November 16, 1890
Alliance Colony, New Jersey, USA
(now Vineland, New Jersey)
|Died||July 2, 1995
Windsor, Vermont, USA
|Spouse(s)||Helen Larkin Seldes, née Wiesman (1932-late 1970s; her death)|
|Relative(s)||Gilbert Seldes (brother)
Marian Seldes (niece)
George Seldes (// SEL-dəs;[aa] November 16, 1890 – July 2, 1995) was an American investigative journalist and media critic. The writer and critic Gilbert Seldes was his younger brother. Actress Marian Seldes is his niece.
In 1916, he went to the United Press in London and, starting in 1917, during World War I, he moved to France to work at the Marshall Syndicate. While there, he interviewed Paul von Hindenburg, the supreme commander of the German Army. Hindenburg commented on the defeat of Germany in the war, including U.S. involvement; however this interview was censored by the U. S. military. Seldes would later comment that the publishing of this interview could have avoided the rising of the Nazis to power and, thus, World War II.
After World War I, he spent ten years as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. In 1922, he interviewed Vladimir Lenin and, in 1923, got expelled from the Soviet Union, along with three colleagues, for disguising news reports as personal letters; a letter his publisher wrote for the Soviets only facilitated his expulsion. The newspaper then sent him to Italy, where he reported on opposition leader Giacomo Matteotti's murder, implicated Benito Mussolini in Matteotti's death, and was again expelled.
In 1927, he became a reporter for the Chicago Tribune in Mexico, where he criticized the use of the country's mineral rights by American companies. Later, he returned to Europe; however, he was increasingly sidelined since his political ideas didn't match with those of the newspaper's owner.
He then became a freelance reporter and author, writing a series of books and criticisms and, in 1940, founded a newsletter, In Fact, which brought attention to how the National Association of Manufacturers was able to use its advertising dollars to produce news stories favourable to its members and to suppress news stories unfavourable to them.
Having both staunch admirers and strong critics, Seldes influenced many younger journalists. He received an award for professional excellence from the Association for Education in Journalism in 1980, and a George Polk Award for his life's work in 1981. Seldes also served on the board of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).
Early years 
When he was nineteen, Seldes went to work at the Pittsburgh Leader. For this newspaper, he interviewed a saleswoman who had filed a rape complaint against the son of the owner on a large department store; however, the story was not published, and Seldes became outraged when the advertising department of the newspaper blackmailed the owner into buying more advertising. In 1914, he was appointed night editor of the Pittsburgh Post. As a young journalist, he was influenced by the investigative journalism of muckraker Lincoln Steffens, whom he met in 1919.
World War I 
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 obtained an exclusive interview with Paul von Hindenburg, the supreme commander of the German Army, in which Hindenburg acknowledged the role America had played in defeating Germany. "The American infantry," said Hindenburg, "won the World War in battle in the Argonne." Seldes and the others were accused of breaking the Armistice and were court martialed. They were also forbidden to write anything about the interview and it never appeared in American news media. Seldes believed that blocking publication of this interview proved tragic. Unaware of Hindenburg's direct testimony of Germany's military defeat, Germans adopted the Dolchstoss or "stab-in-the-back" theory that Germany had only lost the war because it was betrayed at home by "the socialists, the Communists and the Jews," which served as Nazism's explanation for Germany's defeat. "If the Hindenburg interview had been passed by Pershing's 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," wrote Seldes. "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."
Seldes claimed that the Battle of Saint-Mihiel never happened. In his account, General Pershing planned to capture the city, but on September 1 the Germans decided to remove their forces from Saint-Mihiel to reinforce other positions. Seldes claimed no shots were fired as the first Americans, he among them, entered the city on September 13 to be greeted as liberators before General Pershing, Pétain, and other high-ranking officers arrived. The thousands of German prisoners captured, he wrote, were taken as they mistakenly arrived at the train station days later to relieve the German troops that had left days earlier.
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.
Disillusioned, Seldes left the Tribune and went to work 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 Tribune. His next book, World Panorama (1933), was a narrative history of the interbellum period. In 1932 he married Helen Larkin Wiesman (later Seldes), who died in the late 1970s.
In 1934, Seldes published a history of the Roman Catholic Church, The Vatican. This was followed by an exposé of the global arms industry, Iron, Blood and Profits (1934) and an account of Benito Mussolini, Sawdust Caesar (1935).
