Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press

A piercing look at censorship and suppression in the news media
Year Released
Film Length(s)
111 mins
Closed captioning available
Remote video URL


Narrated by Susan Sarandon. Seldes's written words read by Edward Asner. The Academy-Award-nominated Tell The Truth and Run, is the dramatic story of muckraking journalist George Seldes, and a piercing look at censorship and suppression in America's news media.

Featured review

This absorbing film brings to life not only an exceptional journalist, but the saga of journalism in America. It is buttressed by meticulous editorial research and film research.
Daniel Schorr
Senior News Analyst, National Public Radio


Eighty years a newspaperman, Seldes was a noted foreign correspondent who became America's most important press critic. Through Seldes's encounters with Pershing, Lenin and Mussolini; the tobacco industry, J. Edgar Hoover and the "lords of the press," Tell The Truth and Run raises profound ethical, professional and political questions about journalism in America. 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.

Tell The Truth and Run raises fundamental questions about the recorded history of the Twentieth Century; about freedom, fairness and diversity in the media; about power and abuse of power; and about public citizenship and the democratic process.

Tell The Truth and Run is an ideal film for students. It is divided into chapters of 6-10 minutes each, and each chapter addresses one or more themes that will stimulate thought and discussion. Subject matter and themes include: * World War I and the role of the war correspondent * America's press and the rise of European fascism * "The most sacred cow of the press is the press itself." * Who chooses the news-- and why * The press and McCarthyism * The growth and dangers of media monopoly.



