David Randall, author of The Universal Journalist, presents 13 in-depth profiles of the best journalists who ever lived - nine Americans and four Britons, ten men and three women, whose lives were full of adventure, wit and the ingenuity to bring the story home.

George Seldes
Reporter, Chicago Tribune and In Fact

As an investigative reporter when it wasn’t fashionable to be one, George Seldes had two great attributes: he got his facts right and no one, but no one, could shut him up. On his very first paper, while barely out of his teens, he seriously got up the noses of local big business, and, for the rest of his long life, he went on adding names to those irked by his reporting: First World War censors, the Soviet state, Harvard University, Benito Mussolini, oil companies, General MacArthur and the entire army general staff, right-wing radio commentators, the New York Times, General Motors and other firms that traded with fascism, the Chicago Tribune, William Randolph Hearst, the FBI, the House Un-American Activities Committee, Reader’s Digest, Edgar Hoover, the Communist Party, Republican Party, evangelists, and the tobacco industry. His opponents might harass him, threaten him, smear him, and call him, to quote just one, “a rotten little scare-mongering louse”, but for nigh on 70 years they couldn’t shut him up.

And he did it, mostly, on his own. Not for him, after he turned 38, the protection of a big name publication. Instead, he worked as a freelance, and, for ten years, the writer and publisher of a newsletter that charged at the brick wall of corporate America with revelation after revelation. In it, Seldes famously exposed Senator Joe McCarthy’s tax fiddles, and, a decade before the mainstream media caught on to the story, single-handedly took on the tobacco industry over the links between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.

George Seldes, A.J.Liebling once said, “is about as subtle as a house falling in”. But no reporter, unbacked by a large media organisation, showed such intellectual courage. He was, I.F.Stone, wrote, “the dean and grandaddy of us investigative reporters”.


All text and logos copyright David Randall

Book cover images copyright Pluto Press