Two books on the newspaper business established his enduring reputation as a critic of the press: Freedom of the Press (1935) and Lords of the Press (1938). He took the title of the latter from a speech by Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes: "Our ancestors did not fight for the right of a few Lords of the Press to have almost exclusive control of and censorship over the dissemination of news and ideas." He believed "that advertisers were a far greater threat to journalistic freedom than government censorship." The press and news, he wrote, "are coming more and more under the domination of a handful of corporate publishers who may print such news as they wish to print and omit such news as they do not wish to print." Time was initially positive in its response: "A rambling but effective attack on U. S. newspapers, charging coloring, distortion or suppression of vital news, containing some enlightening instances of journalistic malpractices as George Seldes encountered them during his career as correspondent." Later, Time called him a muckraker, meaning a biased and crusading critic, when it called another writer's work "refreshingly fair and accurate (especially in comparison with muckraking books like George Seldes' Lords of the Press)." Seldes told of his pursuit of a tobacco study that he would make public years later, though the author of the study denied his account and claimed his work had been widely cited in the press.
On his return to the United States in 1940, Seldes published Witch Hunt, an account of the persecution of people with left-wing political views in America, and The Catholic Crisis, which sought to demonstrate the close relationship between the Catholic Church and fascist organizations in Europe. When Time reviewed the latter, it noted several of Seldes' works and said he "stuck out his tongue at Benito Mussolini... thumbed his nose at U. S. journalism...and uttered some hoarse Bronx cheers at the Roman Catholic Church." The review complained that his detailed accounts of church activities were "in part damaging" but "not all germane to the subject."
In Fact 
From 1940 to 1950, Seldes published a political newsletter, In Fact, "a four-page weekly compendium of news other newspapers wouldn't print." Washington Post editor and later press critic Ben Bagdikian said, "When Seldes was no longer printed by the mainstream press, he was an important conduit to the journalistic community, who knew that there were flaws in the system, but often couldn't get printed in their own newspapers, because the press cannot be a watchdog on itself. So they fed stories critical of the press to Seldes." At the height of its popularity it had a circulation of 176,000.
One of the first articles published in the newsletter concerned the dangers of cigarette smoking. 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." At a time when tobacco companies were major advertisers, Seldes discussed the contents of a study called, "Tobacco Smoking and Longevity", which he said had been suppressed since 1939. Throughout the 10-year run of In fact, Seldes published more than 50 stories on the health effects of tobacco, and the cigarette industry's attempts and suppressing such news.
Among the favorite targets of In Fact was the National Association of Manufacturers. Defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who subscribed to In Fact while an undergrad at Harvard, said, "I heard about the National Association of Manufacturers first from Seldes and more from Seldes than I ever heard again. If you were to read the mainstream press, you'd hardly become aware that such organizations existed, that businessmen worked together to pursue their own interests." In fact also attacked Charles Lindbergh for his Nazi sympathies, the American Legion for helping to break strikes, and labeled many captains of industry as "native fascists." Consumer advocate Ralph Nader said, "[Seldes] used the word fascism to reflect an authoritarian state of mind that tended to stifle free speech and dissent and also tended to believe that might was right."
In Fact immediately attracted the attention of government authorities. President Roosevelt ordered an FBI investigation of Seldes and In Fact in 1940. Articles claiming that the FBI was infiltrating unions and monitoring union activities resulted in FBI surveillance of Seldes and his publication. J. Edgar Hoover sent Seldes a 15-page letter denying such FBI activities. The FBI subsequently questioned In Fact subscribers, particularly servicemen and -women, and had US postal officials reporting to the FBI on Seldes' mail correspondence. In Fact lost many of its subscribers in the late 1940s. Seldes later claimed that his critical coverage of Yugoslavia got the publication banned from Communist Party bookstores. The political climate discouraged subscriptions on the part of less ideologically committed readers as well. In Fact ceased publication in 1950. I. F. Stone's Weekly, which started publication in 1953, took In Fact as its model.
In addition to writing his newsletter, Seldes continued to publish books. These included Facts and Fascism (1943) and One Thousand Americans (1947), an account of the people who controlled America. Time called One Thousand Americans "a collection of truths, half-truths and untruths about the U.S. press and industry." One Thousand Americans introduced a wide audience to the conspiracy theory known as the Business Plot, a supposed plan of America's corporate elite to overthrow the U.S. government in the early 1930s.
Seldes published The People Don't Know on the origins of the Cold War in 1949.
Critical reception 
Seldes had both staunch admirers and strong critics. Some of Seldes' contemporaries and later historians have judged much of his work harshly. One critic thought I.F. Stone "was light years beyond Seldes." Others cited his political bias and preconceptions. A study of the Dies Committee said that Seldes' account in Witch Hunt suffered from his view that everything the Committee did was wrong. Another warned that The Catholic Crisis "should be read with great caution in view of the author's latent anti-Catholic and pro-Communist bias." Another cited Seldes as a writer with "an agenda." Still another evaluated Iron, Blood, and Profits as "less sober" than other works on the subject of international arms dealing. Of his biography of Mussolini, another wrote: "many of his sources were unreliable and his book was almost devoid of logical order." A more appreciative estimate said that Freedom of the Press was "one-sided, but well deserves careful reading."
