George Seldes: Speaking Truth To Power

The great pioneer investigative journalist George Seldes is one of my personal heroes. He was exposing “fake news” in the establishment mainstream media almost one hundred years ago.

In his autobiography, Witness to a Century: Encounters with The Noted, the Notorious, and the Three SOBs, Seldes relates an interesting tale in chapter 22 of this book, “Lenin Speaks of His American Mentors.” Seldes was in Moscow for the fifth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. He was one of the few American journalists who met V. I. Lenin and spent personal face-time with him. Lenin discussed the tremendous impact two Americans had had upon him. First, the Socialist politician and writer Daniel De Leon, who had shaped Lenin’s interpretation of Marxism, and second, former U. S. Senator Richard Pettigrew, author of Triumphant Plutocracy, which Lenin was presently reading. Seldes made a note of the title of this work, which he wanted to promptly obtain when returning to America. Seldes put down the title as Plutocratic Democracy. For years he searched for a copy, but found that no book by that title existed. When I read this account, I wrote Seldes to inform him that the book truly did exist, and that I have a first-edition copy. I included a photocopy of the title page and table of contents in my correspondence. Seldes graciously wrote me back, thanking me for correcting his error.

He soon died after that at the age of 104.

Much of the information below is sourced from Wikipedia.

Influenced by muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens, his career began when he was nineteen years old and was hired at the Pittsburgh Leader. In 1914, he was appointed night editor of the Pittsburgh Post.

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 reported for the Chicago Tribune in Mexico, where he criticized the use of the country’s mineral rights by American companies. He battled with the Tribune‘s owner and publisher, Col. Robert McCormick, over the paper’s altering of his Mexico articles, and soon afterwards quit the Tribune over what he felt was censorship. In 1929, Seldes became a freelance reporter and author, subsequently writing a series of books and criticisms about his years as a foreign correspondent, and the issues of censorship, suppression and distortion in the press.

Seldes was one of the few tenacious journalists who pursued the shocking story of how former US Marine Corps Major General Smedley Darlington Butler saved the United States from an attempted fascist coup d’etat by Wall Street plutocratic militarists in the early days of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal.

During the late 1930s he had one more stint as a foreign correspondent, along with his wife Helen, for the New York Post, in Spain during the Spanish Civil War.

In 1940, Seldes co-founded a weekly newsletter, In Fact, subtitled “an Antidote to Falsehoods in the Daily Press.” In it, he attacked corporate malfeasance, often using governmental documents from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He exposed, issue after issue, the health hazards of cigarettes and attacked the mainstream press for suppressing such news, blaming the newspapers’ heavy dependence on cigarette advertising. He cited J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI for anti-union campaigns. He brought attention to how the National Association of Manufacturers was able to use its advertising dollars to produce news stories favorable to its members and to suppress news stories unfavorable 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).

Sawdust Caesar: The Untold History of Mussolini and Fascism — Book by George Seldes  (I have an autographed copy)

Iron Blood And Profits: An Exposure Of The World-wide Munitions Racket — Book by George Seldes

One Thousand Americans: The Real Rulers of the U. S. A. — Book by George Seldes

The People Don’t Know: The American Press and the Cold War — Book by George Seldes

Can These Things Be! — Book by George Seldes

You Can’t Do That — Book by George Seldes

The Facts Are: A Guide to Falsehood and Propaganda in the Press and Radio — Book by George Seldes

The Fascist Road To Ruin — George Seldes pamphlet

Facts and Fascism  — Book by George Seldes   (I have an autographed copy)

World Panorama: 1918-1933 — Book by George Seldes

Lords of the Press — Book by George Seldes

You Can’t Print That – Book by George Seldes

In the first documentary above, journalist I. F. Stone, historian Howard Zinn, and journalist Studs Terkel discuss the tremendous impact Seldes made on their lives.

