Somehow, it wasn’t until the past few months that I heard of journalist George Seldes. This brief biography serves as a emphatic primer.
“The story of George Seldes is the story of the Twentieth Century. He has written 21 books and is the archetype of the independent and crusading journalist. He was a witness to and occasional participant in some of the most important events of this century.”
His interview with Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg, the supreme commander of the German Army during World War I was censored by the Allies. He reported from the Soviet Union for a year in 1922-23 until he was expelled “for not bowing to its censorship of the news.” He was also eventually bounced in Italy after reporting on the rise of Benito Mussolini. He witnessed the fascist dictatorship in Spain.
“Dissatisfied with censorship and the Right-wing bias of the American media,” Seldes and his wife Helen Larkin “started In Fact, the first publication in America solely devoted to press criticism. It was published from 1940 to 1950 and had a peak circulation of 176,000 before being Red-baited out of existence.”
From the Spartacus Educational bio: “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.'”
I found his some of his observations, as noted in Wikiquotes, appropriate today. “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 (1938)
And from the same source: “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….”
From the Wikipedia: “Having both staunch admirers and strong critics, Seldes influenced some 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).”
George Seldes was born in Alliance, New Jersey, on 16th November, 1890 and died at Windsor, Vermont, on 2nd July, 1995, aged 104.
For ABC Wednesday