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9780345353290: Witness to a Century: Encounters with the Noted, the Notorious, and the Three SOBs
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Book by Seldes George

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Extrait :
Introduction
 
 
 
“So Many Interesting People ...”
 
It is now nearly eighty years since the morning of February 9, 1909, when I was hired for $3.50 a week—apologetically called “lunch money”—as a cub reporter on the Pittsburgh Leader. Apprenticeship under City Editor Houston Eagle and his assistant, Harold Thirlkeld, prepared me for the journey to New York, considered by Americans if not all Europeans the capital of world journalism, then London, Paris, the press department of General Pershing’s army, a decade with the Chicago Tribune Foreign News Service with Berlin to Baghdad as my field, and then five decades of writing books and publishing magazine articles and a weekly newsletter, all in whole or part a criticism of the press.
 
Nineteen hundred and nine probably marked the peak of the great muckraking era, which was dominated by Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker and Will Irwin. Irwin in 1911 published the first series of articles in America criticizing, even exposing, the newspapers of his time. In 1920, Upton Sinclair, an outsider to journalism, wrote The Brass Check, the first book exposing the press. It was this book, plus a friendship with the author lasting many years, that influenced me and the books I wrote on the press, beginning in the 1930s.
 
The last years of that decade internationally witnessed one of the most outrageous newspaper campaigns of falsehood in modern history; it influenced the leaders of many governments, notably Britain, France and the United States, and it resulted in the destruction of the liberal, democratic Republic of Spain. Only one head of state of the time, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had the courage, later, to admit his own error. For me that decade also witnessed the success of the major advertising agencies of Madison Avenue in destroying the integrity of the proposed first popular illustrated American weekly “one step left of center.” It was to have had two press columns by me, one reporting suppressed news, one of press criticism; and it was to have supported liberal causes such as the Spanish Republic against Naziism and Fascism. But Madison Avenue said “No.”
 
The failure of this magazine, of which I was the only “working” editor, was directly responsible for my starting the newsletter In fact in 1940, then totally boycotted by the media, now recognized as the first publication in America, probably in the world, devoted entirely to press criticism.
 
In 1950 In fact was red-baited to death by the McCarthyites, who rode top saddle in the nation’s press in those days. The Senator had been exposed as a crook, but exposés by the Madison Capital Times, In fact, and liberal but small-circulation weeklies were ineffective. McCarthy, despite great press support, finally virtually defeated himself.
 
In the 1960s and notably in the 1970s, it seems to me, a change so gradual it escaped the notice of both its friends and critics at the time came over the great all-powerful American press, so that probably for the first time in the two-hundred-year history of the Republic it began to serve one of the Constitutional objectives for which the nation was founded—the general welfare of the American people. The name “Watergate” means many things to many people. For me it means not merely the work of two Washington Post investigative reporters in unearthing a scandal that destroyed (or should have destroyed) a crook who happened to be President, but the commitment of that paper as well as the influential New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and many others to the purpose for which all papers are supposedly dedicated, namely, to publish all the news.
 
Not that ideal Utopian journalism has arrived. But we have come a long way from Will Irwin’s 1910, ladies and gentlemen! Watergate is an imaginary pennant flying over an imaginary institution called “freedom of the press,” a phrase that means, or should mean, not only the right of the owners to publish without government control or Moron Majority censorship, but the right of the buyer of a paper to read hitherto suppressed news, such as the Federal Trade Commission fraud orders against bad medicine, bad automobiles and cancer-causing cigarets.
 
“I am a firm believer in the people,” said Mr. Lincoln; “if given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”
 
This reporter believes that the time has come for him to conclude his job with a personal anecdotal-historical review of his past seventy-seven years—not another criticism of the press but the “human-interest story,” sometimes the “inside” story, sometimes a correction of the falsifications of history-in-the-making as witnessed by the writer, sometimes just Mr. Lincoln’s “real facts” about people who have made history, as well as the front page—the noted, the notorious and, unfortunately, encounters with at least three of the leading SOBs of our time.
 
