As substitute prof for a summer school "Media & Society" class tomorrow, I get to show, watch and discuss the film George Seldes: Tell the Truth and Run. (George is the 98-year-old, not me. At least he was 98 when interviewed for the film. He lived to be 104.)
I first saw the film in 1997, when Rick Goldsmith presented it at a conference in San Francisco. His work was nominated for an Oscar back then, but although well reviewed, it had a tough fight against story of the Ali-Frazier "Rumble in the Jungle," which took the prize that year.
For this course, Seldes is a more appropriate battler than Ali -- as a journalist, as a media critic, and as self-publisher of his "In Fact" newsletter.
Discussion question: How much did he have in common with some of today's bloggers and citizen journalists?
For students who want to get right to the source, some of Seldes's writings are online at PublicEye and brasscheck.com/seldes, including Ten Tests for a Free Press.
That could be a good segue into another piece of early press criticism, Upton Sinclair's The Brass Check, which is also available online.
And the film quotes I.F. Stone, who called Seldes "the father of the alternative press," which might inspire some of the students to peek at Stone's own online archives.
Here's a bit of the blurb brasscheck.com ran about the documentary, probably from the original press announcement. Students should learn the names...:
"Seldes at age 98 is the centerpiece of the film: remarkably engaging,witty and still impassioned about his ideas and ideals. Ralph Nader, Victor Navasky, Ben Bagdikian, Daniel Ellsberg, Nat Hentoff and Jeff Cohen, among others, provide incisive commentary. Stunning archival footage and over 500 headlines, photographs and articles provide a rich historical backdrop."Hmm. It just dawned on me that one of the narrators of "Tell the Truth and Run" is back in the news this summer. I wonder if the students will recognize his voice. They're probably too young to remember Lou Grant.
Information overload department:
By way of introducing one of Seldes' themes to the class, I should bring my banjo and sing this song... But I'll be kind and just play Pete Seeger's clip of one verse, then read the more pertinent verse about "Press-titution."
- Is the Entire Press Corrupt?
- Facts and Fascism
- Lords of the Press
- Witness to a Century
- You Can't Print That: The Truth Behind the News 1918 to 1928