Saturday, February 28, 2015

Would Woodrow Wilson have become President without Harper's Weekly?

In his book Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann wrote the following about what the CPI achieved: (page 47)
Probably this is the largest and the most intensive effort to carry quickly a fairly uniform set of ideas to all the people of a nation. The older proselyting worked more slowly, perhaps more surely, but never so inclusively. Now if it required such extreme measures to reach everybody in time of crisis, how open are the more normal channels to men's minds? The Administration was trying, and while the war continued it very largely succeeded, I believe, in creating something that might almost be called one public opinion all over America.

He who controls the flow of information controls the world. However, an entirely uniform set of ideas is not necessary in order to gain control or to gain an edge that cannot be overcome by others. All you need is a message that doesn't stop. But tracking the message, now that's the fun part.

It all starts on February 3, 1906. At the Lotos Club, George B. Harvey gave a speech in which he was the first to float the idea of Woodrow Wilson as a Presidential Candidate. This dinner was in honor of Woodrow Wilson. The text of Harvey's speech can be found here and here.

Looking into the details have been somewhat fun, since the people who did this were so braggadocios about it after the fact. Harvey's "first lieutenant" during the years of 1906 to 1912 when they engaged in this campaign to elect Woodrow Wilson was William Inglis. Inglis wrote this article detailing how they did it.

However, Inglis was not the only one to brag. Harper's Weekly itself ran a 39 page article detailing how one single report in their publication spawned 5 other reports, 8 other reports, sometimes a dozen other reports. In other words, Harper's readers were not the only ones treated to the "Elect Woodrow" campaign.

The article, titled "The Triumph of an Idea", does the kind of cataloging and tracking of a specific idea that any media-watching organization would be envious of. Harper's naturally had its own biased reason for tracking it - they wanted to put on display their victory. But in today's time, this kind of article is useful for more than just the relic that it is.

Once Harper's(George Harvey) was convinced that Wilson was the man for the job, covers like the one below were also common.

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