date: 03/01/2009
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