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George Seldes was born in Alliance, New Jersey, on 16th November, 1890. When he was nineteen he was employed as a cub reporter by the Pittsburgh Leader. In his autobiography, Witness to a Century (1987) he admitted that as a young man he was influenced by investigative journalists such as Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair and Ray Stannard Baker.
Seldes interviewed William Haywood and Joe Hill in 1912: "When Bill Hayward came to the coal and iron capital of America, Ray Springle and I went to his headquarters, not for news stories, which we knew would never be published, but out of interest in the new labor movement, the Industrial Workers of the World. And so, by chance along with its new leaders we met the ballad-maker of the IWW, Joe Hill." Seldes later recalled: "Joe Hill was a man of great enthusiasm and such easy friendship that in the week or ten days in which we knew him the three of us and another of his friends pledged a lifetime of loyalty to one another. But it was only a few months later that the last member of our foursome... sent me a photograph of Joe Hill sitting upright in his coffin with five bullet holes in his left chest."
In 1914 Seldes was appointed night editor of the Pittsburgh Post. As a young man he was influenced by the investigative journalism of Lincoln Steffens. He later wrote: "Lincoln Steffens was the godfather of us all. He was an older man when I first met him. He was the first of the muckrakers.... He often warned me that I was starting to get a bad reputation for myself. I guess I never worried about that."
In 1916 Seldes moved to London where he worked for the United Press. When the United States joined the First World War in 1917, Seldes was sent to France where he worked as the war correspondent for the Marshall Syndicate. At end of the war he managed to obtain an exclusive interview with Paul von Hindenburg. Unfortunately for Seldes, the article was suppressed and never appeared in the American press.
Seldes spent the next ten years as an international reporter for the Chicago Tribune. In the summer of 1921, Seldes was sent to Russia to report on the new policy of war communism in Russia. Maxim Litvinov was placed in charge of giving permission to the journalists to go into the famine areas. Those who arrived from the United States included Floyd Gibbons and Walter Duranty. Seldes later commented in his autobiography, Witness to a Century (1987): "We had been instructed to proceed to the Hotel Savoy, a small hostelry near the Kremlin, and we were assigned rooms on the second or third floor. But Floyd Gibbons had beaten all of us to Moscow. We heard that he was now in Sumara, the worst-hit city in the famine zone."
According to Sally J. Taylor, the author of Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty (1990): "Floyd Gibbons arrived in Russia in order to report, now a dashing figure with his black eye patch, had chartered a plane and told Litvinov he planned to fly into Red Square in it, giving his paper a big scoop. Appalled at the prospect, Litvinov instead offered Gibbons the chance to go early into the area stricken by famine, exactly what Gibbons had been after all along. Once into the Ukraine, Gibbons sent his dispatches back by messenger and by train to Moscow, where they were cabled directly to the United States." Duranty of the New York Times said that Gibbons "fully deserved his success because he had accomplished the feat of bluffing the redoubtable Litvinov stone-cold... a noble piece of work." Over the next few days Gibbons was the only reporter to document the horrifying prospect of the deaths of as many as fifteen million people from starvation.
After Floyd Gibbons returned to Moscow he issued instructions to Seldes: "Floyd now returned to Moscow, made me officially his Russian correspondent, and sent me off to Samara, instructing me to evade the censorship by every trick known to the profession. By the time I was able to go to Samara - about a month later - there were no longer people lying dead on the streets... and every American was treated as a benefactor. (In Moscow officialdom tried its best to make believe there was no famine, no American aid saving millions of lives.)"
Seldes was a regular visitor to the home of Walter Duranty, the New York Times correspondent in Moscow. Seldes later recalled that Duranty was the "kind of man who wouldn't hesitate to attempt sexual conquests with his wife present." They employed a young cook, who Seldes described as "a very pretty peasant girl... pretty and young and vivacious and all of that; and tall, for a Russian." According to Seldes the young woman quickly became Duranty's mistress and Jane did not appear to be terribly upset by the arrangement.
In 1922 Seldes managed to get an interview with the Bolshevik leader, Lenin. "He spoke with a thick, throaty, wet voice. He was in very good humour, always smiling, his face never was hard. All his pictures are hard but he was always twinkling with laughter. Eyes bright, crowsfeet, a real, unserious face... Lenin had the greatness and the human, all-too-human sympathy to be a comrade to all, the group of fellow dictators and the peasants who loved him. In battle with his enemies he was uncompromising and without pity. He hated power, knowing its corruption. His political wisdom was great; he understood mob psychology thoroughly but was a little weak in his grasp of individual psychology; he never made a mistake in dealing with the masses but he frequently did in choosing men to share power."
However, the Soviet government did not like Seldes's reports and in 1923 he was expelled from the country. Seldes later reported that the main problem was the role played by Cheka in the Soviet Union: "Freedom, liberty, justice as we know it, democracy, all the fundamental human rights for which the world has been fighting for civilized centuries, have been abolished in Russia in order that the communist experiment might be made. They have been kept suppressed by the Cheka."
In a series of articles in the Chicago Tribune Seldes described the Soviet Union as a police state of unparalled ruthlessness. In one article Seldes commented "believe me, if Bolshevism ever comes to America nothing would please me more than a nice corner position on a roof overlooking two main streets and a nice large machine gun and unlimited belts of ammunition." Duranty responded by defending the country. He argued that: "freedom of speech and the press in America and England are the slow outcome of a centuries long fight for personal freedom. How can you expect Russia, just emerged from blackest tyranny, to share the attitude of Anglo-Saxons who struck the blow against royal tyrants a thousand years ago at Runnymede?"
The editor of the Chicago Tribune sent him to Italy where he wrote about Benito Mussolini and the rise of fascism. Seldes investigated the murder of Giacomo Matteotti, the head of the Italian Socialist Party. "Everyone had copies of the confessions of the men who killed Giacomo Matteotti (the head of the Italian Socialist Party and Mussolini's chief political rival). The documents clearly implicated Mussolini in the killing, but not one person wanted to write about it. They thought Rome was too nice a posting to give up to risk publishing them. They didn't want to, but I did. The major American newspapers at the time supported fascism as a legitimate political movement. They loved Mussolini because they thought he restored order to Italy and businesses there were doing well. It got more and more difficult to report on what was really happening there." His article implicating Mussolini in the killing, resulted in Seldes being expelled from Italy.
The Chicago Tribune sent Seldes to Mexico in 1927 but his articles criticizing American corporations concerning their use of the country's mineral rights, were not always published by the newspaper. Seldes returned to Europe but found that increasingly his work was being censored to fit the political views of the newspaper's owner, Robert McCormack.
Disillusioned, Seldes left the Chicago Tribune and worked as a freelance writer. In his first two books, You Can't Print That! (1929) and Can These Things Be! (1931), Seldes included material that he had not been allowed to publish in the newspaper. His next book, World Panorama (1933), was a narrative history of the period that followed the First World War.
In 1934 Seldes published a history of the Catholic Church, The Vatican. This was followed by an expose of the world armaments industry, Iron, Blood and Profits (1934), an account of Benito Mussolini, appeared in Sawdust Caesar (1935), and two books on the newspaper industry, Freedom of the Press (1935) and Lords of the Press (1938). During this period he also reported on the Spanish Civil War for the New York Post.
On his return to the United States in 1940 Seldes published Witch Hunt: The Techniques and Profits of Redbaiting, an account of the persecution of people with left-wing political views in America, and The Catholic Crisis, where he attempted to show the close relationship between the Catholic Church and fascist organizations in Europe.
In 1940 Seldes began his own political newsletter called In Fact. A journal that eventually reached a circulation of 176,000. One of the first articles published in the newsletter concerned the link between cigarette smoking and cancer. Seldes later explained that at the time, "The tobacco stories were suppressed by every major newspaper. For ten years we pounded on tobacco as being one of the only legal poisons you could buy in America."
As well as writing his newsletter Seldes continued to publish books. This included Facts and Fascism (1943), 1000 Americans (1947), an account of the people who controlled America and The People Don't Know (1949) on the origins of the Cold War.
In the early 1950s Seldes work came under attack from Joseph McCarthy. Despite his long history of being hostile to all forms of authoritarianism and totalitarianism, he was accused of being a communist. He later recalled how: "Newspaper columnists would write that a Russian agent stopped by my office each week to pay my salary. I didn't have the money to sue them for libel. My lawyer told me it would take years to reach a settlement and even if I won I would never see a dime."
Seles was blacklisted and now found it difficult to get his journalism published. He continued to write books including Tell the Truth and Run (1953), Never Tire of Protesting (1968), Even the Gods Can't Change History (1976) and Witness to a Century (1987).
George Seldes died at Windsor, Vermont, on 2nd July, 1995, aged 104.
We were doing almost all the fighting while the Allies were marching unhindered into famous cities and famous battle fields of 1914, and capturing the headlines of the world. We were losing men and taking prisoners and trenches - fighting most of the war then and getting no credit from the press because our work was not spectacular. Hindenburg and Pershing knew what we were doing. What would Hindenburg say?
"I will reply with the same frankness," said Hindenburg, faintly amused at our diplomacy. " The American infantry in the Argonne won the war."
He paused and we sat thrilled.
" I say this," continued Hindenburg, " as a soldier, and soldiers will understand me best.
"To begin with I must confess that Germany could not have won the war - that is, after 1917. We might have won on land. We might have taken Paris. But after the failure of the world food crops of 1916 the British food blockade reached its greatest effectiveness in 1917. So I must really say that the British food blockade of 1917 and the American blow in the Argonne of 1918 decided the war for the Allies.
