Documentarian Rick Goldsmith finds a rich subject in George Seldes, whose career as a journalist and contentious critic of journalism spanned nearly the entire 20th century. Interviews conducted with Seldes in his 98th year form the heart of this inspiring, if quite conventional, Academy
Using archival footage and news clippings, TELL THE TRUTH AND RUN sets the stage for Seldes's autobiographical reminiscences, beginning with his first job in the newspaper business. As an 18-year-old reporter for The Pittsburgh Leader, Seldes covered the story of a department store owner's son who
was charged with the attempted rape of one of the store's salesclerks. The Leader decided not to print the story and used it as blackmail so that the store would increase its advertising. Seldes then resolved to dedicate his career to fighting the "prostitution of the press" to corporate
strong-arming, government censorship, or any other force that threatened to suppress facts about affairs of local or global importance.
Later, as a WWI-era European correspondent for The Chicago Tribune, Seldes learned that under the heat of competition, crushing deadlines, and the wartime situation, his job was to "tell the truth and run"--with an emphasis on telling the truth, a practice which got Seldes expelled from both
Lenin's Russia and Mussolini's Italy. After the war, Seldes settled into Paris cafe society to write the first of a series of books criticizing the press's preference of profit over honesty and accuracy.
In 1941, Seldes founded In Fact, a weekly devoted to protesting "corporate malfeasance, consumer fraud, and racial injustice," which in its time surpassed The Nation and The New Republic in circulation. Never afraid to offend, Seldes's publication was the first to reveal information on the health
risks of smoking. As the Red Scare brewed, many readers canceled their subscriptions, although Seldes himself was investigated only briefly and quickly vindicated by Joseph McCarthy's House Subcommittee on Unamerican Activities. Having always refused advertising, In Fact could not survive its lack
of income and folded in 1950.
Seldes resettled in Vermont. Claiming that "retirement is the dirtiest ten-letter word in the English language," he continued to write and published several more books but was rarely reviewed. Seldes was largely forgotten until he appeared in Warren Beatty's 1981 film REDS as one of several
"witnesses" to the life and work of author and activist John Reed. Renewed interest in Seldes's work sparked his first awards from the journalism community. He died at age 104 in 1995.
In TELL THE TRUTH AND RUN, Goldsmith features heavy-hitters from the current generation of critics, journalists, public advocates, and activists who have taken Seldes's ideals to heart, including media industry historian Ben Bagdikian, Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff, consumer advocate Ralph
Nader, and peace activist Daniel Ellsberg. Each subject testifies to Seldes's influence on their own work; youthful representatives of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), a media watchdog group, appear to prove that Seldes's work continues. Even at 98, as an interview subject, Seldes
himself tirelessly dissects the demise of competition in most local newspaper markets and the increasing control of the press by non-media corporations whose interests are promoted at the expense of the truth.
The presence of carefully chosen celebrity voices (Susan Sarandon, as narrator, and Ed Asner, reading from Seldes's works), may underscore the film's liberal credentials for a contemporary audience, but this documentary is a refreshingly uncynical work. Straightforward in approach, alternatively
celebratory and solemn in tone, TELL THE TRUTH AND RUN paints a hopeful portrait of one man who made a difference. (Adult situations.)
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- Released: 1996
- Rating: NR
- Review: Documentarian Rick Goldsmith finds a rich subject in George Seldes, whose career as a journalist and contentious critic of journalism spanned nearly the entire 20th century. Interviews conducted with Seldes in his 98th year form the heart of this inspiring… (more)