The shocking history of the espionage and infiltration of American media during WWI and the man who exposed it. A man who was not who he claimed to be… Russia was not the first foreign power to subvert American popular opinion from inside. In the lead-up to America’s entry into the First World War, Germany spent the modern equivalent of one billion dollars to infiltrate American media, industry, and government to undermine the supply chain of the Allied forces. If not for the ceaseless activity of John Revelstoke Rathom, editor of the scrappy Providence Journal, America may have remained committed to its position of neutrality. And yet John Rathom was not even his real name. Who then was this great, beloved, and ultimately tragic imposter? In The Imposter’s War, Mark Arsenault unearths the truth about Rathom’s origins and revisits a surreal and too-little-known passage in American history that reverberates today. A riveting and spellbinding narrative of a flawed newsman who nevertheless changed the course of history.
The Imposter’s War: The Press, Propaganda, and the Newsman who Battled for the Minds of America
September 1, 2021
Courtesy of Mark Arsenault
- People, politicians and corporations are constantly bombarding us with propaganda to affect how we think …Tide cleans better… Pepsi beats Coke … My opponent in this election is a crook …. How do we process propaganda in our own lives? Are we aware of its effect? Does hidden source “gray propaganda” ever appear in what we view online?
- Taking Rathom’s life as a whole, was he a hero or a villain? What about Werner Horn, the bridge bomber? Was Horn a patriot or a criminal?
- Early in his journalism career, Rathom was a grifter and an extortionist. Did his moral character improve throughout his life? Did it get worse?
- Newspapers and magazines had a monopoly on news in Rathom’s time. We have many more choices for information today, but is the country, on the whole, better informed?
- What was the impact of the two main women in Rathom’s life, Mary and Florence? What was it that these two intelligent, independent and well-educated women saw in the Aussie imposter?
- Is there an individual in public life today who could be considered a modern equivalent of John Rathom?
- How did your opinion of John Rathom change over the course of the book?
- Rathom was careful to leave almost no evidence of his former life. Do you think he rejected his religious traditions, or did he merely hide them to avoid religious bigotry?
- Rathom obituaries in 1923 generally included lies from Rathom’s made-up biography, while soft pedaling his fall from grace. What would be an accurate opening line of a John Rathom obituary?
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