08/08/2012 04:08 PM
BATON ROUGE – Though historians have largely overlooked Robert Horton, his public
relations campaigns remain fixed in popular memory of the home front during World
War II. Utilizing all media – including the nascent technology of television – to
rally civilian support, Horton’s work ranged from educational documentary shorts like
Pots to Planes, which depicted the transformation of aluminum household items into
aircraft, to posters employing scare tactics, such as a German soldier with large
eyes staring forward with the tagline “He’s Watching You.”
Iconic and calculated, Horton’s campaigns raise important questions about the role
of PR in government agencies. When are promotional campaigns acceptable? Does war
necessitate persuasive communication? What separates information from propaganda?
“Promoting the War Effort: Robert Horton and Federal Propaganda, 1938-1946,” available
in September from LSU Press, traces the career of Horton – the first book-length study
to do so – and delves into the controversies surrounding federal PR.
A former reporter, Horton headed the PR department for the U.S. Maritime Commission
from 1938 to 1940. Then, until Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he directed the Division
of Information, or DOI, in the Executive Office of the President, where he played
key roles in promoting the New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unprecedented
third-term reelection campaign, and the prewar arms-production effort.
“Promoting the War Effort” recovers this influential figure in American politics during
a time when questions about how facts are disseminated – and spun – are of greater
relevance than ever before.
Author Mordecai Lee also wrote “The First Presidential Communications Agency: FDR’s
Office of Government Reports” and “Congress vs. the Bureaucracy: Muzzling Agency Public
Posted on Wednesday, August 8, 2012