"But without American troops against us and despite a food blockade which was undermining the civilian population of Germany and curtailing the rations in the field, we could still have had a peace without victory. The war could have ended in a sort of stalemate.
"In the summer of 1918 the German army was able to launch offensive after offensive - almost one a month. We had the men, the munitions and the morale, and we were not overbalanced. But the balance was broken by the American troops.
"The Argonne battle was slow and difficult. But it was strategic. It was bitter and it used up division after division. We had to hold the Metz-Longuyon roads and railroad and we had hoped to stop all American attacks until the entire army was out of northern France. We were passing through the neck of a vast bottle. But the neck was narrow. German and American divisions fought each other to a standstill in the Argonne. They met and shattered each other's strength. The Americans are splendid soldiers. But when I replaced a division it was weak in numbers and unrested, while each American division came in fresh and fit and on the offensive.
"The day came when the American command sent new divisions into the battle and when I had not even a broken division to plug up the gaps. There was nothing left to do but ask terms.
If the Hindenburg interview had been passed by Pershing's (stupid) censors at the time, it would have been headlined in every country civilized enough to have newspapers and undoubtedly would have made an impression on millions of people and became an important page in history. I believe it would have destroyed the main planks on which Hitler rose to power, it would have prevented World War II, the greatest and worst war in all history, and it would have changed the future of all mankind.
He began coldly, in a voice northern and unimpassioned. I had never heard an Italian orator so restrained. Then he changed, became soft and warm, added gestures, and flames in his eyes. The audience moved with him. He held them. Suddenly he lowered his voice to a heavy whisper and the silence among the listeners became more intense. The whisper sank lower and the listeners strained breathlessly to hear. Then Mussolini exploded with thunder and fire, and the mob - for it was no more than a mob now - rose to its feet and shouted. Immediately Mussolini became cold and nordic and restrained again and swept his mob into its seats exhausted. An actor. Actor extraordinary, with a country for a stage, a great powerful histrionic ego, swaying an audience of millions, confounding the world by his theatrical cleverness.
Everyone had copies of the confessions of the men who killed Giacomo Matteotti (the head of the Italian Socialist Party and Mussolini's chief political rival). It got more and more difficult to report on what was really happening there.
The Cheka (Chesvychaika), or GPU, is the instrument of the red terror, organized in 1918, through which the Soviet government, the Communist party and the Third International, Russia's indivisible trinity, maintains itself in dictatorial power to this very day. The years have brought a change in name, less activity, more secrecy.
The era of wanton murder has passed, it is true; public trials within fourteen days after arrest are now ordered by law and in most cases given. But the terror has entered into the souls of the Russian people.
Because of the Cheka, freedom has ceased to exist in Russia. There is no democracy. It is not wanted. Only American apologists for the Soviets have ever pretended there was democracy in Russia. " Democracy " says a communist axiom " is a delusion of the bourgeois mind." Justice in Russia is communist justice: the end justifies the means, and the end is Communism at all costs, including the lives of its opponents.
Freedom, liberty, justice as we know it, democracy, all the fundamental human rights for which the world has been fighting for civilized centuries, have been abolished in Russia in order that the communist experiment might be made. They have been kept suppressed by the Cheka.
The Cheka is the instrument of militant Communism. It is a great success. The terror is in the mind and marrow of the present generation and nothing but generations of freedom and liberty will ever root it out.
The victims of the Cheka are estimated anywhere from 50,000 to 500,000, with the truth probably mid-ways. But it is not a matter of numbers. The outstanding fact today is that by their tortures, wholesale arrests and wholesale murders of liberals suspected of not favouring the Bolshevik interpretation of Communism, the Cheka has terrorized a whole generation, the people of our time.
The victims are usually non-Bolshevik radicals, especially Socialists, social-revolutionaries and Mensheviks, who, incidentally, are more hated by the Bolsheviks than the capitalists, the nobility or the bourgeoisie.
Many people trembled when the name of the dictator was mentioned. But in dirty little offices sat little grey bureaucrats who changed Lenin's speeches when they feared he had spoken too dangerously, and in other dirty little offices sat military political police officials who bragged that they would arrest the man if he acted too dangerously.
When we said to the censors, Lenin himself said this, they laughed. When it served their purposes they added or deleted, and sometimes they suppressed Lenin entirely. When it pleased them they arranged interviews, but for years they did their best to keep the " capitalist" journalists out of Lenin's sight. We heard him, however, at all the big congresses.
He spoke with a thick, throaty, wet voice. Eyes bright, crowsfeet, a real, unserious face. He had a clever motion of the hand by which he could emphasize a point and yet steal a look at the time on his wrist watch. Frequently he pointed with both index fingers, upwards, shoulder high, like the conventional picture of a Chinese dancer.
He was dressed in a cheap grey semi-military uniform, a civilian transplanted into ill-fitting army-issue clothes. They were grey-black but the crease in the trousers was already giving because there is too much shoddy in the wool. The tunic, which is high like the American doughboy's, was open at the neck revealing a flannel shirt and a bright blue necktie, loosely tied. His eyes were not half as oriental as the photographs have made him, because he has full eyebrows, not merely stubs at the nose, which the pictures emphasize.
He reported on foreign and domestic affairs. He never hesitated to acknowledge defeats and failures. But he was always optimistic. My disillusion was profound. I wondered how this man, who has so little magnetism, had come to the fore in a radical environment where spell-binding oratory, silver-tongued climaxes, soap-box repartee, have been the road to success. Only once did he aim to produce a laugh, and even that had his touch of irony. "We have pruned and pruned our bureaucracy," he said, "and after four years we have taken a census of our government staff and we have an increase of 12,000."
Lenin had the greatness and the human, all-too-human sympathy to be a comrade to all, the group of fellow dictators and the peasants who loved him. His political wisdom was great; he understood mob psychology thoroughly but was a little weak in his grasp of individual psychology; he never made a mistake in dealing with the masses but he frequently did in choosing men to share power.
Lincoln Steffens was the godfather of us all. He was an older man when I first met him (in 1919). He was the first of the muckrakers. As he once said, "where there's muck, I'll rake it." He often warned me that I was starting to get a bad reputation for myself. I guess I never worried about that.
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 or colored.
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.
The middle of the road is a crowded place. During all these years of work and talk I had had a fine contempt for the frightened majority which traveled the middle road. I had thought of myself as one of the non-conformists along the less-traveled and rather lonely individual path of my choosing.
Question: Can you trust the press?
George Seldes: The baseball scores are always correct (except for a typographical error now and then). The stock market tables are correct (within the same limitation). But when it comes to news which will affect you, your daily life, your job, your relation to other peoples, your thinking on economic and social problems, and, more important today, your going to war and risking your life for a great ideal, then you cannot trust about 98 percent (or perhaps 99 1/2 percent) of the big newspaper and big magazine press of America.
Question: But why can't you trust the press?
George Seldes: Because it has become big business. The big city press and the big magazines have become commercialized, or big business organizations, run with no other motive than profit for owner or stockholder (although hypocritically still maintaining the old American tradition of guiding and enlightening the people). The big press cannot exist a day without advertising. Advertising means money from big business.
George Seldes about as subtle as a house falling in. He makes too much of the failure of newspapers to print exactly what George Seldes would have printed if he were the managing editor. But he is a useful citizen. In fact is a fine little gadfly, representing an enormous effort for one man and his wife.
A lot of people call here and say "I didn't know you were still alive." For a long time, my name never appeared in the papers. People thought "this guy is a troublemaker, the hell with him." I never had it easy, but I never missed a meal and I've never been broke.
One of the greatest sources of comfort to me is knowing that I have lived long enough to be vindicated. I've outlived all of my enemies, but I've also outlived all of my friends.
George Seldes at 94: A Living Panorama of World History
This is how the stories come: in rushes, in great torrents, in word pictures as clear as the early spring sky here, as rich and as lush as Vermont’s proud Green Mountains. The details are amazing, spewing forth with millisecond precision. No name is forgotten, no allusion overlooked. Hemingway, Hindenburg, Roosevelt, McCarthy, Franco, Fitzgerald . . . these are the names that pepper a conversation with George Seldes. Sometimes it is like listening to one vast news tape of modern history.
There is, for one of so many extraordinary examples, the tale of Trotsky.
“Well, it was 1922,” George Seldes remembered, warming to the moment. “I was the only one there who had a camera.” “There” was Red Square, where “they were celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Russian Revolution, and Trotsky was standing there, saluting the Red Army. Oh, the poor Red Army! There were soldiers with burlap instead of boots, that’s how poor they were. Anyway, just as I took my first frame, a guy taps me on the shoulder. In German, he said, ‘I am the official photographer, and I have a monopoly here, so get the hell out.’ ”
So boisterously did the two argue that soon Leon Trotsky himself was wondering what was up. “Well, I knew he spoke English,” Seldes said of the Russian commissar of war, “because he used to sit at the Central Cafe in New York City. And I said, ‘Mr. Trotsky, this guy says he has a monopoly. Now I’ve read everything since 1917 when this revolution was established, and you’ve abolished monopolies and big business and all like that. Surely this man is wrong. I want to take pictures for the Chicago Tribune.’
