Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Getting It Right

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Getting It Right

Article excerpt


Truth, justice, and the 'Father of Press Criticism'

When I was 15, I picked up a copy of a four-page weekly (cover price: 2 cents) called In Fact: An Antidote for Falsehoods in the Daily Press. Its publisher, editor, and reporter was George Seldes, an alumnus of the United Press and the Chicago Tribune. He had covered American forces during World War I and later reported on Lenin and Mussolini, who had Seldes thrown out of Italy.

Seldes had resigned from the Chicago Tribune because its proprietor, Col. Robert Rutherford McCormick, censored those dispatches that did not conform with the colonel's fierce views.

I was reading most of Boston's daily newspapers when I first saw In Fact, but the news in those four pages startled me. Seldes, for example, printed a letter from the commander of the American Legion ordering Legionnaires not to wear their uniforms whenever engaged in strikebreaking. He also attacked the establishment press for not printing a 1938 report by Dr. Raymond Pearl, head of the biology department at Johns Hopkins University, that linked cigarettes to cancer.

After becoming a reporter, I read several of Seldes' books: "You Can't Print That," "Lords of the Press," and "Even the Gods Can't Change History."

In 1982, I wrote about the mentoring Seldes had inadvertently given me in Lithopinion, a journal published by Local 1 of the Amalgamated Lithographers of America. A few months later, I got a letter from Seldes at his home in Hartland Four Corners, Vt. He told me he appreciated my article because by the early 1970s he had been listed as dead in "Webster's Biographical Dictionary" and "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations."

We corresponded, and I talked to him on the phone. He told me how In Fact in 1940 -- 10 years after it was founded -- had died. It had become so controversial that even labor unions, among its earliest subscribers, canceled. It also had been boycotted by the Communist Party. The mainstream press largely ignored his revelations, even though a number of reporters from leading newspapers had sent him stories for In Fact that they could not get into print.

Seldes was blacklisted by The New York Times for some 40 years, because -- at the request of Heywood Broun, president of The Newspaper Guild -- Seldes had testified in a hearing about the wretched salaries that journalists, including those at the Times, were getting.

Listed falsely as a member of the Communist Party by the House Un- American Activities Committee, Seldes was summoned by U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy and so furiously proved that he had never belonged to any party, group, society, or faction that McCarthy came out of a closed hearing to tell the waiting press that Seldes had been cleared. …

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