Muckraker, Journalism Critic, Anti-fascist
Seldes Documentary to be Aired on Public TV
Letter from Filmaker Rick Goldsmith
After a year-long battle to get the film on television, Tell the Truth
and Run: George Seldes and the American Press is now being
distributed to the nation's public television stations by Boston-
based American Program Service (APS). In APS's initial offering
of the film, 18 public TV stations signed on to air Tell the Truth and
Run beginning in January, 1998. Broadcasts are just beginning
scheduled, dates on the "Seldes 18" as of this writing are:
WNET- New York - TBA
WGBH - Boston - Tuesday, March 24, 10pm
KCET - Los Angeles - TBA
KQED - San Francisco - TBA
KCTS - Seattle - TBA
KOCE - Huntington Bch, CA - Thursday, January 8, 8pm
KERA - Dallas - Tuesday, March 24, 9pm
KPBS - San Diego - Sunday, February 15, 11pm
KTWU - Topeka - TBA
Maryland Public TV - TBA
WCEU, Daytona Beach - TBA
WGBY - Springfield, MA - TBA
WGVU - Grand Rapids, MI - TBA
Wisconsin Public TV - TBA
WMVS - Milwaukee - Friday, January 16, 10pm
WNEO - Alliance, OH - TBA
WTBU - Indianapolis - TBA
WYBE - Philadelphia - Tuesday, January 27, 9pm
This is only the initial list of stations-- other stations can add on
at any time.
We are keeping an updated schedule on the new Seldes web page, which
so if your local public TV station is on the above list, consult the
periodically to find out when the broadcast is scheduled. (There's other
stuff on the web page.) If the film is not yet scheduled on your local
tv station, you might encourage them to schedule it soon.
(You can find the name, address, phone, fax and e-mail of
your local public television station at www.pbs.org.)
If your local public TV station is NOT on the above list,
you can contact the station's program director by phone, fax, letter
* let him/her know you understand that APS has offered
the station the opportunity to broadcast the Academy Award-
nominated documentary feature Tell the Truth and Run: George <
Seldes and the American Press; and
* ask if they have plans to broadcast it; if not, urge them to take
another look; APS can send screening cassettes to stations upon request.
(March 23 is Academy Awards night, and several stations are carrying
Truth and Run that same week as part of an "Academy Awards week" of programming. You
might suggest this marketing angle to the program director.-- March schedules
are generally locked in the last week of January.)
Public television stations expect to hear from their local viewers,
so don't be shy about contacting them-- it is, after all "public" television! If
you know others who would enjoy Tell the Truth and Run, please suggest
they do the same (numbers count!).
In other developments, two theatrical screenings of Tell the Truth and
Run coming up:
Tucson Jewish Film Festival, Tucson Jewish Community Center-- Monday,January
19 (MLK Day)- 1:30 pm.
Columbia, SC, Nickelodeon Theater, February 9-11 (Call for times).
All my best--
Press Critic and Antifascist George Seldes
Dies at 104 in Vermont
by Chip Berlet
Journalist George Seldes died at the age of 104 at his home in Hartland
Four Corners, Vermont on July 2, 1995.
Born in 1890 at Vineland, NJ when the town was still named Alliance
after the utopian community his father founded, Seldes worked for the
Pittsburgh Leader and later the Pittsburgh Post before travelling to
Europe where covered WWI for the Army press section. Seldes then freelanced
for many years chronicalling the rise of fascism, and covered Central
Europe for The Chicago Tribune. He and his wife Helen covered the Spanish
Civil War from Madrid for the New York Post starting in 1937. Returning
to the US, from 1940 to 1950 he edited the weekly newsletter In Fact
which became America's first critical journalism review, and inspired
the later I.F. Stone's Weekly.
