Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil: The Story of In fact - Part Three
Next in importance to piercing the curtain of censorship and suppression that protected disease- and death-causing tobacco, I consider my publication of the documentary evidence that the most powerful organized enemy of the American people is the National Association of Manufacturers.
This country was dedicated not only to the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but to the general welfare of its citizens. The documentary evidence _ almost all of it suppressed in almost all the media _ shows the NAM to be the most powerful enemy of the general welfare.
The NAM is dedicated to the general welfare of its own membership, which is almost the entire manufacturing industry in America. The NAM has opposed every president since the turn of the 20th Century (when it was organized) who believed in the Lincolnian view that human rights takes precedence over property rights.
It maintains one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. It initiates legislation and is credited with getting more bills passed than any other special interest. At one time, it bribed members of Congress and was found guilty of criminal and illegal actions as a result.
The NAM's leading members were also found guilty of being the main users of espionage, machine guns and tear gas in their war against labor. Its leaders were also shown, by a Senate investigation, to be the main subsidizers of all the reactionary, pro-fascist, anti-Semitic and anti-general welfare groups and movements in the country.
If the general reader does not know these statements to be facts, it is because the mass media have failed in their duty to keep America informed.
The NAM has been investigated by Congress three times in the first half of the 20th Century. In the 1910s, the Garrett Committee, or Mulhall Investigation, proved with documentary evidence that the NAM was founded in 1895 to destroy the first attempt at national unionization and to maintain long hours and low wages and child labor. It needed legislation for these purposes, so it bribed members of Congress. It also put up the money to defeat representatives and senators who voted against its proposed anti-labor laws.
"Colonel" Martin M. Mulhall, one of the chief secret lobbyists of the NAM, confessed the criminal activities of the NAM in a series of articles he wrote for the great crusading Pulitzer dailies, the New York World and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch . Congress could not shut its eyes to these disclosures, so a committee headed by then-majority leader Finis J. Garrett of Tennessee began a four-month inquiry which resulted in 60 volumes of testimony and documentation, concluding that the NAM activities in Washington were "secretive," "reprehensible," "questionable," "disreputable" and "criminal." If private individuals had done what the NAM did, they would have been sent to the penitentiary.
The NAM was totally discredited. It was forced to reorganize and adopt a new policy: There would be no more bribery and corruption _ the new plan was to control American public opinion through a great propaganda machine which would work through the American newspapers. The organization itself would not corrupt anyone; it would let its members, which controlled almost every cent of national advertising money in American, use the pressure of hundreds of millions (now billions) of dollars a year.
Everything the NAM did from then on was legal. It was legal, for example, to write editorials and send them to every newspaper in the country living from the advertising of NAM members. The press which published them without giving the source corrupted itself, but the NAM technically and legally was not corrupting the press.
The investigation by the Senate Committee on Education and Labor, better as the LaFollette Committee, produced several volumes of reports concerning strikebreaking and racketeering by corporations who were NAM members.
At a time when the press in general was equating force and violence with the union labor movement and with strikes, the testimony before the LaFollette Committee showed the opposite to be true: The companies were mostly to blame for all labor troubles.
The Monopoly Investigation, conducted by Senator Joseph C. O'Mahoney of Wyoming, produced the greatest indictment in history of Big Business in general and the NAM in particular. On the day it published its evidence against lobbying, the press generally obliged by suppressing the names of the organizations investigated. The New York Times omitted the NAM from its one-column story and did not divulge the truly important findings of the committee.
The committee named the business pressure lobbies, of which the most important is the NAM; followed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which the NAM helped found and with which it cooperates. Others listed included the Edison Electric Institute, the Association of Life Insurance Presidents, the American Iron and Steel Institute, the American Bankers Association, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Investment Bankers Association, the American Bar Association and the American Newspaper Publishers Association.
It was a damning indictment that showed Big Business, of which the NAM is the epitome, is the chief enemy of the general welfare and that the press was its main weapon. It fought against the Wagner Act, the Magna Carta of Labor, and succeeded in watering it down when the NAM-written Taft-Hartley Act replaced it. It has fought against Social Security, the minimum wage law and every other piece of legislation that would benefit the general welfare. During World War II, its members put profits ahead of fighting fascism.