“So Trotsky turns to the guy, and he says, ‘Beat it, you fool,’ and then he says, ‘How do you want me to stand?’ ”
Smiling, saluting, Trotsky posed while Seldes snapped a full roll of film. Ever the diligent newsman, Seldes directed his editors to refer to one of Trotsky’s companions as “an unidentified officer.” And “guess who it was?” Seldes chuckled. “Stalin. He was so unknown in 1922 that he was the ‘unidentified officer.’ ”
1922. George Seldes was 32, and firmly into the second decade of a career in journalism now well into its 75th year. He had yet to write the first of his 20 books, though now, today, even as his most recent volume descends on readers, 94-year-old George Seldes is fast at work on the next. Editors at Ballantine were aghast when the manuscript for “The Great Thoughts,” Seldes’ current literary offering, arrived on their corporate doorstep--in four crates. Not entirely enthusiastically, for he had been researching the book for 25 years and thinking about it for more like 75, Seldes returned to his 1937 Royal typewriter and agreed to pare down this compendium of “the ideas that have shaped the world.” Freud, for example, was sliced from 40 typewritten pages to a trim 10 in the book. Finally, some 2,500 thinkers, from Abelard to someone named Huldreich Zwingli, survived to fill the covers.
By 1922 Seldes had already scored “the biggest story he ever had”: the 1918 interview with Weimar Republic President Paul von Hindenburg in which the German field marshal attributed Germany’s defeat in World War I not to “forces from within--the international bankers, and the Jews, and the civilian population and Socialists,” as Hitler would later charge, but rather strictly to the entry of American troops.
Seldes remembered Von Hindenburg saying, “They were fresh, young, bright. They wanted to fight. All I had was 45-year-old reservists and people like that. . . . We were about to call it off, and suddenly this small but eager, enthusiastic army crashes through the woods in July, 1918. I didn’t want to see Germany destroyed the way we had destroyed the cities of France, and so I had to appeal for an armistice and peace.”
Naturally, this story comes equipped with a wry slice of history. Waiting in Hindenburg’s anteroom was a certain Gen. Groener. “And I think this is Homeric laughter,” Seldes said, “the funniest story of a tragic situation that I have ever heard of.” Groener, it seems, was sporting an elaborate head bandage. Had the general been badly wounded? No: As a press spokesman translated, “The General says he has just lost the world war, and it has given him an awful splitting headache.”
Seldes had, after all, high-tailed it to Europe six years earlier as an antidote to a major personal headache of his own. Leaning back on his big, soft living-room couch, his trusty, sometimes noisy feline companion, Peepers, in his lap, Seldes smiled. “I was 26, and I had to get away from a girl. . . .” His hapless love affair drove him first from Pittsburgh to New York, and then, as the lady in question relentlessly pursued him, across the sea to Great Britain.
“Look, in a way, she’s responsible for everything I am,” said Seldes. “If it weren’t for her, I would still be in Pittsburgh today, probably working on the paper.”
Seldes was not yet 19 on Feb. 9, 1909, when he started out as the $3.50-per-week cub reporter at the Pittsburgh Leader. His career soon took a logarithmic leap, when, in 1911, he was sent to ask frequent presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan about his intentions in the upcoming election. “Pardon me, Mr. Bryan,” Seldes said, “but will you be making a fourth try for the presidency?” It was the “fourth try” that apparently pushed Bryan over the edge, so much so that he physically ejected cub reporter Seldes from his sight. “BRYAN ASSAULTS LEADER REPORTER” read the banner headline the following day. In very little time at all, Seldes was promoted from cub reporter to star reporter.
In Pittsburgh, Seldes joined with a handful of men to march with a group of suffragettes. Men and women alike, the marchers were pelted with cow dung by unsympathetic spectators. It was in Pittsburgh too that Seldes learned the pre-libel law art of noteless interviewing. “Memorize everything,” his editor counseled. “Taking notes will only intimidate your subjects.” The skill served him well, for a decade later he sat through a remarkable 2 1/2-hour interview with the Italian dictator Mussolini, and then, he says, re-created it word for word on his typewriter.
But Seldes’ habit of relating what he heard, verbatim, did not win him universal admiration. His too-factual reporting on post-Revolutionary Russia saw him barred from that country, and in 1925, a disgruntled Mussolini had him booted from Italy as well.
Late in 1928, Seldes tendered his resignation to the Chicago Tribune, his employer of nearly a decade of roving in Europe, North Africa, the Soviet Union, Mexico. What he saw as highly slanted reporting about the latter country was what prompted him to bid farewell to the world of daily journalism, entirely oblivious, apparently, to the fact that the bottom was about to tumble out of the U.S. economy. “Luckily, out of the clear blue sky,” a literary agent telephoned Seldes, asking him to do a book “on the difficulties of censorship and suppression, imprisonment, even killing of foreign correspondents.” For the book that became the classic “You Can’t Print That,” Seldes’ publisher was willing to offer an advance of $500. “Good heavens!” he spurted, still incredulous. “That was 10 weeks’ pay! That was a fortune to me!” Seldes smiled. “Well, anyway, it was a best seller and I really lived on top of the world, even in 1929, after the crash.”
For Seldes, the Lost Generation of writers and artistes who populated the Paris of the ‘30s were pals, playmates and in the case of a famous writer named Hemingway, public enemies. “It’s an amazing story, in a way,” Seldes said. “You know Hemingway, as everybody who has studied him has said, was never certain of two things: his importance as a writer, and his masculinity.” Indeed, Seldes said, the legendary tales of virility contests pitting Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald were not legends at all.
But it was the way Hemingway treated critic-editor Gilbert Seldes that earned Hemingway the eternal enmity of fiercely loyal older brother George. Even today, Seldes hovers under a minor cloud of inferiority when the subject of Gilbert, author of “The Seven Lively Arts,” is raised. Gilbert graduated from Harvard, his brother likes to crow, as if this event had occurred last week, whereas George, did just one year of college--albeit at the same institution.
But Paris brought Seldes his most treasured tale as well. There he was, a confirmed bachelor of 39, when his life was turned upside down by a third-year Sorbonne student from Cincinnati named Helen Larkin. “She was a genius,” Seldes said. “She was 24, and she was studying biochemical physics. I said, ‘What are you doing that for?’ And she said that when she was through, she was going to Russia to offer her services to Pavlov, ‘the greatest scientist there ever was.’ ” When Seldes “lit into my story of my horrors of my year and a half in Russia,” he remembered, “she practically kicked me and said she never wanted to see me or hear from me again.”
Three years later Seldes happened to be attending a party. “You know in Paris in those days, you could bring along anybody to a party. You went to a party, you brought along a friend.” So who should appear at this party but the same Helen Larkin? Seldes’ heart thumped. “This time I tried a different tactic.” He approached Larkin’s friend and said, “Dorothy, would you like to meet me for lunch tomorrow at the Select Cafe? Oh, and if you want to bring that crazy girlfriend of yours along, bring her along.” Three months later Seldes and Larkin were married by the mayor of Paris’ sixth arrondissement .
They honeymooned in Spain, where Seldes penned “the best book I ever wrote. It was called ‘World Panorama,’ and it was for Little Brown & Co., and it didn’t sell one copy.”
But Spain became a special haunt for Seldes and Larkin. Zealous supporters of the Spanish Civil War, fervent foes of Franco, they joined other leading U.S. defenders of the Loyalist cause in trying to spread its message in America. Years later, with Franco dead and buried, the Seldeses returned to spend holidays in Spain. There, in 1979, Seldes’ wife of 47 years died quietly.
Seldes returned to the house here in rural Vermont where he and Helen had lived so happily. An earlier house, not far away, was bought with funds borrowed from close friend Sinclair Lewis, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist. His life here is quiet, punctuated mainly by frequent research expeditions to the Baker Library at nearby Dartmouth College, and regular Friday lunches at the Hanover Inn there. A tight web of friends keeps close watch on Seldes, and in turn each year he honors them with a giant thank-you party on his own birthday. It is to these 26 friends and neighbors, along with the editors to whom he still sends maple syrup each Christmas, that Seldes dedicates “The Great Thoughts.”
Seldes, asserts one such neighbor/friend, innkeeper Audrey Wolpert, is “a national treasure, he really is.” Never mind that more widely recognized writers, J. D. Salinger, for one, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for another, inhabit these hills as well. Lovingly, Wolpert lauds Seldes as far more than a local landmark. Equally fondly, she sends those who come to visit Seldes off with brown bags full of homemade goodies for her favorite author: fresh pate, today, homemade blintzes, some sausages to pop on the stove for an early supper.
By sunset, Seldes is swirling sherry in goblets he and Helen bought from a Spanish glass blower 30, maybe 40 years ago. “Five pesetas each. Bought all he had, a dozen.” On one table lies a volume of Herodotus. “Hey, listen, he was a great journalist. He even said the whole story of Troy was a fraud.” Nearby is a book on the McCarthy hearings, a subject Seldes launches into with almost no prodding at all.
Seldes, it turns out, holds the distinction of having been cleared by Joseph McCarthy. “In Fact,” the periodical devoted to countering censorship and suppression that Seldes published for a decade in the ‘40s and ‘50s, was apparently part of what caused him to be summoned by McCarthy. “ ‘So if the President of the United States were to say you were a Communist,’ ” Seldes remembers McCarthy committee attorney Roy Cohn asking him, “ ‘you would say the President was a liar?’ ” Seldes said he narrowed his eyes and stared at McCarthy and Cohn, straight on. “If the President of the United States and all nine Justices of the Supreme Court were to say I was a Communist,” Seldes said in a voice still brimming with wildly righteous indignation, “I would say they were all a bunch of liars.” McCarthy pronounced Seldes cleared and sent him home.