A major figure in early press criticism, Seldes wrote several influential
works including "Lords of the Press," "You Can't Print That," and "Freedom
of the Press." In 1949 he wrote "The People Don't Know: The American
Press and the Cold War," which contributed to his being blacklisted
as soft on communism. Seldes focused on how corporate interests and
business advertisers manipulated and censored press coverage critical
of coporate practices, including studies of how tobacco companies suppressed
information about the health hazards of smoking. Because of his pungent
views, Seldes became "the most censored press critic in American history," according
to professor Carl Jensen of Project Censored. Seldes became a non-person
among most daily newspapers, and Seldes systematic exclusion from the
pages of The New York Times was legendary. Because of this press blackout,
Seldes role as a first-rank muckraker and early press critic has almost
disappeared from the history books and he is unknown even among many
investigative journalists and media critics.
Seldes retired in 1950 but was rediscovered in the 1980's after he
appeared as one of the voices from the past vignettes in the film "Reds." His
autobiography "Witness to a Century" was published in 1987 and became
a bestseller. His other more popular works among over a dozen books
included "The Great Quotations," and "The Great Thoughts." Seldes wrote
a brief forword in 1988 for the PRA/South End Press book "Old Nazis,
the New Right, and the Republican Party" by Russ Bellant. Up until
his death, Seldes served on the board of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting
and the first book to come from FAIR authors, "Unreliable Sources," by
Martin Lee and Norman Solomon, began with an inscription by Seldes
noting that "The most sacred cow of the press is the press itself."
Seldes was widely regarded by pro-democracy activists as one of the
century's leading anti-fascists. Seldes opposed all forms of authoritarianism
and totalitarianism. He wrote the first major biography of Mussolini, "Sawdust
Caesar," in 1935, and followed with "Facts and Fascism" in 1943. He
authored over a dozen other books. He considered himself a non-conformist,
a free-thinker, a dissident, and a progressive.
Seldes work lives on in groups such as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting,
Project Censored, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and the Center
for Investigative Reporting. Seldes family hopes that persons who wish
to commemorate George's legacy support these groups, and a specific
fund in his name will be established this fall by those he influenced.
George combined a crusty intellect with a soft heart, and until recently
would entertain visitors to his Vermont hillside home with stories
of his exploits punctuated by sips from his trademark martini. Some
of us were inspired by these visits, and all of us who continue to
read his books and articles are inspired by his example.
He will be remembered.
GREAT PRESS CRITIC LEAVES A LEGACY OF COURAGE
By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon
(This syndicated column appeared in July, and was adapted for the
Sept/Oct '95 EXTRA!, the magazine of FAIR.)
America's greatest press critic died this month.
He lived to a ripe old age, 104, before his last breath on July 2.
Yet we're still in mourning for George Seldes.
"The most sacred cow of the press is the press itself,"
Seldes said. And he knew just how harmful media self-worship could
Born in 1890, George Seldes was a young reporter in Europe at the
close of World War I. When Armistice Day came, he broke ranks with
the obedient press corps and drove behind the lines of retreating German
troops. For the rest of his life, he remained haunted by what took
Seldes and three colleagues secured an interview with Paul von Hindenburg,
the German field marshal. Seldes asked what had ended the war. "The
American infantry in the Argonne won the war," Hindenburg responded,
and elaborated before breaking into sobs.
It was an enormous scoop. But allied military censors blocked Hindenburg's
admission, which he never repeated in public.
The story could have seriously undermined later Nazi claims that Germany
had lost the war due to a "stab in the back" by Jews and leftists.
Seldes came to believe that the interview, if published, "would have
destroyed the main planks of the platform on which Hitler rose to power." But
the reporters involved "did not think it worthwhile to give up our
number-one positions in journalism" by disobeying military censors "in
order to be free to publish."
Seldes went on to cover many historic figures firsthand, from Lenin
and Trotsky to Mussolini. When Seldes wrote about them, he pulled no
As a result, in 1923, Bolshevik leaders banished him from the fledgling
Soviet Union. Two years later, he barely made it out of Italy alive;
Mussolini sent Black Shirt thugs to murder the diminutive Seldes, small
in stature but towering with clarity.
Decade after decade, Seldes offended tyrants and demagogues, press
moguls and industrialists and politicians.
His career began in the mainstream press. During the 1920s, he served
as the "Chicago Tribune's" bureau chief in Berlin, and spent years
in Russia and Italy.
