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Barriers to Information'
Toward a Critique of Public Opinion
T where in 1914 a few Englishmen,
HERE is an island in the ocean There was a time for each man when a
he was still adjusted to an environFrenchmen, and Germans lived. No ment that no longer existed. All over cable reaches that island, and the the world as late as July 25 men were British mail-steamer comes only once making goods that they would not be in sixty days. In September, 1914, able to ship, buying goods they would it had not yet come, and the islanders not be able to import; careers were were still talking about the latest being planned, enterprises contemnewspaper, which told about the plated, hopes and expectations enterapproaching trial of Mme. Caillaux tained, all in the belief that the world for the shooting of Gaston Calmette. as known was the world as it was. It was, therefore, with more than usual Men were writing books describing eagerness that the whole colony as- that world. They trusted the picture sembled at the quay on a day in mid- in their heads. And then over four September to hear from the captain years later, on a Thursday morning, what the verdict had been. They came the news of the armistice, and learned that for over six weeks those people gave vent to their unutterable of them who were English and those
relief that the slaughter was over. of them who were French had been Yet in the five days before the real fighting in behalf of the sanctity of armistice came, though the end of the treaties against those of them who war had been celebrated, several thouwere Germans. For six strange weeks sand young men died on the battlethey had acted as if they were friends, field. when in fact they were enemies.
Looking back, we can see how inBut their plight was not so different directly we know the environment in from that of most of the population of which, nevertheless, we live. We can Europe. They had been mistaken for see that the news of it comes to us six weeks; on the Continent the inter- now fast, now slowly, but that whatval may have been only six days or ever we believe to be a picture of it, six hours. There was an interval. we treat as if it were the environment There was a moment when the picture itself. It is harder to remember that of Europe on which men were conduct- about the beliefs upon which we are ing their business did not in any way now acting, but in respect to other correspond to the Europe which was peoples and other ages we flatter ourabout to make a jumble of their lives. selves that it is easy to see when they "This is the first of a series of papers on public opinion, culled from Mr. Lippmann's forthcoming book on "Public Opinion." The occasional transition paragraphs in brackets are not Mr. Lippmann's, but are inserted by the editor.
were in deadly earnest about ludicrous French communiqués that these conpictures of the world. We insist, ferences were a regular part of the because of our superior hindsight, business of war; that in the worst that the world as they needed to know moment of Verdun General Joffre and it and the world as they did know it his cabinet met and argued over the were often two quite contradictory nouns, adjectives, and verbs that were things. We can see, too, that while to be printed in the newspapers the they governed and fought, traded and next morning. Said M. de Pierrefeu: reformed, in the world as they imag
The evening communiqué of the ined it to be, they produced results, twenty-third (February, 1916] was edited or failed to produce any, in the world in a dramatic atmosphere. M. Beras it was. They started for the Indies thelot, director of the Prime Minister's and found America. They diagnosed office, had just telephoned by order of evil and hanged old women. They the minister asking General Pellé to thought they could grow rich by al- strengthen the report and to emphasize ways selling and never buying. A
the proportions of the enemy's attack. calif, obeying what he conceived to It was necessary to prepare the public be the will of Allah, burned the
for the worst outcome in case the affair
turned into a catastrophe. This anxiety library at Alexandria.
showed clearly that neither at G. H. Q. (The problem of public opinion, at
nor at the Ministry of War had the Govleast an important aspect of it, is the
ernment found reason for confidence. problem of making the picture of the
As M. Berthelot spoke, General Pellé world we carry about in our heads made notes. He handed me the paper correspond as accurately as possible to on which he had written the Governto the world as it is. This means, of
ment's wishes, together with the order of course, that we must manage some
the day issued by General von Deimling, how to get adequate and accurate
found on some prisoners, in which it was information about the world. We
stated that this attack was the supreme
offensive to find, however, that many barriers
secure peace. Skilfully
used, all this was to demonstrate that stand between us and such informa
Germany was letting loose a gigantic tion-barriers that must be examined
effort, an effort without precedent, and and understood before we can get far
that from its success she hoped for the in any study of public opinion.]
end of the war. The logic of this was
that nobody need be surprised at our § 2
withdrawal. When, a half hour later, I [One of the most obvious barriers to went down with my manuscript, I found information is, of course, the various gathered together in Colonel Claudel's forms of censorship, which we may see
office, he being away, the major-general, working in clearest fashion in war-time.]
General Janin, Colonel Dupont, and
Lieutenant-Colonel Renouard. Fearing The picture of a general presiding at an editorial conference at the most
that I would not succeed in giving terrible hour of one of the great
the desired impression, General Pellé
had himself prepared a proposed combattles of history seems more like a
muniqué. I read what I had just done. scene from the “Chocolate Soldier"
It was found to be too moderate. Genthan a page from life. Yet we know
eral Pellé's, on the other hand, seemed too at first hand from the editor of the alarming. I had purposely omitted von