12. Report Prepared in the Division of Foreign Press, Committee on Public Information1

Report of the Division of Foreign Press (cable) up to February 1, 1918

The underlying purpose of this Division is to help in the dissemination of news regarding America with special reference to making clear the reasons why this country entered the war, its purposes, military preparations and efforts. America is appealing to the good sense and democratic instincts of the world. Such an appeal lacks reality unless it reaches the newspaper readers of the world. This particular Division deals with “spot” news i.e., material requiring dissemination by telegram, cable or radio.

Speaking generally, it is fair to say that America has largely been misunderstood throughout the world and developments in this country have been badly or inadequately presented in the foreign press. This is no new condition. America for years has been unfortunately advertised. With some notable exceptions, it can be stated that brief items, often sensational in character and never with background or proportion, have constituted the news sent from this country. Many important news distributing centers have received no direct news from here.

  • 1: This Division is expected to be familiar with news channels throughout the world and particularly with the channels through which news regarding America is carried.
  • 2: It seeks, in every way, to encourage press agencies and correspondents to increase the amount of American news sent abroad and, wherever possible, assists in obtaining access to news and aids in securing improved transmission facilities. It establishes cooperative relations with correspondents of foreign papers and with the press agencies.
  • 3: The Division sends, to wherever it seems necessary, a supplementary news service. As a matter of policy, such service is not of a character to compete with news handled by established news agencies or that sent out by special correspondents. Such service is, in truth, a supplementary service designed to meet the requirements of the present time for a just presentation of the American point of view.
  • 4: The Division stands ready to distribute abroad textually, import communications, such as presidential addresses. The general policy in handling such communications is to transmit them to the news centers [Page 25] of the world and there to turn them over to the established press agencies for further distribution. At places where such arrangements cannot be made, because of the absence of press agencies or for other reasons, the messages are sent to the American official representative to be given out by him to the local press.
  • 5: The Division keeps in direct contact with the State Department and exercises the greatest care in no way to misinterpret American policy. Arrangements are in the making for close cooperation with the War Trade Board.

On January 31st the following services were being sent out:

  • 1: A cable service of approximately two hundred-fifty words a day to the Committee’s representative in Petrograd. The Root Mission and others familiar with the situation in Russia urged that an American news service be sent there.2 At that time a service of about one hundred words a day was being sent from New York to Petrograd by the Viestnik Agency, then an official Russian news agency. Understanding was reached with this agency for extension of its service to four or five hundreds words a day. This arrangement was terminated after having been tried for a few weeks and later the present service was instituted. The service usually consists of several short items, which over a period of time, are intended to give a picture of developments in America. It is the only direct news service from this country to Russia.
  • 2: On November 29th a service of approximately twelve hundred words a day was started to France. This service is sent by Navy Radio and intercepted by a French radio station. The original intention was that this service should go into Russia and arrangements were made to have the messages retransmitted and intercepted by the Russian station at Moscow but owing to the chaotic situation in Russia the messages for some time have not been received in that country. The service to France goes to the Maison de la Presse for distribution in France, and is telegraphed to the American Legation at Berne where it is also given out for publication. Recently the service has been sent from Berne to Rome.
  • 3: This radio service for a while was intercepted by the station at Darien on the Isthmus of Panama where copies were given out to the local papers and the messages rebroadcasted for the benefit of a number of radio stations in the Caribbean Basin. Later this service was replaced by a service telegraphed to San Diego. There the service is translated into Spanish and radioed from San Diego to Darien for reradioing. The present plan permits the sending of items of especial interest to South America.
  • 4: Arrangements are pending for extending the news service into Stockholm, Venezuela and to various points in Asia.
  • 5: Numerous conversations have been had with representatives of the news agencies with the idea of encouraging them to extend and improve their news services.
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This Division handled the world wide distribution of the presidential addresses of December 4th and January 8th3 and sent to South America and Asia a summary of Secretary Lansing’s review of Colonel House’s report on the special Mission to Europe.4

The presidential messages were quite generally printed in full in the leading newspapers of the world. Such publication has gone a long way towards making clear to the world the American attitude and purposes.

