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[Detail] A French officer and his British ally at the front read the New York Times.

Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Identifying Propaganda Techniques

According to the Newspaper Pictorials’ special feature on propaganda:

U.S. newspaper coverage of World War I (1914-1918) provides a unique perspective on wartime propaganda. The scope of articles and images clearly exhibits America’s evolution from firm isolationism in 1914 to staunch interventionism by 1918. Once American soldiers joined the war, public opinion at home changed. And newspapers helped change it. . . .

From “Covering the War: American Propaganda in the Pictorial Sections.”

The essay goes on to describe several ways in which coverage of the war in Europe changed as the United States grew closer to intervention and uses headlines to illustrate three propaganda techniques used by the newspapers: “the insistence of patriotic duty; the criticism of pacifism; and the fault, inferiority, and heartlessness of the Germans.”

Read the entire essay on how coverage of the war in Europe changed as the United States grew closer to intervention and then entered the war. Then look for evidence in the collection that the papers were doing the following:

  • Encouraging Americans to take up their patriotic duty, whether in the military or on the home front. Look for the use of symbols of the United States and the other Allies, as well as pictures that present Allied forces in a heroic light.
  • Presenting Germans as inferior, heartless, and responsible for the war. Look for photographs of the devastation of the war and consider how the captions or other text portray the Germans.

How might your findings be relevant in today’s world? Do you think the news media should engage in propaganda? Why or why not? Do you think the news media today do engage in propaganda? Find evidence to support your answer.

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