In August, 1942 a newspaper columnist received a "very stern letter" from the U.S. government because she had described the weather during a trip with her husband. Eleanor Roosevelt promised not to do it again.
That the First Lady would be so reprimanded demonstrates the scope and power of American censoring authorities during WW2. As part of the 1941 War Powers Act, the Lady's husband created the Office of Censorship, and appointed Byron Price, a respected Associated Press editor, to run it. Price convinced the President to let the media censor itself. He issued guidelines, but they came down to one pre-publication question for reporters: Is this information I would to like to have if I were the enemy? 14,462 employees of the Office of Censorship asked the same question, while monitoring all U.S. media.
Voluntary self-censorship worked well, even if it meant battlefront reportage that ran heavily to human-interest stories. As requested, newspapers didn't publish photographs of dead American troops until 1944, when the government wanted to motivate home front support. Reporters knew the war's biggest story—the coming atom bomb—two years in advance, and kept the secret. They knew the war's longest story too—President Roosevelt's failing health—and kept that secret. In fact, Price contended that of the thousands of stories filed, only once did a U.S. journalist intentionally break the rules.
Some book publishers seemed eager to censor themselves. Existing manuscripts critical of some allies, for instance, weren't released until after the war. Publisher Bennett Cerf even suggested to his colleagues that they "check their backlists carefully," and eliminate any books that suggested Russia, "our (new) friend in need," was a less-than-splendid operation.
By 1942, 10,000 civil servants were reading and censoring a million pieces of mail weekly, especially those to or from POW's and other internees. (At the same time, they watched for potentially valuable information. Loose lips could also sink the other guy's ships.) GI's writing home-all subject to censorship by officers-were prohibited from mentioning anything about the military situation around them. Their families were encouraged to write back frequently, sending light, happy letters that were non-specific about life and especially work at home. Allegedly, that's what combat soldiers wanted to read, even if, as in one case, a D-Day veteran learned all about how difficult Pledge Week had been at Kappa Kappa Gamma.