A timely introduction into the era of revolutions, fascism, witchhunts and journalistic coverups....It is essential education for all students and scholars of journalism and political life.
George Gerbner
Dean Emeritus, Annenberg School for Communication
There is no better beginning or end point for media ethics than the life and times of George Seldes, which are beautifully captured and analyzed in Tell the Truth and Run.
Everette Dennis
The Freedom Forum
A magnetic, entrancing, inspiring film... reveals a history of our times unknown to most Americans. At the same time delightful to watch and a powerful educational experience. I wish every young person in America could see it.
Howard Zinn
Historian, Boston University
George Seldes was determined, in the best American tradition, to shake up the establishment, and 'Tell the Truth and Run' draws a strong and endearing portrait of this stormy petrel of American journalism.
Arthur Schlesinger
Jr. Historian
In an age when soundbites and scandal too often take precedence over responsible reporting, it is inspiring to watch Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press. Bay Area filmmaker Rick Goldsmith's incisive documentary about that courageous reporter shows how Seldes exposed Mussolini's fascism in the '20s; supported civil rights in the '40s and '50s; and attacked the tobacco industry's deadly effect on health in his muckraking weekly newsletter, In Fact. And he didn't hesitate to criticize the most important newspaper publishers for distortion, failure to cover all the news, and undue influence by advertisers. In May, 1989, Goldsmith interviewed the feisty, 98-year-old journalist at his home in Vermont, where he was still writing books-- and gardening. He had lost subscribers during the McCarthy era and was forced to cease publication of In Fact in 1950. Archival film clips from World War I to the present convey the atmosphere of the times. Several journalists testify about the vital influence of the man who always followed his father's advice: 'Question everything. Never compromise on your principles.'
Judy Stone
San Francisco Weekly
Nothing can stop the march of an informed people" is one of the many messages found in Rick Goldsmith's stirring documentary about newspaperman-author George Seldes, an educational and mostly reverential portrait of a muckraker who never compromised on principles and rarely passed up the chance to take on the powerful and corrupt. Playing an Academy Award-qualifying run at Laemmle's Monica, Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press is also an enriching encounter with the issues behind reporting the news in this century, such as the somtimes insidious relationship between advertising and editorial policy. Producer-director-editor Goldsmith employs a punchy, direct style reminiscent of a hard news story. Ed Asner gives voice to many of Seldes' writings, culled from his innumerable articles, letters, and many books, while Susan Sarandon provides the just-the-facts narration. More than 500 photographs, headlines and articles are used graphically as is incredible archival footage from many sources. Most remarkable is Seldes himself, who is perfectly lucid and engaging at age 98. (He died at age 104 in July 1995.) Interviewed at his Vermont home, surrounded by hundreds of unanswered letters and still working on an old Underwood typewriter, Seldes couldn't be gentler, although his professional voice made dictators and despots tremble through the ages. The son of Russian Jewish immigrants who lived in the utopian colony of Alliance, NJ, Seldes first made waves in 1909 as a cub reporter for a Pittsburgh paper, where his story about a rapist preying on co-workers was killed when the advertising department used it as blackmail against the man's employers. Exposing "prostitution of the press" became a lifelong mission of Seldes, but his career as a foreign correspondent in World War I, the young Soviet Union and 1920s Italy made him a tireless opponent of official and self-imposed censorship. In 1924, he reported on Benito Mussolini's links to the assassination of Giacomo Matteotti, an anti-fascist, and was eventually expelled from the country. In the late 1920s and '30s, he began a series of books critical of the so-called free press, covered the Spanish Civil War with his wife Helen, and warned of the "really great war for which youth is being prepared." In 1940, he and Communist Bruce Minton founded the newsweekly In Fact. They had a falling out after a year, but Seldes continued putting out the publication for a decade, influencing politicians and youthful truth-seekers from Daniel Ellsberg to Ralph Nader (who are among the several interviewees in the film). His exposure of the hazards of cigarette smoking was in stark contrast to the misleading advertising of the industry that was ubiquitous in American newspapers and magazines. The list of the fights goes on, including major campaigns against the National Association of Manufacturers and J. Edgar Hoover. With the Cold War in full swing, Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his anti-communist crusade helped bring an end to In Fact, but Seldes continued to write books and eventually appeared in Warren Beatty's "Reds" as one of the "witnesses." Truly an American original, Seldes' legacy is one that speaks courageously to a new generation that must never forget another of his benchmark statements: "A people that wants to be free must arm itself with a free press.
David Hunter
The Hollywood Reporter
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 Award-nominated documentary. 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.)
TV Guide
TV Guide
George Seldes, who got a moment of attention at Monday night's Academy Awards ceremony, was a predigital man. But he is an example to all who have taken to the Net to declare independence from Old Media. "He stood up to power, he was not intimidated by power, he relished going after power. That was the heart of his journalism. That's very rare," says filmmaker Rick Goldsmith, whose work Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press was one of five feature documentaries up for an Oscar. Goldsmith's film lost to the single movie in the category that had a major distribution deal, When We Were Kings, a film about the 1974 Muhammad Ali-George Foreman heavyweight title fight. Seldes worked for the established press for 20 years after rapping out his first story for the Pittsburgh Leader in 1909. For the Chicago Tribune, he covered the end of World War I, the Russian Revolution, and Mussolini's rise to power in Italy. In all his assignments, he followed the advice of his Tribune editors: He told it the way it was, then got the hell out. His rewards for always pressing to go where the press was not wanted: court-martial threats, expulsion from the Soviet Union, a narrow escape from a squad of Black Shirts trying to make sure he didn't make it out of Italy alive. And one last reward: His editors censored a 1928 series he wrote on the Mexican Revolution. Seldes left the Tribune to write several books about corruption in the US corporate media of the 1930s. He went back to the trenches of daily journalism to cover the Spanish Civil War late in the decade. Then in 1940, he took the step that makes him kin to the legions who have discovered online a way to break the bounds of corporate media. Having found the Hearsts, the McCormacks, and the Sulzbergers who controlled the US press unwilling to print stories about, say, how big American companies maintained their business ties to Nazi Germany even after the onset of war, he bought his own press to put out that story and many others. Nearly a quarter-century before the US surgeon general in 1964 conceded what most doctors already knew - that cigarette smoking was killing people by the thousands - Seldes ran the story in his little weekly paper, In Fact. The paper confronted government and corporate misconduct and abuse for a decade before it fell victim to the anti-Communist hysteria that swept the United States following World War II. Seldes worked the rest of his career - nearly 45 years of reflection and writing - in obscurity. Seldes' principles could be part of a netizen's charter: Question everything. Never take anything for granted. Never compromise on the great principles. Never tire of protest. See the movie, if you can - its best shot at getting to a mass audience is probably through public television. Even if you can't catch the film, though, check out Seldes and his writings. He's one of the Net's forebears; we should get to know him better.
Dan Brekke
Wired News

Awards and Screenings

Academy Award nominee, Best Documentary Feature, 1996
John O'Connor Film Award, American Historical Association, 1996
Golden Spire, San Francisco International Film Festival, 1996
Gold Apple, National Educational Media Network, 1996
Best of Festival, Northwest Documentary Film Festival

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Closed Captioning
  • Director's Commentary
  • DVD Extras

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

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