But after 10 years, Seldes quit the "Tribune" in 1928. The last straw
came with the newspaper's selective publication of his dispatches from
Mexico: Articles presenting the outlooks of U.S. oil companies ran
in full, but reports about the contrary views of the Mexican government
did not appear.
Seldes went independent, and became a trailblazing press critic. Starting
in 1929, he wrote a torrent of books -- including "You Can't Print
That," "Lords of the Press" and "Freedom of the Press" -- warning of
threats to the free flow of information in the United States and around
the world. The press lords, he showed, were slanting and censoring
the news to suit those with economic power and political clout.
Like few other journalists in the 1930s, Seldes shined a fierce light
on fascism in Europe -- and its allies in the United States. Seldes
repeatedly attacked press barons such as William Randolph Hearst and
groups like the National Association of Manufacturers for assisting
Hitler, Mussolini and Spain's Gen. Francisco Franco.
George Seldes and his wife, Helen, covered the war between Franco's
fascists and the coalition of loyalists supporting the elected Spanish
government. A chain of East Coast daily newspapers carried the pair's
front-line news dispatches -- until pressure from U.S. supporters of
Franco caused the chain to drop their reports.
After three years in war-torn Spain, with fascism spreading across
much of Europe, Seldes returned to the United States nearly blind due
to malnutrition. (His eyesight gradually returned.)
From 1940 to 1950, he edited the nation's first periodical of media
criticism -- called "In Fact" -- a weekly which reached a circulation
of 176,000 copies.
Many of his stands, lonely at the time, were prophetic.
Beginning in the late 1930s, for example, Seldes excoriated the American
press for covering up the known dangers of smoking while making millions
from cigarette ads. He was several decades ahead of his time.
What happened to "In Fact?" "The New York Times" obituary about Seldes
simply reported that it "ceased publication in 1950, when his warnings
about Fascism seemed out of tune with rising public concern about Communism." "In
fact," however, "In Fact" fell victim to an official vendetta.
One FBI tactic was to intimidate readers by having agents in numerous
post offices compile the names of "In Fact" subscribers. Such tactics
were pivotal to the newsletter's demise. Also crucial was the sustained
barrage of smears against "In Fact" in the country's most powerful
Somehow it's appropriate that "The New York Times" would get it wrong
in the obituary about "In Fact's" extraordinary editor. For a long
time, as Seldes recalled in his autobiography "Witness to a Century," it
was Times policy -- ordered by managing editor Edwin L. James -- "never
to mention my newsletter or my books or my name." In 1934, Seldes had
testified for the Newspaper Guild in a labor-relations suit against
the Times, "and James frankly told me on leaving the hearing that he
would revenge himself in this way."
Five decades later -- during a delightful spring afternoon with George
Seldes at his modest house in a small Vermont town in 1988 -- we discussed
that Times embargo on publishing his name.
When we quipped, "Hell hath no fury like a paper-of-record scorned," he
laughed heartily, his eyes twinkling as they did often during a six-hour
We asked how he'd found the emotional strength to persevere. Seldes
replied, matter-of-factly, that uphill battles come with the territory
of trying to do good journalistic work.
This month, the death of George Seldes underscored major- media disinterest
in legacies of journalistic courage. Time magazine devoted 40 words
to his passing; Newsweek didn't mention it at all. "The Chicago Tribune," Seldes'
former employer, used his obituary to redbait him: "Mr. Seldes never
publicly declared Communist Party membership," the "Tribune" wrote
in a baseless innuendo.
As a press critic, George Seldes picked up where Upton Sinclair left
off. From the 1930s onward, Seldes was the Diogenes whose light led
the way for new generations of journalists eager to search for truth
wherever it might lead. The muckraker I.F. Stone aptly called Seldes "the
dean and `granddaddy' of us investigative reporters."
We will always be indebted to George Seldes. The best way to repay
him is to live up to the standards he set for himself.
Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon are syndicated columnists and associates
of the media watch group FAIR. Their new book is "Through the Media
Looking Glass: Decoding Bias and Blather in the News" (Common Courage
Seldes Remembrance Committee
A celebration of the life of the late George Seldes held September
16, 1995 at his home in Hartland Four Corners, Vermont.
