Muckraking Hero

George Seldes

Pick any issue you want -- gentrification, the Gulf War, racism, globalization in the Third World -- and you'll find an army of press-card-toting journalists willing to gloss it over, bury the important points, and otherwise obscure the truth in the major daily newspapers in this country. The press has a long history of screwing with reality, and in many well-documented cases, creating it. Not so with proto-muckraker George Seldes. Seldes sneaked into Germany after the First World War to interview Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg; the interview that emerged was censored by the Allies. Seldes believed this interview to be the most important work of his life: Von Hindenburg had admitted that Germany lost the war "fair and square" on the battlefield. When this interview was censored, another "truth" gained hold in Germany, that the war was lost because German Jews, Socialists, and Communists had sabotaged the cause. This was one of the integral myths in the Nazis' rise to power.

Seldes later traveled to Russia to chronicle the beginnings of the Soviet Empire; he was expelled for not bowing to government censorship. He also reported on the early days of Fascism in Italy and the ascendance of Benito Mussolini, earning himself expulsion from that country. In the 1930s, he followed the development of Fascism in Spain. Disgusted with the censorship and conservatism of the American press, Seldes founded his own weekly paper, In Fact, which went on to become the most widely read alternative journal of its time before Red-baiting forced its demise. Despite the ostracism by his own kind during his own time, in his later days Seldes became a revered figure for journalists, activists, and truth seekers worldwide.

Rick Goldsmith's Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press recounts Seldes' life story from the hindsight of old age (Seldes died at the age of 104 in 1995). Tell the Truth and Run, with an introduction and post-film discussion with director Rick Goldsmith, screens at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Screening Room, 701 Mission (at Third Street), S.F. Admission is $5-6; call 978-2787.

 
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