Researchers of the KGB archives of the former Soviet Union discovered that George Seldes was a longtime secret member of the Communist Party since well before 1940, valued for his “major connections” in Washington. The files revealed no evidence that Seldes was ever engaged in espionage (unlike his In Fact colleague Bruce Minton). Seldes later wrote that In Fact was founded at the instigation of the U.S. Communist Party leadership, but he wrote 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 received the funds to start In Fact from Communist Party. While his political positions often were similar to those in the Party in 1940, by 1948 Seldes was writing in positive terms of the anti-Soviet communism of Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia, earning him the wrath of many Communist Party loyalists in the United States. As the Cold War took shape at the end of the decade, Seldes lost readership from both the Communists and the anti-liberal-left sentiment that was sweeping the country, including a trade union movement that had contained some of his largest audience. The nationwide atmosphere of McCarthyism and red-baiting further diminished his subscribers’ numbers, and he was financially forced to close In Fact, which never accepted advertising, in October 1950. Accordingly he sold his mailing list of subscribers to I. F. Stone, who began I. F. Stone’s Weekly.

I. F. Stone however, was a Soviet intelligence agent. In their Cold War history, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (2000), John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr said that Stone was the Soviet secret agent BLIN. They cited four Venona cables that mentioned the American journalist I. F. Stone and that two of the cables contained evidence of Stone’s pro–Soviet espionage. As well, the files of the KGB, from 1936 to 1939, indicate that Stone was a Soviet secret agent, who worked as a talent spotter, as a courier to other secret agents, and that he provided private and journalistic information to KGB, and Stone collaborated with the Communist Victor Perlo group, who gave him materials for use in journalistic exposés.

In Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (2009), Klehr, Haynes, and Alexander Vassiliev, formerly of KGB, cite a KGB file [which Vassiliev saw in the Soviet Union] that named “Isidor Feinstein, a commentator for the New York Post” in the 1930s, as being secret agent BLIN, who “entered the channel of normal operational work” in 1936. That a note listed BLIN as an agent of the KGB station in New York City, in 1938. Klehr, Haynes, and Vassiliev said that Stone “assisted Soviet intelligence on a number of tasks, ranging from doing some talent spotting, acting as a courier, by relaying information to other agents, and providing private journalist tidbits and data [that] the KGB found interesting”.

Here are some of the noted people George Seldes knew, worked with, or interviewed:

Soviet Communist dictator V. I. Lenin, U. S. President Woodrow Wilson, physicist Albert Einstein, Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, U. S. President Theodore Roosevelt, German Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, Soviet Communist dictator Josef Stalin, Soviet Communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky, Spanish Communist artist Pablo Picasso, German General Paul von Hindenburg, French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, U. S. General John J. Pershing, British author George Bernard Shaw, U. S. presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, U. S. author Ernest Hemmingway, U. S. author Sinclair Lewis, U. S. journalist Dorothy Thompson, British author H. G. Welles, U. S. newspaper publisher Colonel Robert McCormick, dancer Isadora Duncan, anarchist Emma Goldman, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, Soviet Cheka head Feliks Dzerdzinsky, U. S. President Calvin Coolidge, U. S. author Josephine Herbst, U. S. author Thomas Wolfe, French author Andre Malraux, Senator Joe McCarthy, U. S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Yugoslavian dictator Marshal Tito, Russian author Maxim Gorki, U. S. newspaper columnist “Dear Abby,” Zelda Fitzgerald, U. S. songwriter Cole Porter, psychiatrist Alfred Adler, U. S. financier Bernard Baruch, Spanish Communist revolutionary Dolores Ibarruri, U. S. author Lincoln Steffens, actor Charlie Chaplin, actor Douglas Fairbanks, actor Errol Flynn, actor Warren Beaty, U. S. writer and revolutionary Jack Reed, U. S. author and newspaper columnist Walter Lippmann, U. S. newspaper columnist Heywood Hale Broun, U. S. newspaper editor and columnist William Allen White, U. S. newspaper editor Irwin S. Cobb, U. S. newspaper columnist Alexander Woollcott, U. S. newspaper reporter Floyd Gibbons, U. S. author Damon Runyon, U. S. newspaper columnist Westbrook Pegler, U. S. journalist Bill Moyers and U. S. consumer activist and presidential candidate Ralph Nader.


11:53 pm on July 2, 2019