What the dean of investigative reporters thought about the Catholic Church’s influence on the American press

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH | 1 October 2012
Church and State

Portrait of George Seldes, part of artist Robert Shetterly’s “Americans Who Tell the Truth” series. (Source: Common Dreams)

This excerpt has been adapted from Chapter 14 of our Chairman Dr. Stephen D. Mumford’s seminal book, The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy (1996). The book is available at Kindle here and to read for free here.

This pressure [of the Catholic Church on American journalism] is one of the most important forces in American life, and the only one about which secrecy is generally maintained, no newspaper being brave enough to discuss it, although all fear it and believe that the problem should be dragged into the open and made publicly known.

George Seldes
1890 – 1995
Journalist and Dean of
Investigative Reporters

George Seldes was the leading observer and critic of American journalism in this century. Of his 21 books, seven deal with freedom of the press. On July 2, 1995, Seldes, author, award-winning journal­ist and media watchdog, died at age 104. He began his career as a reporter for the Pittsburgh Leader in 1909 and later went to Europe to cover World War I. From 1918 to 1928, he worked for the Chicago Tribune, heading bureaus in Berlin and Rome, and also reporting from Mexico. He covered the Spanish Civil War for the New York Post in 1936-37. He was a mainstream reporter for nearly 30 years. From 1940 to 1950, he edited the nation’s first periodical of media criticism called In Fact—which won him a George Polk Award in 1982.

In an article, “George Seldes Leaves a Legacy of Courage,” the media watchdog publication, EXTRA!, writes, “As a press critic, George Seldes picked up where Upton Sinclair left off. From the 1930s onward, Seldes led the way for new generations of journalists eager to search for truth wherever it might lead….I.F. Stone aptly called Seldes ‘the dean and granddaddy of us investigative reporters.'” He was an American journalism insider.

While Paul Blanshard’s intensive study of the press focused on what the Catholic hierarchy said and did regarding freedom of the press, Seldes observed and reported on the actual outcomes of the hierarchy’s influence over American newspapers. Very few Americans outside the journalism field appreciate the intensive influence exercised by the hierarchy over the American press at least since the adoption of the principle of papal infallibility in 1870. This influence has greatly hampered the truthful and complete reporting on all matters of concern to the Vatican—including all matters related to population growth control. Seldes reported on numerous examples of this influence. I will present here only one example—the Spanish Civil War—carefully documented by Seldes to show that the Catholic hierarchy’s wielding of enormous influence in the press, observed for the past 25 years in population matters, is certainly not unprecedented.

But before doing so, it will be interesting to note some of Seldes’s findings during several decades of intensive research. These excerpts are from his book, Lords of the Press:

It was then twenty-seven years since I had started in journal­ism, by which time I had learned the first lesson, namely, that one must never write on controversial subjects, the first of which was religion, and that one must never report even the truth in any case in which the Catholic hierarchy might be offended.

Seldes quotes Heywood Broun,

And still more precarious is the position of the New York newspaper man who ventures any criticism of the Catholic Church. There is not a single New York editor who does not live in mortal terror of the power of this group.

Seldes continues:

“Probably the bravest thing the News has done has been its editorial defiance of the pressure of the Catholic Church….”

“To criticize the Catholic Church is to invite a boycott, the withdrawal of advertising, loss in circulation and in revenue.”

“…almost every newspaper in the world is scared to death when any religious sect is mentioned critically.”

“Ten years ago [1929] the Catholic Church was on the defensive. Today it is on the aggressive, and there is ten times the fear of it there was a decade ago. Father Curran, of the International Catholic Truth Society, changed the policy of one newspaper because he controlled $20,000 of business (New Republic, December 30, 1936) and had the effrontery to boast of this outrageous attack on the freedom of the press. But it is general Catholic pressure, not $20,000, which frightens if it does not wholly corrupt many other newspapers.”

Regarding the War in Spain:

“But a new element entered into the war: the Catholic Church. It sided with the rebels. The rebels had sworn to restore the Church to power. That was one reason for the Vatican’s sympathy….The American press got its first facts fairly straight. Its errors were unintentional. But from the beginning of August 1936, the Catholic hierarchy in America…began a crusade against the newspapers which truthfully reported events in Spain.”

“It is now well known that reactionary Catholics (as distin­guished from liberal Catholics who are either for the Loyalist gov­ernment or neutral) have used their tremendous pressure, plus threats of boycott, and the withdrawal of advertising money, to change the opinion of American newspapers regarding the war in Spain.”

“How effective the boycott against the Stern paper [Record publisher, Stern] was I do not know. But every newspaperman knows that the most powerful pressure group in America today is the Roman Catholic Church. I do not know whether it succeeded in curtailing the Record circulation or inflicting a financial blow through the withdrawal of advertising by Catholic business men. But on August 10, 1936, Publisher Stern wrote a humble letter to Cardinal Doughterty…[who] accepted the apology….I believe that every newspaperman in America who really values freedom of the press, no matter what his religious beliefs may be, will deplore this episode, and especially the Record‘s genuflections.

“And now we behold the publisher of a chain of four newspa­pers, four of the very tiny minority of liberal, free, independent newspapers left in America, bowing before the pressure of the Church when in fact his editorials on Spain had been true, honest, favorable to the anti-Fascist movement in Spain and applauded by all fair, liberal and intelligent men.

