American war correspondents in France had greater freedom to observe the military actions of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) than was permitted the journalists of the other Allied armies. In the area under General Pershing’s command, correspondents could go to the front lines without military escorts, they could follow fighting troops as they advanced, and they could roam the rear areas, sheltering where they chose. This was not the case for correspondents with the British, French, and German forces in the early years of the war.
Despite this comparative freedom, reporters for The Stars and Stripes were required to submit their material to military authorities for review. Each Tuesday, the Army’s Board of Control and its General Headquarters examined the content proposed for the forthcoming issue. Approved articles had to support the mission of the newspaper, maintain high morale, and promote the idea that the war was for a “just cause,” while publishing as much news as possible. In addition, news reports were vetted by the censorship-of-the-press section of the Military Intelligence Service, headed by Major Frederick Palmer, formerly of the Associated Press. Facts regarding general engagements, casualties suffered, and troop identifications were released only if the information had been reported in official communiqués.
Reporters were not the only ones required to follow censorship guidelines. The Stars and Stripes kept soldiers apprised of the extent to which they could expect censorship of their personal correspondence. Relaxation of the censorship of soldiers’ letters to family and friends in the United States became first page news on November 22, 1918 (p. 1 c. 5), with the headline “Letters Home Now May Mention Town and Give All News[;] Censorship Relaxed Also to Permit Sender’s Full Address.” Despite this headline, the text of the article cautioned that some restrictions would still be imposed: information from casualty reports, immoral pictures, or immoral text would be excised from personal correspondence. Such articles helped the soldiers determine what was permissible by explaining in simple terms the censorship regulations and their rationale.