All of this, the congressional investigations, the exposes, the really sensational or _ as others might say _ newsworthy , reports in committee and in Congress was not reported by the press and is not known to many persons today. The NAM is still sacred, as is "free enterprise," known until the panic of 1929 as "capitalism."
Within a month or two of its first issue, In fact was gaining 1,000 subscribers a week, thanks largely to the support of labor, notably the CIO unions, including the locals in Congressman Martin Dies' electoral district in Texas.
Almost immediately the first of not hundreds but at least as thousand attacks were made on my newsletter. In the New York Daily News , there appeared appeared in Danton Walker's column this short but alarming paragraph: "Certain newspaper folk around town are perturbed over a rumor that the Dies Committee wants George Seldes's mailing list for his weekly newsletter In fact ."
The item was a "plant." It was not unusual for Dies's House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to use "leaks," to broadcast "canards," and to use trial balloons as part of their strategy. The Dies Committee, unlike the many other great investigations by the House and Senate, was not preparing reliable documented evidence for use in future legislation _ the announced purpose of its creation _ but was devoting itself to gaining publicity in newspapers, magazines, and on the radio, by providing sensations, true or false _ usually false.
Unfortunately, the press and radio then, as later when McCarthy outdid the Dies Committee in character assassination and falsification, refused to hear their victims or give equal time or space, or any space or time at all to them.
The Dies Committee distortions and falsehoods reached at least 50 million persons via press and radio, which were almost universally cooperating with the campaign. The liberal weeklies, the American Civil Liberties Union, the handful of daily papers devoted to truth and ethics _ all together reached a million or two. The support of the American press of the HUAC and McCarthy investigations is one of the foulest blots in the history of journalism. The press enjoyed freedom and used freedom to pervert itself.
In the third issue of In fact, under the headline "The Press: 98% Biased," there appeared the first mention of Chairman Dies:
"Power to investigate is the power to destroy.
"The LaFollette Committee investigated the attacks on civil liberties, notably the attack on labor. It aimed to destroy the prevailing system of industrial espionage, vigilantism, violence, frequently murder.
"The Dies Committee on the other hands aims to destroy every liberal, labor, pro-labor and progressive movement in the U.S. by branding it 'Red.'
"The LaFollette Committee produced the documentary evidence of the Grapes of Wrath....
"The Dies Committee produces chiefly slander, hearsay, libel and smears.
"The press of America gives Dies the front page. It suppressed the LaFollette story in most instances....
"The LaFollette Committee was pro-labor; the Dies Committee is anti-labor. The press of America from Benjamin Franklin's time on, as been anti-labor."
Martin Dies eventually lost his seat in the House. His political career was ended by the organized efforts of thousands of subscribers to In fact . When Dies blamed the CIO oil workers in his Port Arthur district for his defeat he was naming my readers, because from the early issues up to the 1944 election every man who went to work in that oil field was an In fact subscriber.
We also collaborated with the CIO and its publications, which from the first days of the HUAC realized that committee's real purpose, so long as Dies was chairman, was to destroy the labor movement.
At first Dies tried to stop the progress of the oil workers by publicly declaring the CIO was Communist. At the same time the CIO announced that nearly every oil field and refinery in Dies' district was 100 percent unionized despite the efforts of HUAC, the entire press and radio, and the corporations which kept up a daily attack on the CIO as a communist plot directed from Moscow.
In May 1944, In fact had 3,058 subscribers in Dies' voting district, who with their families could cast a probable 6,000 or more votes against him. Then Judge J.M. Combs of the Court of Civil Appeals announced his candidacy for the House. The CIO immediately announced its support. The conclusion was obvious. Dies announced he "would not seek re-election because of ill health and a desire to return to private business." The New York Times also reported that the CIO Political Action Committee "had marked the Texan down for defeat." Dies told the Associated Press that "it will become obvious to the people that the CIO will become the Communist Party of America."
All the years from 1930 to 1944 Dies had been elected to the House with about five percent of the people in his district voting. In 1944 the oil workers had at least 6,000 In fact readers, each one pledged to vote against Dies, and other unions had several thousand more. In the primary Dies got five votes and Judge Combs 34,916. It was a total repudiation and it was the work of the oil workers' locals.