His eye on history earned Seldes a role as one of the witnesses in Warren Beatty’s movie “Reds.” Seldes fleeting appearance was hardly enough to catapult him to fame and fortune, but one of his still-unwritten books, his nephew and literary agent Tim Seldes suggested, might ensure both on the basis of its title alone, “To Hell With the Joys of Old Age.”
“Did I tell you I had a pacemaker put in last year?” Seldes inquired. “Of course when they put it in they said they were only good for seven years. . . ,” Seldes smiled, “so in six years they’ll have to put in another one.”
Borrowing from Boswell, Seldes likes to say he is in his “anecdotage,” and as such, he feels at perfect liberty to get on with the memoirs he has been accumulating these last nine-and-a-half decades. “Adventures With People,” it will be called. “The Noted, the Notorious and Three S.O.B’s.”
“Men can commit murder,” Seldes said, explaining the title, “but nobody will excuse dirty, dirty treachery. These will be my three examples of the most treacherous things in my career.”
Honored two years ago with journalism’s prestigious Polk Award, Seldes covets the telegram he received from “the acting President,” as he calls Ronald Reagan, but bristles at accepting the label of conscience of the American press.
“Look,” Seldes said, sounding just a shade impatient, “William Allen White and I had a formula: All we want is the facts, fairly and honestly presented. The truth will take care of itself.” Late in the afternoon, 75 years into his career, Seldes is sitting on the couch, stroking the cat that came from a Fifth Avenue trash can. Seventy-five years into his career, said Seldes, the formula still holds. “Yes,” he said quietly, “yes, I’m still working at that.”
He told the truth and didn't run Journalism: Trail-blazing press critic George Seldes led the way for generations of journalists eager to search for truth wherever it might lead.
GEORGE SELDES would have chuckled at the media silence that greeted last month's Oscar nomination for a movie about him.
Few modern journalists are aware of the greatest press critic in this nation's history. So, it's not surprising that most media outlets have ignored "Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press."
In contrast, another Academy Award finalist for best documentary feature - "When We Were Kings," a film about Muhammad Ali's boxing comeback in 1974 - has gotten lots of publicity. It's owned by Gramercy Pictures, part of the huge Polygram conglomerate.
The documentary about Seldes did not receive any corporate backing. The film's producer and director, Rick Goldsmith, created "Tell the Truth and Run" in much the same way that Seldes lived his life: independently.
When Armistice Day brought World War I to an end, Seldes broke ranks with the obedient press corps and drove behind the lines of retreating German troops. For the rest of his life, Seldes remained haunted by what took place next.
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 because of 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 gathered firsthand news about many historic figures. Lenin did not appreciate the young American journalist, and neither did Mussolini. The Bolsheviks banished Seldes from the Soviet Union in 1923. Two years later, with Black Shirt thugs on his heels, Seldes caught a train out of Italy.
In 1928, after nearly 10 years as a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, Seldes quit - fed up with biased editing. The last straw came with the newspaper's selective use of his dispatches from Mexico. Articles presenting the perspective of U.S. oil companies ran in full, but stories about the contrary views of the Mexican government did not appear.
Seldes became a trail-blazing press critic. Starting in 1929, he wrote intrepid books - such as "You Can't Print That!" and "Lords of the Press" - endearing him to readers but infuriating media moguls of the day. Seldes served as a Diogenes whose light led the way for new generations of journalists eager to search for truth wherever it might lead.
Many of his stands, lonely at the time, were prophetic. Beginning in the late 1930s, for example, Seldes excoriated the American press for hiding the known dangers of smoking while making millions from cigarette ads. He was several decades ahead of his time.
An implacable foe of tyranny, Seldes was not content to cast stones at faraway despots. He also took on mighty centers of power - "big money for big business" - close to home.
Like few other journalists, Seldes shined a fierce light on Europe's emerging fascism - and its allies in the United States. Seldes repeatedly attacked press barons such as William Randolph Hearst and groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers for assisting Hitler, Mussolini and Spain's Gen. Francisco Franco.
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 dispatches - until pressure from U.S. supporters of Franco caused the chain to drop their reports.
From 1940 to 1950, Seldes edited America's first periodical of media criticism. The weekly newsletter, In fact, peaked at a circulation of 176,000 copies as it scrutinized the press - "the most powerful force against the general welfare of the majority of the people."
What happened to In fact? The New York Times obituary about Seldes simply stated that it ceased publication in 1950, "when his warnings about fascism seemed out of tune with rising public concern about communism." In fact, 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 harassment was pivotal to the newsletter's demise. Also crucial was the sustained barrage of smears and Red-baiting against In fact in the country's largest newspapers.
Seldes was an astute analyst of self-censorship. Most reporters, he observed, "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."
Thus, Seldes added, "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.'"
Today, on my desk is a copy of Seldes' sparkling autobiography, "Witness to a Century." On the first page, in the graceful handwriting of a 97-year-old man, is an inscription dated May 9, 1988. I treasure the memory of visiting Seldes. And I vividly remember the warm gleam in his eyes as he stood waving goodbye from his porch.
The death of George Seldes - on July 2, 1995, at the age of 104 - underscored the major media's lack of interest in legacies of journalistic courage. Time magazine devoted 40 words to his passing Newsweek didn't mention it at all.
On March 24, "Tell the Truth and Run" could win an Academy Award. It's a long shot. But filmmaker Rick Goldsmith has worked on the Seldes movie project since the start of this decade.
"The challenge is to find the venues to get the film out to viewers," he said.
Goldsmith's film lacks distribution to theaters. And the key television network for documentaries - the Public Broadcasting System - has so far rebuffed "Tell the Truth and Run." However, Goldsmith continues to persevere.
Unlike the "independent" movies with piles of money behind them for promotion and distribution, Goldsmith's truly independent documentary remains a celluloid vision on a frayed shoestring. The obstacles have always been formidable.
But "Tell the Truth and Run" is a precious film that implores us to think for ourselves - and to fight against all types of media censorship.
Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist and author. His most recent book (co-written with Jeff Cohen) is "Through the Media Looking Glass: Decoding Bias and Blather in the News."
Living Large, The Best Revenge
George Seldes enjoyed the perquisites of reporting overseas. In Berlin, he kept a suite at the luxurious Hotel Adlon. In Paris during World War I he hung out with denizens of the Algonquin Round Table: Damon Runyon, Harold Ross, Alexander Woollcott and Franklin P. Adams.
During his years in Europe, he bragged about breakfast with Emma Goldman, lunch with Charlie Chaplin and dinner with Calvin Coolidge. He taught Ernest Hemingway how to send cables and had cocktails with Isadora Duncan.
But he also had troubles with his boss at the Chicago Tribune. Col. Robert McCormick refused to run his stories on the atrocities of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.
George Seldes finally tossed away his press credentials in 1929 and poured his energies into writing books.
His first two books, You Can’t Print That in 1929 and Can These Things Be! in 1931, covered most of the stories that had been spiked by his employers at the Chicago Tribune. They touched on everything from brewing troubles in Afghanistan (where else?) to an aborted effort to publish the love letters of Isadora Duncan.
He moved on to expose the Catholic Church’s ties to Fascism, the machinations of the world’s arms dealers and his favorite target – the corrupt relationship between corporate America and the American press.
Lenin and Mussolini
Seldes spent the next ten years as an international reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He interviewed Lenin in 1922. He and three other reporters were expelled in 1923 when Soviet authorities, who routinely censored foreign reporters' telegraphed dispatches, found articles by the four reporters, disguised as personal letters, being smuggled out in a diplomatic mailpouch to avoid censorship. The expulsion was facilitated, according to Seldes, after his publisher, Colonel Robert McCormick, failed to show sufficient respect when writing to the Soviets to protest censorship.
The Chicago Tribune sent him to Italy where he wrote about Benito Mussolini and the rise of fascism. Seldes investigated the murder of Giacomo Matteotti, the head of the parliamentary section of the Italian United Socialist Party. His article implicated Mussolini in the killing, and Seldes was expelled from Italy. He wrote an account of Italian censorship and intimidation of American reporters for Harper's Magazine.
In 1927, the Chicago Tribune sent Seldes to Mexico, but his articles criticizing American corporations for their use of that country's mineral rights were not well received. Seldes returned to Europe, but found that his work increasingly censored to fit the political views of the newspaper's owner, Robert R. McCormick.
"A timely introduction into the era of revolutions, fascism, witchhunts and journalistic coverups. It is essential education for all students and scholars of journalism and political life."
"There is no better beginning or end point for media ethics than the life and times of George Seldes, which are beautifully captured and analyzed in Tell the Truth and Run."
"A magnetic, entrancing, inspiring film. reveals a history of our times unknown to most Americans. At the same time delightful to watch and a powerful educational experience. I wish every young person in America could see it."
"George Seldes was determined, in the best American tradition, to shake up the establishment, and 'Tell the Truth and Run' draws a strong and endearing portrait of this stormy petrel of American journalism."
"In an age when soundbites and scandal too often take precedence over responsible reporting, it is inspiring to watch Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press. Bay Area filmmaker Rick Goldsmith's incisive documentary about that courageous reporter shows how Seldes exposed Mussolini's fascism in the '20s supported civil rights in the '40s and '50s and attacked the tobacco industry's deadly effect on health in his muckraking weekly newsletter, In Fact. And he didn't hesitate to criticize the most important newspaper publishers for distortion, failure to cover all the news, and undue influence by advertisers. In May, 1989, Goldsmith interviewed the feisty, 98-year-old journalist at his home in Vermont, where he was still writing books-- and gardening. He had lost subscribers during the McCarthy era and was forced to cease publication of In Fact in 1950. Archival film clips from World War I to the present convey the atmosphere of the times. Several journalists testify about the vital influence of the man who always followed his father's advice: 'Question everything. Never compromise on your principles.'"
