Reporter, Chicago Tribune and In
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”.