Summing up Seldes' work, another wrote that "until 1947 [Seldes] followed the Stalinist line so closely that any author must use him with the utmost care."
A. J. Liebling said on him, "George Seldes [is] 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.".
But a whole generation of journalists and activists were influenced greatly by Seldes. Long-time Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy said, "He was a reporter who didn't worry about being objective. He worried about what he would choose to write. I'm always amused when they call somebody 'one-sided'. Seldes offered one side – the side you weren't getting elsewhere". Nader said of Seldes, "He was like a doctor. He reported about disease in the political economy, and the gross inequities of power, and the abuses and the exploitation. I always wanted to be a crusading lawyer, and he gave me some materials to contemplate crusading about." Journalist Nat Hentoff said, "He took what should be the most honorable term in journalism – muckraking – and made it work again. A lot of journalists of his generation and the generation or two that followed, did more, took risks, because [Seldes] was the model. And the fact that he was there made them feel like whores if they didn't do more."
Politics and later career 
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 borrowed the funds to start In Fact from Communist Party leader Earl Browder.[ab] When Joseph McCarthy investigated his ties to the Party in the 1950s, Seldes vehemently denied Communist Party membership.
His exposure as a Stalinist sympathizer who had never formaly joined the Party hurt him in the post-war period, despite the dropping of his Party connections after the expulsion of Earl Browder. Seldes did publish Tell the Truth and Run in 1953, but otherwise found it difficult to publish his work for a decade.
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.
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.
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.
Death and legacy 
Seldes' life and work were the subject of a 1996 documentary film, Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press.
- aa. ^ Asked how to say his name, he told the Literary Digest in 1936: "Nine persons out of ten mispronounce our name. If it had an n instead of an s as the final letter there would be no difficulty. The name is pronounced like Selden with the last letter an s": SEL-duhss.
- ab. ^ According to Minton the Party wanted an American version of Claud Cockburn's muckraking London political weekly, The Week.
- McCarthy, Colman (January 28, 1992). "Children's Crusade Has a Happy Ending". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 1, 2011.
- McCarthy, Colman (July 11, 1995). "George Seldes: Giant of Journalism". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 1, 2011.
- Guttenplan, John (July 14, 1995). "Obituary: George Seldes". The Independent. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
- Funk, Charles Earle (1936). What's the Name, Please?. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
- Dicke, William (July 3, 1995). "George Seldes Is Dead at 104; An Early, Fervent Press Critic". The New York Times. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1987). Witness to a Century. p. 100.
- Solomon, Norman; Cohen, Jeff (July 1995). "Great Press Critic Leaves a Legacy of Courage". PublicEye.org. Political Research Associates. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
- Colonel McCormick, Robert; et al. (March 5, 1956). "Letters". TIME. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
- "Foreign News: Ousted". TIME. August 10, 1925. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
- "Previous Award Winners". Long Island University. Retrieved January 16, 2011.
- Berlet, Chip. "Press Critic and Antifascist George Seldes Dies at 104 in Vermont". PublicEye.org. Political Research Associates. Retrieved January 12, 2011.
- Reis, J. C. "Alliance". Jewish Encyclopedia. West Conshohocken, PA: JewishEncyclopedia.com. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
- Pearl, Lesley (March 21, 1997). "Fund-raising effort sends local filmmaker to the Oscars". JWeekly.com. San Francisco: San Francisco Jewish Community Publications Inc. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
- Seldes, George. "Chapter 1: First Encounter with the Goddess of History: Saint-Mihiel". Even the Gods Can't Change History.
- "Italy: Censorship Bared". TIME. October 31, 1927. Retrieved January 12, 2011.
- Gibson, Donald (2004). Communication, Power, and Media. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science. p. 14.
- "Fiction: Recent Books". TIME. September 23, 1935. Retrieved January 11, 2011. "FREEDOM OF THE PRESS—George Seldes—Bobbs-Merrill ($2.75). A rambling but effective attack on U. S. newspapers, charging coloring, distortion or suppression of vital news, containing some enlightening instances of journalistic malpractices as George Seldes encountered them during his career as correspondent."
- "The Press: Howe Behind the News". TIME. November 25, 1940. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
- "The Press: Suppression of News". TIME. January 23, 1939. Retrieved January 11, 2011. "The Seldes book rambles, relies heavily on innuendo. It contains a large store of previously published facts, many a windy, publisher-baiting tirade."