"Nothing can stop the march of an informed people" is one of the many messages found in Rick Goldsmith's stirring documentary about newspaperman-author George Seldes, an educational and mostly reverential portrait of a muckraker who never compromised on principles and rarely passed up the chance to take on the powerful and corrupt. Playing an Academy Award-qualifying run at Laemmle's Monica, Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press is also an enriching encounter with the issues behind reporting the news in this century, such as the somtimes insidious relationship between advertising and editorial policy. Producer-director-editor Goldsmith employs a punchy, direct style reminiscent of a hard news story. Ed Asner gives voice to many of Seldes' writings, culled from his innumerable articles, letters, and many books, while Susan Sarandon provides the just-the-facts narration. More than 500 photographs, headlines and articles are used graphically as is incredible archival footage from many sources. Most remarkable is Seldes himself, who is perfectly lucid and engaging at age 98. (He died at age 104 in July 1995.) Interviewed at his Vermont home, surrounded by hundreds of unanswered letters and still working on an old Underwood typewriter, Seldes couldn't be gentler, although his professional voice made dictators and despots tremble through the ages. The son of Russian Jewish immigrants who lived in the utopian colony of Alliance, NJ, Seldes first made waves in 1909 as a cub reporter for a Pittsburgh paper, where his story about a rapist preying on co-workers was killed when the advertising department used it as blackmail against the man's employers. Exposing "prostitution of the press" became a lifelong mission of Seldes, but his career as a foreign correspondent in World War I, the young Soviet Union and 1920s Italy made him a tireless opponent of official and self-imposed censorship. In 1924, he reported on Benito Mussolini's links to the assassination of Giacomo Matteotti, an anti-fascist, and was eventually expelled from the country. In the late 1920s and '30s, he began a series of books critical of the so-called free press, covered the Spanish Civil War with his wife Helen, and warned of the "really great war for which youth is being prepared." In 1940, he and Communist Bruce Minton founded the newsweekly In Fact. They had a falling out after a year, but Seldes continued putting out the publication for a decade, influencing politicians and youthful truth-seekers from Daniel Ellsberg to Ralph Nader (who are among the several interviewees in the film). His exposure of the hazards of cigarette smoking was in stark contrast to the misleading advertising of the industry that was ubiquitous in American newspapers and magazines. The list of the fights goes on, including major campaigns against the National Association of Manufacturers and J. Edgar Hoover. With the Cold War in full swing, Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his anti-communist crusade helped bring an end to In Fact, but Seldes continued to write books and eventually appeared in Warren Beatty's "Reds" as one of the "witnesses." Truly an American original, Seldes' legacy is one that speaks courageously to a new generation that must never forget another of his benchmark statements: "A people that wants to be free must arm itself with a free press."
"Documentarian Rick Goldsmith finds a rich subject in George Seldes, whose career as a journalist and contentious critic of journalism spanned nearly the entire 20th century. Interviews conducted with Seldes in his 98th year form the heart of this inspiring, if quite conventional, Academy Award-nominated documentary. Using archival footage and news clippings, TELL THE TRUTH AND RUN sets the stage for Seldes's autobiographical reminiscences, beginning with his first job in the newspaper business. As an 18-year-old reporter for The Pittsburgh Leader, Seldes covered the story of a department store owner's son who was charged with the attempted rape of one of the store's salesclerks. The Leader decided not to print the story and used it as blackmail so that the store would increase its advertising. Seldes then resolved to dedicate his career to fighting the "prostitution of the press" to corporate strong-arming, government censorship, or any other force that threatened to suppress facts about affairs of local or global importance. Later, as a WWI-era European correspondent for The Chicago Tribune, Seldes learned that under the heat of competition, crushing deadlines, and the wartime situation, his job was to "tell the truth and run"--with an emphasis on telling the truth, a practice which got Seldes expelled from both Lenin's Russia and Mussolini's Italy. After the war, Seldes settled into Paris cafe society to write the first of a series of books criticizing the press's preference of profit over honesty and accuracy. In 1941, Seldes founded In Fact, a weekly devoted to protesting "corporate malfeasance, consumer fraud, and racial injustice," which in its time surpassed The Nation and The New Republic in circulation. Never afraid to offend, Seldes's publication was the first to reveal information on the health risks of smoking. As the Red Scare brewed, many readers canceled their subscriptions, although Seldes himself was investigated only briefly and quickly vindicated by Joseph McCarthy's House Subcommittee on Unamerican Activities. Having always refused advertising, In Fact could not survive its lack of income and folded in 1950. Seldes resettled in Vermont. Claiming that "retirement is the dirtiest ten-letter word in the English language," he continued to write and published several more books but was rarely reviewed. Seldes was largely forgotten until he appeared in Warren Beatty's 1981 film REDS as one of several "witnesses" to the life and work of author and activist John Reed. Renewed interest in Seldes's work sparked his first awards from the journalism community. He died at age 104 in 1995. In TELL THE TRUTH AND RUN, Goldsmith features heavy-hitters from the current generation of critics, journalists, public advocates, and activists who have taken Seldes's ideals to heart, including media industry historian Ben Bagdikian, Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, and peace activist Daniel Ellsberg. Each subject testifies to Seldes's influence on their own work youthful representatives of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), a media watchdog group, appear to prove that Seldes's work continues. Even at 98, as an interview subject, Seldes himself tirelessly dissects the demise of competition in most local newspaper markets and the increasing control of the press by non-media corporations whose interests are promoted at the expense of the truth. The presence of carefully chosen celebrity voices (Susan Sarandon, as narrator, and Ed Asner, reading from Seldes's works), may underscore the film's liberal credentials for a contemporary audience, but this documentary is a refreshingly uncynical work. Straightforward in approach, alternatively celebratory and solemn in tone, TELL THE TRUTH AND RUN paints a hopeful portrait of one man who made a difference. (Adult situations.)"
George Seldes, who got a moment of attention at Monday night's Academy Awards ceremony, was a predigital man. But he is an example to all who have taken to the Net to declare independence from Old Media. "He stood up to power, he was not intimidated by power, he relished going after power. That was the heart of his journalism. That's very rare," says filmmaker Rick Goldsmith, whose work Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press was one of five feature documentaries up for an Oscar. Goldsmith's film lost to the single movie in the category that had a major distribution deal, When We Were Kings, a film about the 1974 Muhammad Ali-George Foreman heavyweight title fight. Seldes worked for the established press for 20 years after rapping out his first story for the Pittsburgh Leader in 1909. For the Chicago Tribune, he covered the end of World War I, the Russian Revolution, and Mussolini's rise to power in Italy. In all his assignments, he followed the advice of his Tribune editors: He told it the way it was, then got the hell out. His rewards for always pressing to go where the press was not wanted: court-martial threats, expulsion from the Soviet Union, a narrow escape from a squad of Black Shirts trying to make sure he didn't make it out of Italy alive. And one last reward: His editors censored a 1928 series he wrote on the Mexican Revolution. Seldes left the Tribune to write several books about corruption in the US corporate media of the 1930s. He went back to the trenches of daily journalism to cover the Spanish Civil War late in the decade. Then in 1940, he took the step that makes him kin to the legions who have discovered online a way to break the bounds of corporate media. Having found the Hearsts, the McCormacks, and the Sulzbergers who controlled the US press unwilling to print stories about, say, how big American companies maintained their business ties to Nazi Germany even after the onset of war, he bought his own press to put out that story and many others. Nearly a quarter-century before the US surgeon general in 1964 conceded what most doctors already knew - that cigarette smoking was killing people by the thousands - Seldes ran the story in his little weekly paper, In Fact. The paper confronted government and corporate misconduct and abuse for a decade before it fell victim to the anti-Communist hysteria that swept the United States following World War II. Seldes worked the rest of his career - nearly 45 years of reflection and writing - in obscurity. Seldes' principles could be part of a netizen's charter: Question everything. Never take anything for granted. Never compromise on the great principles. Never tire of protest. See the movie, if you can - its best shot at getting to a mass audience is probably through public television. Even if you can't catch the film, though, check out Seldes and his writings. He's one of the Net's forebears we should get to know him better.
George Seldes, In Fact
Ever the appreciator of spunk backed by integrity and always the sharp-minded truant ready to rally behind a fellow loner, I.F. Stone rose to tell the audience of 300 at the George Polk awards luncheon at the Roosevelt Hotel about his friend George Seldes, one of the winners.
Seldes, the 91-year-old reporter who wrote his first story for the Pittsburgh Leader in 1909 and whose latest article appeared recently in The Nation, was seated a few feet from the lectern as Stone began: "I'm very proud to acknowledge that George was the model for my weekly. I followed in his footsteps. And indeed, he advised me in Paris, in the spring of 1951, that when I got home I ought to launch a four-page weekly newsletter. He illustrates the fact that if you live long enough the establishment will take you to its bosom."
The establishment, or at least that part of it represented by the Long Island University prize committee of the Polk awards, had embraced Seldes for a style of fiery independent journalism that goes back to earlier eras of muckraking.
The citation of the Polk committee caught a little of the uniqueness of Seldes: He "was not tethered to any political philosophy. With a gimlet eye ever fixed upon transgressors, he soared above the convention of his time--a lone eagle, unafraid and indestructible. He is still a pretty tough bird."
