A review by Dale Wharton

Dale Wharton is a retired computer programmer who writes two-page
book reviews as a hobby. He was a seaman in the US Navy at the end of WWII.
He received his B.A. in Journalism from the University of Missouri in 1949.

One Thousand Americans
George Seldes
Boni and Gaer, 1947
312 pp.

Senator George Aiken (R VT) strove to bring to the St Lawrence Valley what the Tennessee Valley Authority had brought to the South: flood control and cheap electricity. Private utility owners fought him at every step. Aiken cried out that "not more that 1,000 people" led by J P Morgan had blocked the St Lawrence scheme--for 40 years (p 26f). The author does not provide a list of the real rulers of America nor fix their number. Still, Appendix 1 names the country's 10 most powerful families, according to the Temporary National Economic Committee (1938 -41). They are DuPont, Mellon, Rockefeller, Ford, McCormick, Hartford, Harkness, Duke, Pew, and Pitcairn. George Seldes here looks at other TNEC findings (concentrated wealth, monopoly, symptoms of fascism, struggles for control, etc). But his main message is that since World War 1 America's press, free to enlighten, has failed civil society.

Thomas Jefferson held the opinion of the people to be the basis of US government. He wanted to protect the leading force for forming public opinion, the press. (It is the only private enterprise the Constitution names.) In his day a small group, even a lone printer, could start a newspaper and try to build broad public support for their view of events. TJ could not imagine the nature or scale--or expense--of mass media 200 years on. Why has the free press failed? Its chief end changed. Then it sought to inform and edify citizens, now it seeks profit. It no longer stands free to bare the whole truth.

His father's Utopian colony at Alliance NJ was the author's place of birth. After one year at Harvard (1912), he had to stay at work--a life's work with the printed word. He reported from Europe during and after WW1, interviewing such newsmakers as Paul von Hindenburg, Vladimir Lenin, Benito Mussolini, Isadora Duncan, and Sigmund Freud. Back in the USA he wrote YOU CAN'T PRINT THAT (Payson & Clark, 1929), the first of 16 books. The last one was his memoir, WITNESS TO A CENTURY (Ballantine, 1987). Samples of his output appear in THE GEORGE SELDES READER (Barricade, 1994), edited by Randolph T Holhut.

Seldes argues that since the 1920s Thomas W Lamont had no betters among the elite who draw the bounds of editorial, publishing, and educational policy. Lamont was a preacher's son who finished at Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard College. (His first job was news reporter.) As partner and brains of J P Morgan's bank, Lamont managed its public relations. A prime trophy was the eminent columnist who took a world cruise on Lamont's yacht. "Walter Lippmann constitutes an American tragedy," stated Corliss Lamont, the banker's son. "Starting out as a radical and a socialist ... Lippmann ended up giving over his exceptional gifts to the service of reaction" (p 90). Senator Robert M LaFollette Jr (P WI) wrote to Thomas W Lamont that the House of Morgan widely imposed "misstatement, exaggeration, and half-truths" (p 261).

Magazines, not newspapers, were the vehicle investigative journalists used from 1902 through WW1 to reveal and document corruption. These muckrakers exposed filth in foods, harmful drugs, Wall Street, Congress, the looting of America's natural wealth, Standard Oil conspiracies, etc. Their unruly medium embraced Collier's, McClure's, Everybody's, Metropolitan, Ladies' Home Journal, American, Harper's Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Arena, Hampton's. Readers raised a din. "So long as the muckrakers were at large and had a forum, they were dangerous-- more dangerous than the Socialists, who scorned reform" (p 68 quoting Louis Filler). Order resumed as directors from finance and industry joined the boards of Crowell, Curtis, and other periodical publishers.

Seldes spells out some effects on the US economy of weapons, defense outlays, and cartels. In WW1 "... corporate interests held up and robbed the government and the American people of billions of dollars. The profits were beyond belief. No less than 23,000 persons became millionaires ... out of that war" (p 10). He cites the sober second thought of Major General Smedley Butler. (The veteran of Cuba, China, Central America, and Haiti twice won the Congressional Medal of Honor.) "I spent 33 years [in the Marines, most of it] being a high- class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism..." (p 212).

Union-bashing irked Seldes. He accuses Lowell Thomas, Henry J Taylor, Westbrook Pegler, Fulton Lewis Jr, Hans von Kaltenborn, Mark Sullivan.

William Allen White, a small-town Republican, was one of the nation's few honest editors, says the author. Visiting Washington DC in wartime --May 1943--White wrote for his Emporia (KS) Gazette: "It is silly to say New Dealers run this show. It's run largely by absentee owners of amalgamated industrial wealth, men who ... manipulate the physical plants of these trusts.... [When policy] touches their own organization, they are stark mad, ruthless, unchecked by God or man, paranoiacs, in fact, as evil in their design as Hitler" (p 150). White felt that the ruin of America's press would come by way of advertising agencies--the social, economic, and political mentors of corporations.

Through the 1940s Seldes wrote America's first journal of press criticism, a weekly newsletter called In Fact (it inspired I F Stone's Weekly). Shortly after WW2, Seldes got wind that antitrust lawyers were looking into investment banking. The US Department of Justice claimed that 57% of the entire nation's securities business issued through six NYC firms:

  1. Morgan Stanley 23.2%
  2. First Boston 10.0%
  3. Dillon, Read 7.4%
  4. Kuhn, Loeb 6.7%
  5. Smith, Barney 5.1%
  6. Blyth & Co 4.2%

George Seldes ran the story as soon as he learned the charges, names, and numbers. It angered him that the news got almost no press. As redress, he persuaded the office of Senator James E Murray (D MT) to append the August 5, 1946, issue of In Fact (exposing the bankers' monopoly) to the Congressional Record. (See CR for the 79th Congress Second Session, page A4761 ff).


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