But Dies had set the ways and methods of the Un-American Committees _ chiefly character assassination, falsehood, guilt by association, and Red-baiting _ which all succeeding chairmen have employed until it was abolished in 1975.
Dies "cited" In fact. To my protest there was no reply. The Department of Justice, the Loyalty Board and the FBI had ever "cited" In fact or said or published anything derogatory about it or its editor; but nothing could offset the libel published by Mr. Dies because all of the dishonest publications continued to repeat it. At least 50 million Americans were told not once, but time and time again in the Hitler manner, that In fact had been "cited."
Our maximum circulation was 176,000. At one time, we were getting 3,000 new subscriptions a week. It seemed soon we would reach 250,000, which meant a million readers _ a powerful force in America. But the outrageous onslaught of eight years had its effect _ no one could have survived it.
Euripides wrote it. I quoted it in the prospectus for In fact . It sounded so simple, so easy to follow: "Let the facts speak for themselves."
Once a year, in the 10 years that followed, I was forced by my readers to answer questions and challenges: What is your policy? or Why don't you have a policy? or Your policy is right (or wrong). Our policy is to have no policy, I kept saying in the few editorials I wrote.
The trouble began with our second issue, when I accused my co-founder Bruce Minton of writing editorials instead of news and although with issue No. 6 I threatened to resign, it was he who did so soon after. It was not until 13 years later that he told me the whole story of his intrigue in the founding and editing of our newsletter and of his slanting of the news _ all of which he permitted me to disclose after the McCarthy hearing on the subject.
I wrote almost all of the first and second issues. But in the second issue, Mr. Minton began publishing his "think pieces," or editorials for which he had no documentation, for the first time. In "The Administration Chooses War," he wrote:
"The Roosevelt Administration is gambling that the war will drag
on....It is common knowledge among Washington officials (though carefully
concealed from the public) that the Administration is committed to military
participation in Europe's war....
All of this might have been true, but it was purely "dope" originating in Minton's mind or, as I suspected much later, in the minds of the persons under whose discipline Minton then served.
The fourth issue was almost all "dope," even Minton's headline, "Now What in Europe?" made no pretense of being news. And here for the first time Minton mentioned the Soviets. "Most realistic observers conclude" was one of his variations on "well-informed circles" and "reliable sources say," after which he usually presented his own views or the views of his associates.
Concerning the Soviet Union, he reported his sources believing, and Washington observers admitting, "that the German-Soviet non-aggression pact was far from a failure... (it) prevented the Soviet Union from bearing the brunt of appeasement, preserved peace in Eastern Europe, kept the Balkans out of war so far, kept the conflict to date from becoming a world war, put the Soviets in a stronger position in relation to Germany."
This was one of the numerous Minton items for which in the following 10 years I was attacked by Red-baiters, by former communists turned reactionaries, the Dies Committee, columnists and newspapers _ almost all of whom knew that Minton and not I wrote these editorialized pieces.
Beginning with the second issue Minton insisted as a partner in writing half of each issue, or all of the alternating issues, despite my protest that whoever had the most important news item should lead off or have all the newsletter. My report on Willkie filled most of No. 5. Thereupon Minton insisted on writing No. 6, which he headlined "The Puzzle of the Burma Road." Whether this think piece was communistically inspired or not I do not know, but it certainly was not news. And it was terribly dull, and that is the one unforgivable sin of any publication.
At about this time Minton mailed to me at my home in Connecticut a package of proofsheets of many items I had written which he had left out when making up the four pages. He wrote me that the items were outdated, could no longer be used. But we had begun quarreling over every issue from No. 2 on and this helped bring matters to a climax.
In a letter to Minton I offered him three choices: I would decide was is news and what is not news or I would resign; I would remain, but my name would have to come off, and no publicity would be issued under my name; or I would withdraw but not resign and contribute free of charge a press column for each issue, signed, but with my name off the masthead.
Mr. Minton's reply was unsatisfactory. "We must utilize news in order to give our readers direction," he wrote. "We must use In fact as a political weapon." I disagreed. His name disappeared with the 11th fortnightly issue, but, inasmuch as he had engaged the entire personnel, including our one research worker, I am afraid that some of his influence carried over a little longer.
In 1945 Bruce Minton was expelled from the Communist Party U.S.A. of which he had been a secret member.