Walking to the microphone in the warmth of the laughter evoked by Izzy Stone's crack about the establishment's bosom, Seldes looked mildly startled when the audience rose to give him a standing ovation.
About half an hour before the luncheon, Seldes went with the crowd to a reception area outside the dining room. He was dressed nattily in a light brown sports coat, tan slacks, blue shirt and plaid tie. His hair, in good supply, is white. When he talks, he sometimes gestures animatedly with his hands. Occasionally, when he believes a strong point needs to be stronger, his eyebrows rise. Underneath, his eyes are clear, though he said his doctor detects the onset of cataracts in the lower part of his left eye. He adds that the doctor thinks the cataracts won't act up for at least five years, if that soon.
Seldes was in the public eye recently in "Reds": He was one of the witnesses remembering John Reed. He knew Reed in Greenwich Village and Cape Cod in the 1910s. Reed, with his coverage of the Mexican-American war behind him, was better known than Seldes, three years his junior.
Seldes, seated on a sofa in the Roosevelt Hotel lobby, recalled: "They sent an airplane with about nine or 10 or 11 people, I don't know, a full complement of film people. They had gotten Scott Nearing in Maine and stopped at Lebanon, across the river, for me. They sent a car. They took me to the ballroom of the hotel and made it into a studio. They had lights and cameras and everything and people asking questions and making me sing all the dirty songs Jack Reed had written. They said, 'Oh we can use anything. Cosmopolitan uses four-letter words.'
"I talked to them for a solid five hours. From about 1 o'clock to about 6. Then they sent me home in the car. Seven reels they made. They made me repeat the dirty songs twice, because they didn't want to miss them. One of them begins, 'Down in the sewer, digging up manure.' That's the kind of songs Jack Reed wrote. They were funny."
When "Reds" opened at the Nugget theater in Hanover, N.H., Seldes, who lives in nearby Hartland Four Corners, Vt., went to opening night. The theater manager, seeing Vermont's newest film star arriving, gave Seldes a free ticket. He enjoyed the film, though he thought it gave too much time to "the love stuff" and not enough to the revolution. That it didn't give him more than 20 seconds--Seldes sings some of Reed's ditties--was no irritant at all.
After Izzy Stone's introduction at the luncheon, Seldes spoke briefly. He mentioned the weekly newsletter "In fact" that he published from May 1940 to September 1950. "In fact" had a connection with Polk, Seldes said. The CBS newsman who was killed--many believe murdered by right-wing assassins--in Greece in 1948 had been one of Seldes' anonymous sources: "I never met George Polk, and I don't know how he found out about me. But in 1948, I suddenly began receiving news items from him from Greece. The last of them said he was going over to interview someone on the other side, and it was a very dangerous mission and somebody is liable to get hurt. That's when he was killed."
The last lines of Polk's final report, which ran in the March 22, 1948, issue of "In fact," bear a dark similarity to current accounts from Central America: The Greek government has created "an offensive designed to discredit a number of American reporters working in Greece" to cover the war. "The reason for the attack on a select group of American correspondents is that they are writing stories from Greece that displease the dominant right-wing government faction and threaten to upset their plans for assuming complete control of the country."
At the time this was printed, "In fact" was 8 years old. At its peak, the four-page, 5,000-word weekly, which sold for two cents for most its 10 years, had a circulation of 176,000. That is more than triple the current circulations of magazines like The Nation and The Progressive, both of which are run by editors proud to be close to the Seldes spirit. Under the masthead of "In fact" was the line, "An Antidote for Falsehood in the Daily Press." Seldes carryed on the muckraking traditions of Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens and Upton Sinclair, except that the muckfields he raked in "In fact" were the press' own. He chose to be a loner in a lonely wing of the trade. He took on as his beat "the handling--or manhandling--of news."
As a cub reporter on the evening Pittsburgh Leader in 1909--one of nine papers in the town at the time, Seldes learned abut the manhandling when he turned in a story about a street accident: "Stanislas Schmidt, aged 32, of 1811 Center Avenue, driver of a Silver Top Brewing Company delivery wagon, was slightly injured this morning at Penn Avenue and Liberty Street when his wagon was struck by a street car." Reading his story in the first edition that night, he read: "Stanislas Schmidt, 32 years old, of 1811 Center Avenue, driver of a beer delivery wagon . . ."
Seldes got the message. He wrote years later that "Silver Top was not mentioned. Silver Top was a large advertiser. My education had begun."
He was not to run out of teachers. In World War I, Seldes was one of the war reporters sought out by Gen. John J. Pershing and others in the military with a line to peddle. Of himself and his colleagues, Seldes remembers, "we all more or less lied about the war. On Armistice Day, four of us took an oath on the battlefield that we would tell the truth the rest of our lives, that we would begin telling the truth in time of preparation for war, that we would do what was humanly possible to prevent the recurrence of another such vast and useless horror. Then we all went back home to prosaic reporting in America."
For a while, at least. His newsletter ran expose's on newspapers and magazines that would not offend tobacco advertisers by printing the bad news about one of the emerging health stories of the 1940s: cigarettes and lung cancer. He attacked columnists who were paid by special interests. He reported press campaigns against unions. He editorialized against press corruption: "As in all other matters in which profits from ads conflict with the general welfare of the people, (with about one percent exception) the press is on the side of the free enterprise profits-at-public-expense policy."
The paying subscribers to "In fact" included: Eleanor Roosevelt, Sen. Harry Truman, Justice Sherman Minton and approximately 20 senators. When Seldes, in the hotel lobby, remembered his enemies--the reactionaries in the media who red-baited him--he threw his hands to the ceiling and said, "you have no idea" what they were like. "Do you realize that Fulton Lewis Jr., on 640 Mutual radio stations, devoted three 15-minute broadcasts calling me an agent of Moscow? George Sokolsky, whom I had exposed as being secretly in the pay of the National Association of Manufacturers--they used him for strike-breaking purposes--he had a syndicated column that attacked the workers . Pegler too . . . These were old pals of mine. They all turned against me."
Before the luncheon, as Seldes sat in the lobby of the Roosevelt, one story had induced another: being the head of the Berlin bureau of the Chicago Tribune in 1924 and helping find work for Herman Mankiewicz as Isadora Duncan's agent his friendships with Damon Runyon, Irwin Cobb, Ruth Hale, Heywood Broun his father's taking in Emma Goldman in Pittsburgh because no hotel would give a room to a "revolutionary anarchist." Hardly a one of the younger journalists on hand to receive their awards recognized Seldes. When Izzy Stone walked in, he was the Link With The Past.
Seldes lives quietly and alone his wife of 47 years died in 1979. His daily visitor is the person from the Meals on Wheels program who comes by with lunch. Many of his Yankee neighbors, who go back to the Green Mountain Boys and beyond, look on him as an outlander and newcomer. Seldes, born in New Jersey, settled in Vermont 50 years ago.
He enjoys the humor of being seen by Vermonters as an outsider. Ever the reporter, he relishes twists in the plot. About his days of being called a communist--Seldes was thrown out of Russia in 1922 by Leon Trotsky--he turned halfway around in his seat to exclaim that "the only man during this period that I ever got a square deal from was named McCarthy. Joe McCarthy!" At the witch-hunt hearings in the Senate, Seldes recalled, McCarthy said, " 'Do you swear on the Bible . . . that you are not now or ever have been a member of the Communist Party of the United States?' I said, no, never. He said, 'Well!, the Dies committee lists you. Do you say that Rep. Dies is a liar?' I answered : I would say that anyone who said I was a member of the party or even a fellow traveler of the party is a liar. At that time, Sen. Stuart Symington popped up and said, 'Mr. Seldes, do you mind saying what party you do belong to!' I said, well, I'm Vermonter and I'm an Aiken Democrat. He said, 'What do you mean, you have a belly ache?' I said, no, it's Sen. George Aiken. I vote for Sen. Aiken who is the greatest man in Vermont. He's a Republican. I vote for him every time. I also voted for FDR every time. So McCarthy says, 'Well, I guess that sort of blows it!' "
As a one-man Freedom of Information Act--long before the public's right to know became a matter of law--Seldes had more facts and ideas than he could put into his weekly. He wrote books. The titles of a few of the 19 suggest the spirit of his noncapitulation: "Tell the Truth and Run," "Never Tire of Protesting," "Lords of the Press," "The People Don't Know," "Iron, Blood and Profit." The most recent was "Even the Gods Can't Change History: The Facts Speak for Themselves." The thickest Seldes work is "The Great Quotations," published by Lyle Stuart in 1960, a reference book deeper with intellectual substance than Bartlett's. On his trip to New York for his Polk award, Seldes brought along a manuscript of several hundred pages that he was delivering in person to Ballantine Books the next day. It was "The Great Thoughts," intended as a companion to his, "The Great Quotations."
As a reporter who specialized in press criticism in an era when the press truly did believe it was above criticism, Seldes argues that the left has had the instinct for the kind of journalism that he, Stone and others have advanced. "All muckraking, crusading, debunking, reforming and investigative reporting aimed at exposing corruption and enlightening the public has been the work of liberals," he wrote in "Even the Gods Can't Change History." "There has never been exposure of corruption, crookedness, falsification of history, robbery of the public, or propaganda to manipulate the public mind originating or engaged in by the right."
What about the press today? Seldes believes "the honor roll of good newspapers has increased impressively . . . there is an almost revolutionary change that has resulted in the nation's having a fairer and more honest press than ever before."