“Caught between the advertising pressure of big business on the one hand, and the political pressure of a religious organization on the other, the New York Post, Philadelphia Record, Camden Courier and Camden Post have had to make the usual compromises.

“I know of no better illustration of the fact that there is no completely free press in America.”

On “Catholic Issues” There Is No Free Press

From the “dean and granddaddy of investigative reporters,” when it comes to issues important to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, “…there is no free press in America.” Overpopulation and its solutions—contraception, abortion, sterilization, population education, sex education, advancement of women’s rights, public debate of the environment and the greenhouse effect—all threaten the authority of the pope and the survival of the institution of the Papacy. On these issues, there is no free press in America.

Of all of Seldes’s conclusions, one of the most important is that secrecy is generally maintained regarding the fact that the pressure of the Catholic hierarchy on the American press is one of the most important forces in America. This pressure makes things happen or not happen depending on the needs of the hierarchy irrespective of the needs of the American people, our country and our democracy. This secrecy made possible the killing of the Rockefeller Commission and NSSM 200 initiatives and all other serious efforts to control population growth by the Catholic hierarchy.

The Spanish “Civil War” Lesson for Population Growth Control

Over the past 25 years, American political will to deal with the overpopulation problem has been destroyed. National Security Study Memorandum 200 (NSSM 200) lived and died. As President Nixon’s Special Message to Congress correctly predicted, these outcomes are certain to have an enormous impact on the lives of everyone on the planet. The story of the creation and demise of NSSM 200, and of how the government was thwarted in its effort to resolve the overpopulation problem, received no mention in the news media or any other information source. Few Americans are aware of what is perhaps the most important story of the 20th Century. How could it have been suppressed and for what reason?

Seldes’s extensive study of the Spanish Civil War and the related control of the American press by the Catholic hierarchy is exceedingly instructive for all who are concerned about population growth control. Population growth control is by no means the first instance of absolutely pivotal Catholic hierarchy intervention in American press coverage of an important issue. The hierarchy has a history of manipulating the press to insure that Papal interests are served even at the expense of American interests.

In the 1970s and 1980s, George Seldes told us how and why in seven articles that appeared in The Churchman magazine, an Episcopal journal, founded in 1804, and the oldest religious publication in America. It has always been committed to the truth. (I am honored to be a contributing editor.)

After decades of intense study, in an August 1978 article, Seldes concludes: “The New York Times is still in fear of reprisals from the Roman Church in America, as it was during the entire Spanish War when under managing editor Edward L. James and the notorious ‘Fascist phalanx in the bull-pen.’ James’s four, incidentally Roman Catholic, editor assistants, bowed to the ‘power house on Madison Avenue,’ Cardinal Spellman’s residence, and a certain Father Thorning, and published scores of falsifications from Spain.” Seldes provides strong evidence to support this conclusion. For example, he cites The New Republic magazine: “The New Republic, to its credit, in ‘Who Lied About Spain?’ when the war was over 1939 listed the [New York] Times man with Franco as the number one falsifier.” In a November 1981 article, Seldes concluded that all of America’s 1,750 daily papers were similarly terrified by “the Catholic Church propaganda campaign.” This “terror” that Seldes describes is still pervasive and has led to the disappearance of a free press in America in matters of concern to the Vatican, such as the recognition of overpopulation as a national security threat.

Dr. Stephen Mumford is the founder and President of the North Carolina-based Center for Research on Population and Security. He has his doctorate in Public Health. His principal research interest has been the relationship between world population growth and national and global security. He has been called to provide expert testimony before the U.S. Congress on the implications of world population growth.

Dr. Mumford has decades of international experience in fertility research where he is widely published, and has addressed conferences worldwide on new contraceptive technologies and the stresses to the security of families, societies and nations that are created by continued uncontrolled population growth. Using church policy documents and writings of the Vatican elite, he has introduced research showing the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church as the principal power behind efforts to block the availability of contraceptive services worldwide.

In addition to his books on biomedical and social aspects of family planning, as well as scientific articles in more than a score of journals, Dr. Mumford’s major works include American Democracy and the Vatican: Population Growth and National Security (Amherst, New York: Humanist Press, 1984), The Pope and the New Apocalypse: The Holy War Against Family Planning (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Center for Research on Population and Security, 1986), and The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Center for Research on Population and Security, 1996).

The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH
Paperback Publisher: Center for Research on Population and Security (October 1996)
Kindle Publisher: Church and State Press (February 6, 2015)
Kindle Store

During the formative years of the World Health Organization (WHO), broad consensus existed among United Nations member countries that overpopulation is a grave public health threat and would be a major cause of preventable death not too far in the future. One of the founding fathers of the WHO, the late Milton P. Siegel, speaks to Dr. Mumford in 1992. He explains how the Vatican successfully stymied the incorporation of family planning and birth control into official WHO policy. This video is available for public viewing for the first time. Read the full transcript of the interview here.

“You Can’t Print That!” Conversations with George Seldes

Be sure to ‘like’ us on Facebook


  1. Have Catholics not the right to live our faith in our whole lives? Why shouldn't Catholics use their economic clout to influence society?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here