George Seldes                       
Hartland-4-Corners, Vermont
Spring 1986                         
 
 
Chapter 1
 
 
 
First Encounter
With the Press
 
My first encounter with the American press, more than eighty years ago, was unforgettable and probably determined me to be a newspaperman. My brother, Gilbert, and I were farm boys; in summer we hoed and dug potatoes and picked strawberries at one cent a quart—the selling price was eight or nine cents at nearby Wallabout Market in Philadelphia. In autumn we joyfully skipped school to pick grapes, which Grandfather sold to a man named Charlie Welch, the inventor of alcohol-free wine he called grape juice. This, our only crop, brought us three hundred dollars a year, which, plus the $16.66 we earned every month by keeping the fourth-class post office in the family, made us one of the more affluent families in Alliance, New Jersey.
 
Father, who had failed to turn the farm colony into a smalt Utopia, had gone to Philadelphia after Gilbert and I were born. He got a job in a drugstore, so he could add to the family income, and studied law at night. Eventually he was put into the drug-store business with the help of friendly doctors and a mortgage, but the post office remained in the hands first of my mother, who died when I was six, and then my aunt, Father’s sister, a head nurse at a small Philadelphia hospital whom father persuaded to sacrifice her career and go to the farm.
 
In 1905 there was a revolutionary uprising in St. Petersburg, the first armed attempt to overthrow the Tsar of Russia. Father, who was a libertarian, an idealist, a freethinker, a Deist, a Utopian, a Single Taxer, and a worshipper of Thoreau and Emerson, was also a joiner of all noble causes, and one of them was called Friends of Russian Freedom, of which he was either one of the founders or the secretary.
 
By coincidence that year the annual summer week or fortnight vacation Gilbert and I got in Philadelphia took place during the days of the Russian uprising, and all Philadelphia newspapers rushed to father’s drugstore to get “the local angle,” as they called it. (How important the local angle is I learned years later when I read that a man named Bonfils, owner of a Denver newspaper, frequently said to his staff, “Remember that a dog fight on Champa Street is a bigger story for us than three thousand [or it may have been 300,000] Chinese drowned in a typhoon”.)
 
We were having breakfast in the living room back of the laboratory when the press began to arrive, one on every streetcar. And they wasted no time. The uprising, they told Father, was a failure; it had been betrayed by its leader, a certain Father Gapon; the revolutionists had been dispersed, arrested, perhaps shot—so what did the Friends of Russian Freedom think of it and what were the Friends going to do now?
 
Shocked as Father was by the latest news, which had not yet appeared in print, he quite naturally told the reporters that the movement to overthrow the Tsar would go on and that the Friends of Russian Freedom would become more active than before. A conventional reply. But this is just what the reporters wanted to hear, it would make a good story, and they rushed to the telephones. To my great surprise I heard them quoting Father verbatim. A country boy of fifteen, I had imagined reporters creating masterpieces and brilliantly improving upon everything that came to their attention. And then I heard one reporter without stopping for breath shout over the telephone:
 
“Next item. There was a unique spectacular fire this morning all along Carpenter Street—more spectacular than dangerous—when washing that had been hung out and dried on one tenement house roof somehow caught fire, spread from line to line, then jumped to the clothes lines of the adjoining house, and then the next, and so on down the whole block, so that it seemed as if the whole street was on fire, and thousands of people came running from every direction, and everyone said he or she had never seen anything like that in their lives.”
 
We waited anxiously for the evening papers, which I soon learned were published before noon, and sure enough I learned my first great lesson in news values: Carpenter Street Fire, with a photograph and headline, was on the front page, while the interview with father was a follow-up, or as I later learned to call it, a “shirt-tail,” to the whole Russian revolution, now reduced to page three.
 
Biographie de l'auteur :
George Seldes was one of the great muckraking journalists and the author of twenty books, including Witness to a Century. He began his career as a cub reporter for the Pittsburgh Leader, rose to international correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, and founded his own newspaper, which was dedicated to the truth. He died at the age of 104 in 1995.

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9780345331816: Witness to a Century: Encounters With the Noted, the Notorious, and the Three Sobs

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    G K Ha..., 1988
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