The Glow of the Firebrand
In the reception room, as the bosom of the establishment warmed itself in the embrace of the 91-year-old firebrand from Vermont, someone asked Victor Navasky of The Nation who among today's journalists is writing like George Seldes. Navasky, referring to the recent Seldes article in his magazine that debunked Dewitt Wallace of Reader's Digest, said the only contemporary writing like George Seldes is George Seldes.
George Seldes - History
Time 's reportage on the House of Morgan for twenty years has been neither accurate history nor straightforward journalism. It has been propaganda, whitewash for the House of Morgan, one of its owners throughout all the years of its existence.
It would not be incorrect to say that Time -- and Life , Fortune , The March of Time , and each and every Luce production -- works for the Morgan Empire every day in the year. It is in every way part of the same free enterprise system, and although not controlled by a Morgan agent sitting at a desk in its office, it has a community of interest with the rest of the "$30,210,000,000 worth of United States railroads, utilities, industries, banks" which are under the Morgan-First National influence (as Time itself reported February 26, 1940). Both are parts of a system which they watch, nurture and expand, and which they speak for.
The illustrations of open propaganda and apologetics, dictated or not dictated by Mr. Lamont, "the foreign ambassadot of the House of Morgan," are many, but they merely highlight the relationship.
As, for instance the "Wall Street Plot to Seize the Government."
The documentary evidence, which is referred to elsewhere, was pretty well suppressed by the newspapers, but the predecessor of the Dies Committee -- the McCormack-Dickstein Committee -- eventually confirmed the most sensational charges, concluded that there had been a plot and that certain American Legion leaders and well-known men of Wall Street, one closely connected with the House of Morgan, had indeed planned the first American fascist dictatorship.
At the mention of the magic name "Morgan" the Luce publications mobilized in defense. Everything from distortion to the usual "light touch" of the famous "bright young men" of the Luce employ, the usual sneers and the usual adjectival barrage by men well trained in semantics, came into play to protect the most sacred cow worshiped in America, the Big Money for which J. P. Morgan was first high priest.
For example ( Time 's first and second page story, December 3, 1934):
"PLOT WITHOUT PLOTTERS"
(There follows a bright little imaginary story of General Smedley Butler mobilizing 500,000 men, capturing Washington, the United States becoming a fascist state.)
"Such was the nightmarish page of future United States history pictured last week in Manhattan by General Butler himself to the special House Committee investigating Un-American Activities.
"No military officer of the United States since the late tempestuous George Custer has succeeded in publicly floundering in so much hot water as Smedley Darlington Butler. . .
[There follows a history of episodes in Butler's life, told as if they were all planned for publicity.]
"General Butler's sensational tongue had not been heard in the nation's Press for more than a week when he cornered a reporter for the Philadelphia Record and the New York Post, poured into his ears the lurid tale that he had been offered leadership of a Fascist Putsch scheduled for next year.
"Thanking their stars for having such sure-fire publicity dropped in their laps, Representatives McCormack and Dickstein began calling witnesses to expose the 'plot.' But there did not seem to be any plotters.
"Mr. Morgan, just off a boat from Europe, had nothing to say but Partner Lamont did: 'Perfect moonshine! Too utterably ridiculous to comment upon!!"
Any reader comparing the testimony and the Committee report on this event given in the appendix of this book, must conclude that the Time report consists of distortion and propaganda.
The case of the House of Morgan and World War I and the handling of the conspiracy uncovered by General Butler, and their treatment by Time, and other Luce publications, are but two of scores of instances illustrating the community of interest which exists between the banking house and the Luce press. The amount of stock all the men of Wall Street own in the Luce publications may be only a small percentage, but it pays a dividend, which cannot be measured in dollars only.
The Luce press, like the entire big magazines press, angles the news -- and therefore angles public opinion in America for the community of big business interests of which it is an important journalistic part.
CHAPTER 16, BIG MONEY ORGANIZATIONS
America refused to listen to the few newspaper correspondents and the still fewer experts, such as Professor Robert Brady ("The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism"), who before the Second World War tried to warn the nation that reaction and Fascism were the real dangers because there was money in them, and because there was big money back of them.
During and after the war the cartel investigators, Thurman Arnold, Wendell Berge, a score of leading liberal Senators, writers of a dozen books on the subject, and finally Mr. 0. John Rogge, who really got to the roots of Naziism, united in stating the common finding: that Fascism in all countries is a form of government originated by great industrial empires and cartels, subsidized, placed in power and kept in power for the benefit of the few-and against the general welfare of the many.
This is an established truth. The logical conclusions from the facts of history, therefore, would be that the little crackpot Fascism of the American demagogues is not a danger unless the big money takes it over. Therefore, the first of the several attempts of big American money to put over Fascism in our country is worth recounting, since the episode itself was thrown down rather than played up by the newspapers.
General Smedley D. Butler testified under oath before the McCormack-Dickstein Committee, the first of the Un-American Committees, that he had been offered the leadership of a Fascist coup d'etat in America not once but forty-two times. Of these the only important one was that backed by leaders of the American Liberty League, Wall Street bankers and brokers, and the ruling clique of the American Legion.
Despite the effort of all the newspapers (except the three or four which had had a scoop) to destroy the effect of the testimony, and despite newsweekly Time 's trying to tell the public it was just a joke, the Committee eventually issued its report confirming General Butler's charge that there had been a Fascist plot to seize Washington. (See Appendix 21.)
Most newspapers again suppressed or buried or belittled the official verdict. The McCormack-Dickstein Committee itself suppressed all those paragraphs of its report which named names, especially those of Morgan bankers, and that of the Liberty League, the equivalent of several of the super-patriotic but secretly corporation-directed organizations which supported Fascism in other lands.
The Committee suppressed the name of John W. Davis, attorney for the House of Morgan. It suppressed the testimony of witnesses that the arming of no less than 500,000 men for General Butler to lead had been discussed, and that it was planned to obtain rifles and bullets from Remington Arms "On credit through the duPonts" . "one of the duPonts is on the board of directors of the American Liberty League and they own a controlling interest in the Remington Arms Co.
The Committee suppressed the testimony of General Butler in which the agent plotting the Fascist coup promised him that a new organization would be announced in two or three weeks, and, stated Butler, "in about two weeks the American Liberty League appeared, which was just about what he described it to me."
The reader is urged to turn to the appendix for the most important parts of the documentary evidence, especially the parts which the Un-American Committee suppressed-because this Un-American Committee, like its successors, the Dies Cornmittee, the Wood-Rankin Committee and the Thomas-Rankin Committee, have all been un-American, inasmuch as they have refused to take any action against Fascism and have, in fact, given Fascists the use of their organization as a forum to spread their ideas.
All these un-American Committees have the support of the major portion of the press. In the case of the Liberty League-Legion-Wall Street conspiracy to overthrow the United States Government, there was one of the most reprehensible conspiracies of silence in the long (and disgraceful) history of American journalism. The sensational value of the news - the main test in our country - can be judged even by the layman from the headlines and opening paragraphs which appeared in the Stern papers ( Philadelphia Record , New York Post , and two Camden papers) at the time:
$3,000,000 BID FOR FASCIST ARMY BARED
by Paul Comly French
(Copyright [Nov. 20] 1934)
Major General Smedley D. Butler revealed today he has been asked by a group of wealthy New York brokers to lead a Fascist movement to set up a dictatorship in the United States.
General Butler, ranking major general of the Marine Corps up to his retirement three years ago, told his story today at a secret session of the Congressional Committee on un-American Activities.
Before he appeared before the committee, General Butler gave the (correspondent) a detailed account of the offer made to him.
"Of course I told the leaders of this Fascist movement that I wasn't interested in Fascism or in any other Ism," Butler said with characteristic vigor, "and that I wouldn't consider any such proposition.
"The whole affair smacked of treason to me."
He said he was approached by Gerald G. MacGuire, who is connected with the firm of Grayson M.-P. Murphy & Co., 52 Broadway, and asked to organize 500,000 veterans into a Fascist army.
"Shortly after MacGuire first came to see me," General Butler continued, "he arranged for Robert Sterling Clark, a New York broker, to come to my home at Newtown Square, Pa., to see me."
Clark, who maintains offices at 11 Wall Street, is reported to be worth more than $50,000,000.
General Butler outlined the details of the plan. He said MacGuire assured him "they have $3,000,000 'on the line' to start the organization. .
"The upshot of his proposition was that I was to head a soldier organization . . . in Washington (to) take over the functions of government. MacGuire explained to me that they had two other candidates for the position of 'man on the white horse.' He said that if I did not accept, an offer would be made to General Douglas MacArthur, chief of staff of the United States Army, whose term of office expires November 22, and that the third choice would be Hanford MacNider, former commander of the American Legion. So far as I know, neither General MacArthur nor MacNider has been approached. Their names were merely mentioned as 'alternates.'
If the Un-American Committee wanted to get the whole truth, Butler testified, it should call Banker Murphy (Morgan banker, and treasurer of the Liberty League) Alfred E. Smith (of the Liberty League), General MacArthur, Legion Commander MacNider, and Giannini banker Frank N. Belgrano, and William Doyle, former Department Commander of the Legion in Massachusetts and one of the "Royal Family" or "king makers" of that organization. Apparently the Committee did not want to get the truth."
There was only one means by which General Butler could reach the public with the warning of what the Wall Street men, Liberty Leaguers and American Legion chiefs were planning. The General took to the air [i.e., to radio]. He said:
Do you think it could be hard to buy the American Legion for un-American activities? You know, the average veteran thinks the Legion is a patriotic organization to perpetuate the memories of the last war, an organization to promote peace, to take care of the wounded and to keep green the graves of those who gave their lives.