After parting company with Mr. Minton I began a series of what I believed the most important subjects worthy of an expose. I tried to stick to the policy of no policy, to publish only facts. Very little can be done against facts. If you print them the enemy may call you a muckraker, but they can't deny the facts and they cannot very well Red-bait you.
What the friends of corruption and the enemies of facts did was to use the Bruce Minton propaganda and think-pieces against me for the next eight years. Basing their libels on Minton's writing, In fact was attacked as Red, Stalinist, following the Communist line or as being a fellow traveler. Sometimes they used words which could escape a libel suit, sometimes they used libel because they knew I did not have the money for libel suits. Eventually this campaign, ironically enough aided by a Communist Party boycott, killed the newsletter.
Among the suggestions well-meaning supporters made for countering this attack were several which can be summed up in this line in one of the letters: "To prove you're not a Red, why don't you go in for a little Red-baiting?" Hundreds insisted on editorials. About once a year I wrote one. The earliest is dated June 9, 1941:
"So far as Red-baiting is concerned, we advise all those who like it to read the Hearst, Scripps-Howard and other anti-labor newspapers. It is a fact that most which are anti-labor, which suppress the news, which defend the viewpoint of big-business and advertisers, are also Red-baiters...
"As I have stated frequently, I am not a Communist. I do not follow the Communist Party line. I do not know what the phrase means. I follow no line but my own, which was stated when In fact was founded and is here repeated.
"No Red-baiter has found fault with the contents of In fact . An attack has been made against me on the negative charge that I myself have done no Red-baiting. There will be no baiting in In fact, Red or otherwise. If I am able to true news from Russia, China or Mexico (which usually get a dishonest deal in the press) I will print it. If the entire press lies...I will expose such falsehoods. If I make errors, I will correct them. But when false statements are published against me...I will demand corrections."
This was the theme, with variations, once a year.
We were questioned about the almost universal flood of Red charges against us. But not all the pressure against the newsletter came from the Red-baiters. From the time Bruce Minton left we began to receive telephone calls and letters with were no doubt from the extreme Left and which we were told were from Communists, overt or covert members of the Party.
From the day In fact was founded I refused to cooperate with either Left or Right. I quit all organizations except for the Democratic Party (Connecticut) and the ACLU. But by 1948 I had to report in an editorial that the attack on In fact had become "the most concentrated campaign against anyone in America."
I wrote to J. Edgar Hoover telling him that letter carriers were telling persons to whom they delivered In fact that they had better cancel their subscriptions. I had evidence and named the post offices where agents believed to be FBI men made lists of all my subscribers. I had evidence from my hometown post office (Norwalk, Connecticut) that an FBI agent was sending to Hartford a daily list of every piece of mail my wife and I received, and although Mr. Hoover always replied and always said it was not an FBI man doing this work, things got so bad hundreds of faithful subscribers suggested we mail the newsletter in plain envelopes _ they would pay the extra postage.
We kept alive the last two years on the sale of books. Circulation dropped from 176,000 to about 56,000, which was still about the combined circulation of The Nation and The New Republic . But it was no use. We could not survive the assassins. And since it had been my announced purpose to publish a newsletter "for the millions who want a free press," and there was no chance of reaching a large public, publication was suspended in October 1950.
How important are the mass media in our lives today? Thomas Jefferson believed that "our liberty depends on the freedom of the press and that cannot be limited without being lost." John Adams believed that "if there is ever to be an amelioration of the condition of mankind, philosophers, theologians, legislators, politicians and moralists will find the regulation of the press is the most difficult, dangerous and important problem they have to resolve. Mankind cannot be governed without it, nor at present with it."
Almost two centuries later, Dr. Robert M. Hutchins, chancellor of the University of Chicago and chairman of Commission on Freedom of the Press, concluded darkly in 1947 that the agencies of mass communication "can advance the progress of civilization or they can thwart it. They can debase and vulgarize mankind. They can endanger the peace of the world."
If you accept these three authorities (among hundreds who throughout modern history have spoken in similar words) _ and there is no reason to consider Jefferson and Adams outdated or Dr. Hutchins too severe _ then you must admit that there are forces upon which our liberty depends, forces which aid the progress of mankind still unlimited by law or regulation or even an active code of ethics, and yet capable of debasing mankind and endangering the peace of the world.
