George Seldes on Health Hazards of Tobacco (1940-1950)

George Seldes, In Fact, 1940-1950. “In 1940, Seldes began publishing In Fact, a 4-page newsletter devoted to press criticism and investigative reporting. He subtitled the weekly ‘An Antidote to Falsehoods in the Daily Press.’ In the January 13, 1941 issue of In Fact, Seldes published his first cigarette story: a report about the 1938 study by Dr. Raymond Pearl of Johns Hopkins University that showed that heavy cigarette-smoking severely limited one’s life span.”

Excerpt from story: “By 1941, this 1938 study [that showed that heavy cigarette-smoking severely limited one’s life span] should not have been news. But that is exactly why Seldes wrote about it. While several scientific journals had published Pearl’s study at the time it came out, Seldes pointed out that almost no mainstream American daily carried the story, this despite the fact that it had been carried on the AP wire. The reason for this widespread omission was obvious to Seldes: newspapers did not want to offend tobacco advertisers, one of their biggest sources of revenue. Thus began nearly a decade of cigarette reporting by Seldes in the pages if In Fact.

Seldes’s stories covered five distinct areas: (1) the scientific studies themselves; (2) the failure of most of the press to carry news of these studies (although he also applauds the few papers who do, e.g. noting a remarkable front-page story published in the heart of tobacco country by the Durham (NC) Morning Herald, headed ‘[Lung Cancer Increases] with Sale of Cigarettes’); (3) the relationship of the tobacco companies and the press (e.g. a report of a clause in the tobacco companies/newspapers contract saying the newspapers agree that ‘no news…and no adverse comments on the tobacco habit must ever be published.’); (4) false advertising claims by the tobacco industry and the Federal Trade Commission reports that cited those ads; (5) Public policy concerning cigarettes (see December 14, 1942: ‘Sending Poison to our Armed Forces? The Suppressed Story of Tobacco’ and March 22, 1948 re: the U.S. exporting nearly a billion dollars of cigarettes to Europe as part of the Marshall plan.)