But is the American Legion that? No sir, not while it is controlled by the bankers. For years the bankers, by buying big club houses for various posts, by financing its beginning, and otherwise, have tried to make a strikebreaking organization of the Legion. The groups-the so-called Royal Family of the Legion-which have picked its officers for years, aren't interested in patriotism, in peace, in wounded veterans, in those who gave their lives. . No, they are interested only in using the veterans, through their officers.
Why, even now, the commander of the American Legion is a banker-a banker who must have known what MacGuire's money was going to be used for. His name was mentioned in the testimony. Why didn't they call Belgrano and ask him why he contributed?
On another occasion General Butler concluded his exposé with the remark that: "I've never known one leader of the American Legion who has never sold them out." ( New York Times , December 9, 1933.)
Smedley Butler was a great man. He was a Quaker. He had a conscience. He did his duty as a soldier in the Marines. He also wrote some years later:
"I spent 33 years (in the Marines) and during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested."
And Fascist ideas, in 1934, "smacked of treason" to this grim and fighting Quaker.
A little more than a decade later the Liberty League was revived under another patriotic name-American Action. But in the years between, scores, perhaps hundreds of large and small organizations, all of them devoted to special interests while pretending to function for the general good, tried to enlist a popular following-they already had the financial support of the old Liberty Leaguers. A few of the most important are worth noting.
Appendix 21: The Fascist Plot Officially Confirmed
Union Calender No. 44
74th Congress House of Representatives Report
1st Session No. 153
Investigation of Nazi And Other Propaganda
February 15, 1935 - Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union and ordered to be printed Mr. McCormack, from the committee appointed to investigate Nazi and other propaganda, submitted the following:
(Pursuant to House Resolution No. 198, 73d Congress)
There have been isolated cases of activity by organizations which seemed to be guided by the fascist principle, which the committee investigated and found that they had made no progress. .
In the last few weeks of the committee's official life it received evidence showing that certain persons had made an attempt to establish a fascist organization in this country.
No evidence was presented and this committee had none to show a connection between this effort and any fascist activity of any European country.
There is no question that these attempts were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution when and if the financial backers deemed it expedient.
This committee received evidence from Maj. Gen. Smedley D. Butler (retired), twice decorated by the Congress of the United States. He testified before the committee as to conversations with one Gerald C. MacGuire in which the latter is alleged to have suggested the formation of a fascist army under the leadership of General Butler (p. 8-114 D.C. 6 II).
MacGuire denied these allegations under oath, but your committee was able to verify all the pertinent statements made by General Butler, with the exception of the direct statement suggesting the creation of the organization. This, however, was corroborated in the correspondence of MacGuire with his principal, Robert Sterling Clark, of New York City, while MacGuire was abroad studying the various forms of veterans' organizations of Fascist character (p. 111 D.C. 6 II).
The following is an excerpt from one of MacGuire's letters:
"I had a very interesting talk last evening with a man who is quite well up on affairs here and he seems to be of the opinion that the Croix de Feu will be very patriotic during this crisis and will take the cuts or be the moving spirit in the veterans to accept the cuts. Therefore they will, in all probability, be in opposition to the Socialists and functionaries. The general spirit among the functionaries seems to be that the correct way to regain recovery is to spend more money and increase wages, rather than to put more people out of work and cut salaries.
The Croix de Feu is getting a great number of new recruits, and I recently attended a meeting of this organization and was quite impressed with the type of men belonging. These fellows are interested only in the salvation of France, and I feel sure that the country could not be in better hands because they are not politicians, they are a cross-section of the best people of the country from all walks of life, people who gave their "all" between 1914 and 1918 that France might be saved, and I feel sure that if a crucial test ever comes to the Republic that these men will be the bulwark upon which France will be served.
There may be more uprisings, there may be more difficulties, but as is evidenced right now when the emergency arises and party difficulties are forgotten as far as France is concerned, and all become united in the one desire and purpose to keep this country as it is, the most democratic, and the country of the greatest freedom on the European Continent." (p.III D.C. 6 II).
This committee asserts that any efforts based on lies as suggested in the foregoing and leading off to the extreme right, are just as bad as efforts which would lead to the extreme left.
Armed forces for the purpose of establishing a dictatorship by means of Fascism or a dictatorship through the instrumentality of the proletariat, or a dictatorship predicated in part on racial and religious hatreds, have no place in this country.
Politics and later career [ edit | edit source ]
It has been alleged that Seldes had been a member of the Communist Party since well before 1940, valued for his "major connections" in Washington. ⎰] ⎱]
Seldes later wrote that In Fact was founded at the instigation of the U.S. Communist Party leadership, but he claimed that the Party worked through his partner Bruce Minton (also known as Richard Bransten) without his knowledge. Seldes wrote that he was unaware that Minton was a Party member who received the funds to start In Fact from Communist Party. [ab] ⎲] While his political positions often were similar to those in the Party in 1940, by 1948 Seldes was writing in positive terms of the anti-Soviet socialism of Marshall Tito in Yugoslavia, earning him the wrath of many Communist Party loyalists in the United States. As the Cold War took shape at the end of the decade, Seldes lost readership from both the Communists and the anti-liberal-left sentiment that was sweeping the country, including a trade union movement that had contained some of his largest audience. ⎳] The nationwide atmosphere of red-baiting further diminished his subscribers' numbers, and he was financially forced to close In Fact, which never accepted advertising, in October 1950.
Senator Joseph McCarthy subpoenaed Seldes in 1953, Seldes vehemently denied Communist Party membership and was "cleared" by McCarthy's Senate subcommittee, but Seldes's greatest influence on readers had already past. ⎴] Seldes did publish Tell the Truth and Run in 1953, but otherwise found it difficult to publish his work throughout the 1950s. He was approached, however, by an old friend and colleague, I.F. Stone, for advice on how to start a small independent investigative newspaper. I.F. Stone's Weekly premiered in 1953, picking up where Seldes had left off. ⎵]
Largely dropping his own writing, he developed an anthology called The Great Quotations and received rejections from 20 publishers. It sold more than a million copies when it appeared in 1961. Ε]
In a letter to Time magazine in 1974, he appraised the state of American journalism as much improved in his lifetime: ⎶]
The press deserved the attacks and criticisms of Will Irwin (1910) and Upton Sinclair (1920) and the muckrakers who followed, and it needs today the watchdog and gadfly activities of the new critical weeklies, but all in all it is now a better medium of mass information. The 1972 Watergate disclosures, it is true, were made by only a score of the members of the mass media, but I remember Teapot Dome when only one of our 1,750 dailies (the Albuquerque Morning Journal) dared to tell the truth about White House corruption. We have come a long way since.
He published Never Tire of Protesting in 1968 and Even the Gods Can't Change History in 1976.
The Association for Education in Journalism gave him an award for professional excellence in 1980. ΐ] In 1981 he received the George Polk Award for his life's work. Ζ]
He published his autobiography, Witness to a Century in 1987. He wrote: "And so [my brother] Gilbert and I, brought up without a formal religion, remained throughout our lifetimes just what Father was, freethinkers. And, likewise, doubters and dissenters and perhaps Utopians. Father's rule had been 'Question everything, take nothing for granted,' and I never outlived it, and I would suggest it be made the motto of a world journalists' association."
In 1981, Seldes appeared in Warren Beatty's Reds, a film about the life of journalist John Reed. Seldes appears as one of the film's "witnesses" commenting on the historical events depicted in the film. ⎷]
Martin A. Lee and Norman Solomon used a quote from Seldes as an epigraph for their book Unreliable Sources: "The most sacred cow of the press is the press itself." Η] ⎸]
George Seldes (16 November 1890 – 2 July 1995) was an influential atheist  American journalist. Although held up to the public as a "liberal,"  he was actually a long-time secret member of the Communist Party who lied about it. 
In 1940, during the Nazi-Soviet pact, the Communist Party decided to create an American version of the London political weekly, The Week,  published by the muckraking British journalist Claud Cockburn, who was also a secret agent of the Comintern.  The resulting publication was In Fact,  a political newsletter that was extremely influential in shaping American public opinion in 1940–1950. This ostensibly "independent" periodical, supposedly published by Seldes and his partner, Bruce Minton,  was secretly funded by the Communist Party. Seldes later claimed that this was done through Minton without his knowledge.
"Bruce Minton" was the cover name of Richard Bransten, another secret member of the Communist Party—a fact Seldes claimed was unknown to him at the time. Bransten was also a Soviet agent code-named "Informator."  He was married to wealthy  San Francisco socialite Louise Bransten, who was yet another secret member of the Communist Party.  She was also not only another Soviet agent  (code-named Lyre),  but the mistress  of NKVD San Francisco Station Chief Grigory Kheifets. 
When Joseph McCarthy asked Seldes if he were a Communist, Seldes vehemently denied Communist Party membership. According to Library of Congress Cold War historian  John Earl Haynes, Emory University professor of politics and history  Harvey Klehr, and former KGB agent  Alexander Vassiliev, "Seldes lied." 
Seldes was actually a long-time secret member of the Communist Party, according to notes of KGB archival files made by Vassiliev in 1993–96. A cable from the NKVD's New York station to Moscow Center, dated April 19, 1940, identifies "George Seldes" as "a longtime fellowcountryman [Communist Party member],  who is listed on a special register [secret roll of Communist Party members]."