After over a half-century of collecting thousands of plans and ideas,
I would make three suggestions, which may not appear new to many of my
readers, but new or old they are in my opinion the best _ or most
1. A constantly sitting Commission on the Freedom of the Press, with
an effective means of communicating its findings.
The Hutchins Commission issued a comprehensive and critical report on the media, "A Free and Responsible Press," in 1947. The landmark report warned, "One of the most effective ways of improving the press is blocked by the press itself. By a kind of unwritten law, the press ignores the errors and misrepresentation, the lies and scandals, of which its members are guilty.'' As you might expect, the press at the time gave the Hutchins Commission report little attention and it is still little known to this day.
A constantly sitting commission should issue specific reports; it should name the guilty and praise the good; it should be so timely that would be a corrective; it should name names; it should have no sacred cows.
In 1941, I went to Detroit to discuss with George Addes, secretary-treasurer of the United Auto Workers union, my idea of a TVA-type daily paper sponsored, and subsidized if need be, by labor unions.
Neither the founder of the labor movement, Samuel Gompers, nor its most militant leader, John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers, favored a labor newspaper. Both said it would make enemies, or rather, worse enemies of the commercial press if successful. Mr. Addes was the most intelligent and enthusiastic believer in a labor-owned daily newspaper I had ever met, and our meeting ended in a plan for him to introduce me at the next national convention of the CIO, where I was to give a complete outline and propose a vote on the matter. He believed that the CIO might assess its members 50 cents a year, which could provide a fund of $3 million _ an amount that could be lost if the daily did not begin to pay for itself. He thought the experiment could be put through. But Pearl Harbor ended all such plans.
A national daily published in New York or Washington might involve a loss of millions of dollars a year in the beginning; it might also pay for itself. But what is a few million to the AFL-CIO or the Ford Foundation or the Rockefeller Foundation? There must be some billionaire who would enjoy supporting, if only for a year or two, a national newspaper devoted to surprising the whole world with as near the truth about everything in the world as it is humanly possible to write and present.
And finally, we come to my most modest little proposal. I once wrote of In fact that it would be a little candle casting a bright light in an evil world. However it was my idea from the beginning to drop it if it did not reach the public, if it did not in due time reach a million readers at least. With its 176,000 subscribers at its peak, it reached about 800,000 readers. With a grant of even $50,000, its circulation could have gone into the millions; with a million dollars back of it, it could have influenced almost the entire American newspaper-reading public, and it would have been self-supporting.
The news, including national scoops, would cost nothing. Throughout the In fact decade there were at all times a score or two of volunteer contributors ranging from reporters to Washington correspondents to editors, a total of at least 200 men and women eager as I was to print all of the news that was being suppressed in the United States.
I could print only a fraction of the news I received. There was enough every week for a 20-page publication, perhaps even larger. My staff consisted of Victor Weingarten, after he had done his service in the Navy during World War II. With a staff of three or four persons, watching hundreds instead of a few daily newspapers, we would have had enough material for a 50-page weekly.
A newsletter devoted to the truth, or at least to setting the record straight, and that would defend the general welfare would make enemies of big and little business and all the advertising agencies. In other words, biting the hand that feeds you. So long as newspapers live on money from sources outside their readers, so long will they be on the side of that money.
A final suggestion: Any organization or group engaged in publishing a newsletter or weekly magazine critical of the press, business and advertising should prepare itself for an unending campaign of vilification. A good-sized fund for libel suits is therefore advisable.
None of these three proposals I have made is utopian, vaguely idealistic, or impractical. I truly believe that anyone with a bankroll large enough to last a year would eventually made a living from the newsletter I suggest, if he needed it. It is still possible for a small group with modest means to start a press newsletter. In the early 1950s, I advised I.F. Stone to begin on a shoestring and he ended up with over 70,000 subscribers for I.F. Stone's Weekly by the end of the 1960s. If you start with 10 or 20 shoestrings, and aim at the millions who I know by experience want it, your publication will succeed.
If you have enough courage, call the newsletter Truth . It used to be a good word. "Speak the truth and shame the devil," said Don Quixote; and Shakespeare's Henry IV said, "While you live, tell truth and shame the devil," and in our century our leading columnist Walter Lippmann, wrote that "there is no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil." You might even shame the Press Lords.
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