George Seldes Analysis

Early Encounters with Censorship

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

While a freelance war correspondent in Europe at the end of World War I, Seldes and three other journalists drove into Germany on Armistice Day, in violation of the armistice regulations. They got an exclusive interview with German field marshal Paul von Hindenburg, who tearfully confessed that the Germans had lost the war to the American infantry on the battlefield. This story was censored by the U.S. Army under pressure from a group of journalists, including Edwin L. James of The New York Times, who did not want their papers to know that they had been scooped. Seldes always believed that if Hindenburg’s statement had been widely publicized, Hitler would not have been able to appeal to the masses with false claim that Germany lost World War I, not on the battlefield but because it had been “stabbed in the back” by socialists, communists, and Jews. Years later, Seldes wrote that James, who had risen to the position of managing editor at The New York Times, had ordered his staff “never to mention” Seldes’ books or name.

In 1927 Seldes was sent to Mexico by The Chicago Tribune to report on the unrest in the country. Seldes recalled that while the Associated Press frightened the public with reports of a possible communist revolution in Central America, he found that the real news story concerned representatives of American oil interests, who wanted to topple the government so they could appropriate Mexico’s oil...

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The In fact Newsletter

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

In fact, a weekly newsletter first published in 1940, was described as being published “for the millions who want a free press” and, later, as “an Antidote for falsehood in the daily press.” It was the nation’s first periodical of press criticism. Seldes was the first media watchdog to criticize the press for not reporting the connection between smoking and cancer. It started in 1938 when he tried, without success, to get the press to report the results of a five-year study involving nearly seven thousand persons at The Johns Hopkins University. The study revealed that smoking decreased life expectancy. In 1940 In fact launched a ten-year crusade against tobacco, publishing some one hundred items on the subject. Few of his exposés ever appeared in the mainstream media.

Week after week, In fact castigated the mainstream media for failing to cover important issues. It reached a circulation peak of 176,000 and was the inspiration for I. F. Stone’s Weekly. I. F. Stone originally wanted to restart In fact but Seldes warned him about the pressure it received from the government and the media. He urged Stone instead to start his own newspaper and gave him his subscription list to help him get started.

Ironically, despite Seldes’ many years of outstanding journalism and media criticism, his most popular acclaim came from a brief appearance in a Hollywood movie and from a book that was not...

(The entire section is 438 words.)


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

The most comprehensive resource about George Seldes is his autobiography, published when he was ninety-six years old, Witness to a Century: Encounters with the Noted, the Notorious, and the Three SOBs (New York: Ballantine Books, 1987). Other books by Seldes dealing with major historic events and the media include You Can’t Print That (New York: Payson & Clarke Ltd., 1929), Freedom of the Press (New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1935), You Can’t Do That (New York: Modern Age Books, 1938), Tell the Truth and Run (New York: Greenberg, 1953), Never Tire of Protesting (New York: Lyle Stuart, 1968), and Even the Gods Can’t Change History (Secaucus, N.J.: Lyle Stuart, 1976). Randolph T. Holhut has compiled a comprehensive sample of Seldes’ books and newsletters in The George Seldes Reader (New York: Barricade Books, 1994).