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George Seldes should not be confused with George B. Selden, patent lawyer and inventor

George Seldes (16 November 1890 – 2 July 1995) was an American investigative journalist and media critic.

Contents

Early years

Seldes was born in Alliance, New Jersey. The writer and critic Gilbert Seldes was his younger brother. When he was nineteen, he went to work at the Pittsburgh Leader. In 1914, he was appointed night editor of the Pittsburgh Post. As a young journalist, he was influenced by the investigative journalism of Lincoln Steffens.

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, but the article was suppressed and never appeared in American news media.

According to Seldes, the battle of Saint-Mihiel never happened. In his book Even the Gods Can't Change History, Chapter 1, First Encounter with the Goddess of History: Saint-Mihiel, he gives his account of what really happened there. There really was going to be a battle. General Pershing had planned to capture Saint-Mihiel, "following it up with a flanking movement on Metz and an encircling movement to cut the German line of retreat and capture whole German armies." However, on September 1 the Germans made a decision to remove all forces from Saint-Mihiel in order to reinforce other positions. So on the day of the expected battle, September 13, Seldes by chance was among the first to enter the city and be met by the inhabitants as the saviors, before General Pershing, Petain, and other high-ranking officers. Not one bullet was fired. Thousands of Germans did fall prisoners, but days later as they arrived at the train station by mistake, as a reinforcement of the German troops that had long ago left the city.

In the interview, Hindenburg acknowledged the role America had played in defeating Germany. "The American infantry," said Hindenburg, "won the World War in battle in the Argonne." But American newspaper readers never read those outstanding words. Seldes and the others were accused of breaking the Armistice and were court martialed. They were also forbidden to write anything about the interview.

Seldes himself believed that the blocking of the interview proved to be tragic. Instead of hearing straight from the mouth of Germany's supreme commander that they were beaten fair and square on the battlefield, another story took hold — the Dolchstoss (or "stab-in-the-back"), the myth that Germany did not lose in battle but was betrayed at home by "the socialists, the Communists and the Jews." This was the central lie upon which Nazism was founded.

"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 in Witness to a Century. "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."

Lenin and Mussolini

Seldes spent the next ten years as an international reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He interviewed Lenin in 1922, but the Soviet government did not like Seldes's reports, and he was expelled from the country the following year.

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. His article implicated Mussolini in the killing, and Seldes was expelled from Italy.

In 1927, the Chicago Tribune sent Seldes to Mexico, but his articles criticizing American corporations concerning their use of that country's mineral rights were not well received. 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.

Freelance

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 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), an account of Benito Mussolini, Sawdust Caesar (1935), and two books on the newspaper business, Freedom of the Press (1935) and Lords of the Press (1938). 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, 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 Fact

From 1940 to 1950, Seldes published a political newsletter, In Fact, which at the height of its popularity had 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."

In his memoir Never Tire of Protesting Seldes admitted that In Fact was founded at the instigation of the US Communist Party leadership, but claims that this was done through his partner Bruce Minton (aka Richard Bransten, husband of Louise Bransten) without his knowledge. Minton/Bransten was a Party member (according to Seldes, this fact was unknown to him at the time) who borrowed the funds to start In Fact from Communist Party leader Earl Browder, according to a lengthy confessional letter by Minton which Seldes quotes in Never Tire of Protesting. According to Minton the Party wanted a US version of Claud Cockburn's muckracking London political weekly, The Week.

After In Fact ceased publication in 1950 its place in American journalism was taken by I.F. Stone's Weekly, which started publication in 1953.

As well as writing his newsletter, Seldes continued to publish books. These 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.

Blacklisted

In the early 1950s, Seldes came under attack from Joseph McCarthy, who accused him of being a communist. Seldes was blacklisted and found it difficult to publish his work. However, he continued to write books: 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).

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.

Seldes died in 1995 at age 104. A delegation of journalists attended the memorial service at his home in Vermont and read from his books.[1]

Asked how to say his name, he told The Literary Digest "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. (Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.)