As illustrative of the way in which presidential addresses are handled by the press associations, the following statement by the Kokusai Agency of Japan is interesting. After describing how the message was handled in the United States to San Francisco the statement goes on to say:—

“It had traveled overland for nearly four thousand miles and then commenced its long under the sea trip from San Francisco to the Island of Guam. Here again the long message was taken down and ‘relayed’ once more for China and Japan where the Reuter agent in Shanghai and the general manager of Kokusai had been notified to accept it. This notification was received late on Tuesday night the 4th, and again on Wednesday the 5th.5 During the afternoon of the fifth the first section of about one hundred words came in on the wire to the headquarters of the Kokusai Agency at Sojuro-cho. Here all preparation had been made to give this great message a fitting reception and treatment; the editors, translators, manifolders and messengers had all been organized for the work. Experienced editors taking turns, received the telegrams as they came. These were immediately rewritten on the typewriter to dictation of the editor. Short “takes” were passed to translators and then to the chief translator in Japanese and English for reediting. The retouched and compared sheets were then rewritten and passed to the manifolder for the machine work of the reproduction of the copies necessary.

“It was a busy and interesting night for, owing to the extreme pressure on the local wires the matter came slowly. Fifty-two messages of between seventy and one hundred words were received and each one passed through the same machine.

“The utmost care was taken to prevent premature publication of any part of the message before the whole was ready for simultaneous distribution.

“The first completed copies were put upon the outgoing trains for the far out-of-town newspapers. The first of the copies of the message in full English and translation was delivered at the general manager’s office early in the morning—and immediately this was approved, a full copy was sent to the American Ambassador. After the copy was [Page 27] delivered the ‘release’ was given and the bicycle messengers rushed out so that every newspaper would receive it promptly and without discrimination.

“The news agencies which, cooperating with the Kokusai, distribute the Kokusai News Agency service to the provincial newspapers were supplied at the same moment and then came the wider and wilder scenes in the offices of the news agencies and newspapers in Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohoma and Kobe and throughout the provinces. Literally hundreds of telephones were commandeered and from one end of Japan to the other the contents of the message were distributed and made ready for publication. The scope of the distribution of the Kokusai news agency matter was never before, perhaps, more thoroughly marked and, indeed, as the accompanying tributes and acknowledgements will show, never so much appreciated or more thoroughly recognized.

“One of the remarkable evidences of the newspaper enterprise in Japan was shown by the great Osaka afternoon newspapers, which, a few hours after the message was delivered at the offices, had the message printed on their afternoon Osaka editions three hundred miles away.”

The Division limits itself to sending out news of events here, believing that, in the long run, the best propaganda is merely to let American events tell their own story. The editor abroad is given items that he can reasonably be expected to print. The items are varied in appeal and always have a current interest. No “cooked-up” propaganda is distributed.

This Division offices in connection with the Naval Press Censor. The Press Censor, of course, sees that no military information or malicious statements are cabled out of the country. The censorship is preventative; this Division has the constructive problem of seeing that the American story is adequately told.

Indicative of the willingness of the great press agencies to cooperate, the following quotation from a letter written by the Managing Director of Reuters6 is interesting:—

“We carry out joyfully the instructions conveyed to us for the handling of these telegrams. The amount of work entailed in the telegraphing all over the world and in the translating most accurately into French of the despatch of three thousand words is literally gigantic. That we undertake it gladly we have already said, for we know that we are rendering good and true aid to the American government and to the allied powers.”

Until very recently the staff consisted of the director and Mr. Perry Arnold, who was at one time in charge of the United Press bureau in Washington and later was foreign editor for that organization. Lately [Page 28] the staff has been increased by the addition of Mr. Paul V. Perry, who came from the Detroit Free Press where he was telegraph editor. Abroad, the work of the Division is represented in Petrograd by Mr. Sisson; in Moscow by Mr. Bullard; in Berne by Mrs. Whitehouse, and in London by Mr. H. N. Rickey.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 63, Entry 105, Director’s Office of the Foreign Section, General Correspondence, Box 16, Poole, Ernest Feb–June 1918. No classification marking.
  2. See Documents 2 and 3.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 6, and footnote 4, Document 7.
  4. Lansing forwarded his summary of House’s report on the American Mission to Europe and the Inter Allied Conference to Wilson on December 27, 1917. See Papers of Woodrow Wilson , vol. 45, pp. 368–369.
  5. December 4 and 5, 1917.
  6. Not found.