Walter Lippmann (September 23, 1889 - December 14, 1974) was a prominent American journalist and political commentator. He served as an advisor to President Woodrow Wilson during World War II. Lippmann was author of 21 books; editor of the New York World, and was associate editor of the New Republic during its infancy. As a syndicated columnist for 35 years, his views were published by newspapers across the world. He won two Pulitzer Prizes, received the Presidential Medal of Honor and was awarded honorary degrees from 19 universities. His 1947 work, The Cold War, was the first to coin the popular term’s widespread political and intellectual use.

Born in New York City, he was born to a rather privileged German-Jewish family. At 17, Lippmann began student life at Harvard University where he studied under such noted philosophers as William James and George Santayana. Concentrating fully on philosophy and languages, Lippmann graduated after only three years of study.

Public Diplomacy

Lippmann’s contributions to the field are numerous, yet his work revolving around human perception and reality may be most influential. He considered this relationship a direct interaction between human understanding of the world around them and the perceived imagery in which they are exposed to. Perception, he would argue, is often most important. In his 1922 work Public Opinion, Lippmann wrote about this further, noting that most of what people know about the world comes to them indirectly. "Whatever we believe to be a true picture, we treat as if it were the (world) itself." This belief is fundamental to his later study of propaganda, possibly his most important contribution to the study public diplomatic exchange.

Lippmann saw propaganda as an effort to alter these mental pictures, or perceptions, in order to advance some ideal or galvanize public support. He believed that the world was simply too large of a place for people to make sense of, and required this simplified imagery in order to develop their position in that world. By constructing such imagery, propaganda could be used for great political power by spurning public action and motivation. These actions can, "set armies in motion or make peace, conscript life, tax, exile, imprison, protect property or confiscate it, encourage one kind of enterprise or discourage another, facilitate immigration or obstruct it, improve communication or censor it, establish schools, build navies, proclaim politics and destiny, raise economic barriers make property or unmake it, bring one people under the rule of another or favor one class against another."

"We must remember that in time of war what is said on the enemy’s side of the front is always propaganda, and what is said on our side of the front is truth and righteousness, the cause of humanity and a crusade for peace�?

Resources Used:

Suggested Readings

  • Luskin, John. (1972). Lippmann, Liberty, and the Press. The University of Alabama Press.
  • Dam, Hari. (1973) The Intellectual Odyssey of Walter Lippmann. PCL.
  • Servin, Werner J.,and Tankard, James W. Jr. (1997). Communication Theories: Origins, Methods, and Uses in the Mass Media. New York: Longman Publishers.

PbWinter 16:23, 31 May 2006 (PDT)

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