References

  1. ^ Georgre Seldes - Seldes Remembrance Committee, publiceye website

Bibliography

  • You Can't Print That! (1929) ISBN 1417939095
  • Can These Things Be! (1931) ISBN 1228972858
  • World Panorama (1933)
  • The Vatican: Yesterday - Today - Tomorrow (1934)
  • Iron, Blood, and Profits (1934)
  • Sawdust Caesar (1935)
  • Freedom of the Press (1935)
  • Lords of the Press (1938)
  • You Can't Do That (1938)
  • The Catholic Crisis (1940)
  • Witch Hunt (1940)
  • The Facts Are... (1942)
  • Facts and Fascism (1943)
  • 1000 Americans: The Real Rulers of the U.S.A. (1947)
  • The People Don't Know (1949)
  • Tell the Truth and Run (1953)
  • The Great Quotations (1961)
  • Never Tire of Protesting (1968)
  • Even the Gods Can't Change History (1976)
  • Witness to a Century (1987)
  • The Great Thoughts (1985) ISBN 0-345-40428-9
  • The George Seldes Reader (1994) ISBN 1569800073

External links

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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

George Seldes (November 16, 1890July 2, 1995) was an American investigative journalist and media critic.

Missing page cites

  • Never grow weary of protesting. In this sensitive business of dealing with the public which depends on faith and good will, protest is a most effective weapon. Therefore protest.
    • Lords of the Press.
  • 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....
    • Lords of the Press (1938)
  • There are less than a dozen independent newspapers in the whole country, and even that small number is dependent on advertisers and other things, and all these other things which revolve around money and profit make real independence impossible. No newspaper which is supporting one class of society is independent.
    • Lords of the Press (1938)
  • One of the biggest pieces of bunkum shoved down the American throat was the story of the 1929 Italian election. For this I cannot blame my colleagues.
    • Can These Things Be! (1931)
  • Forbidden to write anything critical of the Fascist regime, they could only report what the hierarchy wanted them to report. The clever and honest American and British journalists, however, did insinuate startling facts in their stories; these insinuations, unfortunately, were between the lines and not for those who read as they run, and the American public is mostly a running reading public.
    • Can These Things Be! (1931)
  • Of course there are boob and bad reporters who bring in boob and bad items which are printed, and which make so many papers what they are. But there are more intelligent men who try to bring in intelligent items, only to see them changed into imbecile items, with the result that they may easily give up trying, and accustom themselves instead to the spirit of the office....
    • Can These Things Be!
  • We scent the air of the office. We realize that certain things are wanted, certain things unwanted. There is an atmosphere favorable to Fascism. We find that out when some little pro-Mussolini item is played up, some big item, not so pleasant to the hero of our era, played down, or left out. In the future we send pro-Mussolini stuff only. We get a cable of congratulations.
    • Can These Things Be!
  • I am merely trying to illustrate one of the fundamental facts about American journalism today, the fact that the servants of the press lords are slaves very much as they have always been, and that any attempt at revolt is immediately punished with the economic weapon.
    • Lords of the Press
  • But much more vicious than these cases is the majority of foreign correspondents who never have to be placed against the wall, who are never told what to write and how to write it, but who know from contact with the great minds of the press lords or from the simple deduction that the bosses are in big business and the news must be slanted accordingly, or from the general intangible atmosphere which prevails everywhere, what they can do and what they must never do. The most stupid boast in the history of present-day journalism is that of the writer who says, "I have never been given orders; I am free to do as I like."
    • Lords of the Press
  • Only in democratic countries is there the beginning of a suspicion that the old axioms about the press being the bulwark of liberty is something that affects the daily life of the people--that it is a living warning rather than an ancient wisecrack. A people that wants to be free must arm itself with a free press.
    • Lords of the Press

Unsourced

  • All great ideas are controversial, or have been at one time.

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