- "Contradicts Ickes on Tobacco Story". The New York Times. January 14, 1939. Retrieved January 12, 2011.
- "Religion: Seldes vs. Rome". TIME. November 7, 1929. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
- O'Reilly, Kenneth (1982). "A New Deal for the FBI: The Roosevelt Administration, Crime Control, and National Security". Journal of American History 69 (649).
- Lasar, Matthew (1998). "'Right Out in Public': Pacifica Radio, the Cold War, and the Political Origins of Alternative Media". Pacific Historical Review 67 (537).
- Lasar, Matthew (1998). "'Right Out in Public': Pacifica Radio, the Cold War, and the Political Origins of Alternative Media". Pacific Historical Review 67 (537): 537–8.
- "The Press: The Beaver's World". TIME. April 26, 1948. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1947). One Thousand Americans. New York: Boni & Gaer. pp. 79, 179–80, 208–10, 287–92.
- Boylan, James; Cottrell, Robert C. (1993). "Izzy: A Biography of I.F. Stone". Journal of American History (Oxford University Press and Organization of American Historians) 80 (1157-8).
- Ogden, August Raymond (1943). The Dies Committee: A Study of the Special House Committee for the Investigation of Un-American Activities, 1938–1944. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press. pp. 55, 64, 84.
- Eulau, Heinz (1947). "Proselytizing in the Catholic Press". Public Opinion Quarterly 1: 195.
- Jenkins, Philip (1995). "'It Can't Happen Here': Fascism and Right-Wing Extremism in Pennsylvania, 1933–1942". Pennsylvania History 62. p. 52.
- Langer, William W. (1934). "Some Recent Books on International Relations". Foreign Affairs 12. p. 690.
- Detzell, Charles F. (1963). "Benito Mussolini: A Guide to the Biographical Literature". Journal of Modern History 35: 345.
- Langer, William W. (1936). "Some Recent Books on International Relations". Foreign Affairs 14. p. 358.
- Doenecke, Justus D.; Edwards, John Carver (1992). "Berlin Calling: American Broadcasters in Service to the Third Reich". International History Review 14 (600–2).
- Haynes, John Earl; Vassiliev, Alexander; Klehr, Harvey (2009). Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 169. ISBN 0-300-12390-6. Retrieved January 9, 2011.
- Vassiliev, Alexander; Redko, Philip; Haynes, John Earl (January 9, 2011). "Black Notebook". Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. p. 512. Retrieved January 9, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1968). Never Tire of Protesting. New York: L. Stuart. pp. 53, 56, 195, 197, 198, 200, 201, 203, 204.
- Seldes, George; et al. (May 31, 1954). "Letters". TIME. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
- Seldes, George; et al. (July 29, 1974). "Letters". TIME. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
- Reds (1981) "Reds: Cast". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
- Lee, Martin A.; Solomon, Norman (1990). Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in the Media. New York: Carol Publishers.
- Solomon, Norman; Cohen, Jeff. "Seldes Remembrance Committee". PublicEye.org. Political Research Associates. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
- "Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press (1996)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1929). You Can't Print That!: The Truth Behind the News, 1918–1928. New York: Payson & Clarke Ltd. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1931). Can These Things Be!. New York: Brewer, Warren & Putnam. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1933). World Panorama: 1918–1933. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1934). The Vatican: Yesterday – Today – Tomorrow.
- Seldes, George (1934). Iron, Blood, and Profits: An Exposure of the World-wide Munitions Racket. New York: Harper. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1935). Sawdust Caesar: The Untold History of Mussolini and Fascism. New York: Harper. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1935). Freedom of the Press. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1938). Lords of the Press. New York: J. Messner, Inc. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1938). You Can't Do That. New York: Modern Age Books. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1939). The Catholic Crisis. New York: J. Messner, Inc. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1940). Witch Hunt: The Technique and Profits of Redbaiting. New York: Modern Age Books. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1942). The Facts Are: A Guide to Falsehood and Propaganda in the Press and Radio. New York: In Fact, Inc. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
- Seldes, George; Seldes, Helen (1943). Facts and Fascism. New York: In Fact, Inc. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1947). One Thousand Americans: The Real Rulers of the U.S.A.
- Seldes, George (1949). The People Don't Know: The American Press and the Cold War. New York: Gaer Associates. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1953). Tell the Truth and Run. New York: Greenberg. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1960). The Great Quotations. New York: L. Stuart. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1968). Never Tire of Protesting. New York: L. Stuart. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
- Seldes, George (1976). Even the Gods Can't Change History.
- Seldes, George (1987). Witness to a Century.
- Seldes, George (1985). The Great Thoughts.
- Holhut, Randolph T. (1994). The George Seldes Reader.
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