George Seldes and the Tobacco Industry

Rick Goldsmith’s 1996 documentary “Tell The Truth and Run” examines the life of George Seldes, a journalist and media critic through the 1930s-40s. Seldes was an outspoken critic of mainstream media, and most well-known for his independent media publication In Fact, which had the tagline: “An Antidote for Falsehood in the Daily Press.”

One segment of “Tell the Truth and Run” touches on how Seldes was one of the first to dig deep into the reporting being done on the Tobacco Industry—and the reporting being ignored by the mainstream media regarding cigarettes and smoking.

In the July 28, 1947 issue (Vol. XV, No. 17) of In Fact, Seldes reported on what is well-known today: the link between cigarette smoking and cancer. He wrote about clinical studies done that linked the two, quoted doctors who knew cigarettes caused lung cancer and who had identified the link between birth defects and cigarettes. Seldes also acknowledged the complications regarding the mainstream press and advertising, writing: “the U.S. press has suppressed at least 90% of the news items in which tobacco and especially the use of cigarets, have been mentioned unfavorably.” To back up this claim, Seldes went on to name some of the headlines and stories run by big mainstream newspapers stating that smoking is harmless, or that doctors recommend smoking—and focused on the high-paying cigarette ads running adjacent to these articles. This is an example of how independent media, which traditionally did not have as many advertisers—rather being kept afloat by the community it supports—often reports and publishes on the kind of issues that the mainstream media does not do justice.

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