Seldes Remembrance Committee
- Chip Berlet - Investigative Journalist, Political Research Associates
- Russ Bellant - Author & Researcher
- Carl Jensen - Media Critic, Project Censored
- Marty Lee - Author, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting
- Sarah Pollock - Journalist & Editor, Mother Jones
- Loretta Ross - Author, Center for Democratic Renewal
- Sheila O'Donnell - Journalist & Investigator, The Public Eye
Reading excerpts from Selde's work and presenting remembrances at
- Chip Berlet, PRA
- Jeff Cohen, FAIR
- Randy Holhut, Editor, "The George Seldes Reader"
- Steve Rendall, FAIR
Remembrances presented at the celebration:
- Center for Democratic Renewal
- Center for Investigative Reporting
- Coalition for Human Dignity
- Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Extra!
- In These Times
- Institute for Alternative Journalism
- Investigative Reporters and Editors
- Mother Jones magazine
- The Nation magazine
- National Writers Union
- Political Research Associates, The Public Eye
- The Progressive magazine
- Project Censored
- Z Magazine
In addition to coordinating the journalist tributes, the Seldes Remembrance
Committee sponsored a large vat of very dry martini's for the group
to consume when giving George's favorite toast from the Spanish Civil
War. The committee wishes to thank Tim Seldes for inviting them to
send a delegation to the celebration.
"THEREFORE PROTEST": A SELDES SAMPLER
(as published in the Sept/Oct '95 EXTRA!)
The failure of a free press in most countries is usually blamed on
the readers. Every nation gets the government--and the press--it deserves.
This is too facile a remark. The people deserve better in most governments
and press. Readers, in millions of cases, have no way of finding out
whether their newspapers are fair or not, honest or distorted, truthful
There are less than a dozen independent newspapers in the whole country,
and even that small number is dependent on advertisers and other things,
and all these other things which revolve around money and profit make
real independence impossible. No newspaper which is supporting one
class of society is independent.
--Lords of the Press (1938)
One of the biggest pieces of bunkum shoved down the American throat
was the story of the 1929 Italian election. For this I cannot blame
Forbidden to write anything critical of the Fascist regime, they could
only report what the hierarchy wanted them to report. The clever and
honest American and British journalists, however, did insinuate startling
facts in their stories; these insinuations, unfortunately, were between
the lines and not for those who read as they run, and the American
public is mostly a running reading public.
--Can These Things Be! (1931)
Of course there are boob and bad reporters who bring in boob and bad
items which are printed, and which make so many papers what they are.
But there are more intelligent men who try to bring in intelligent
items, only to see them changed into imbecile items, with the result
that they may easily give up trying, and accustom themselves instead
to the spirit of the office....
We scent the air of the office. We realize that certain things are
wanted, certain things unwanted. There is an atmosphere favorable to
Fascism. We find that out when some little pro-Mussolini item is played
up, some big item, not so pleasant to the hero of our era, played down,
or left out. In the future we send pro-Mussolini stuff only. We get
a cable of congratulations.
--Can These Things Be!
I am merely trying to illustrate one of the fundamental facts about
American journalism today, the fact that the servants of the press
lords are slaves very much as they have always been, and that any attempt
at revolt is immediately punished with the economic weapon.
But much more vicious than these cases is the majority of
foreign correspondents who never have to be placed against the wall,
who are never told what to write and how to write it, but who know
from contact with the great minds of the press lords or from the simple
deduction that the bosses are in big business and the news must be
slanted accordingly, or from the general intangible atmosphere which
prevails everywhere, what they can do and what they must never do.
The most stupid boast in the history of present-day journalism is that
of the writer who says, "I have never been given orders; I am free
to do as I like."
--Lords of the Press
Only in democratic countries is there the beginning of a suspicion
that the old axioms about the press being the bulwark of liberty is
something that affects the daily life of the people--that it is a living
warning rather than an ancient wisecrack. A people that wants to be
free must arm itself with a free press.
--Lords of the Press
Never grow weary of protesting. In this sensitive business of dealing
with the public which depends on faith and good will, protest is a
most effective weapon. Therefore protest.
--Lords of the Press.