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The New York Review of Books
100th Birthday

A Celebration of the Life of I.F. Stone
November 16, 2008
Story Chapel, Mount Auburn Cemetery

Remarks by Bob Giles

Good afternoon.  I'm Bob Giles.

The Nieman Foundation is honored to be associated with the memory of I.F. Stone's remarkable life in journalism and to participate in this occasion marking the 100th year of his birth.

Over the past year, the foundation has worked closely with Jeremy Stone in establishing an annual award that captures anew the spirit of Izzy Stone's work in advancing the cause of journalistic independence.  The award is known as the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence.

It was presented in Washington on a sunny, warm October afternoon to a journalist named John Walcott in recognition of his leadership as chief of the Knight Ridder Company's Washington Bureau in directing coverage of the run-up to the war in Iraq in 2002 and 2003.

The setting for the ceremony was the museum, a splendid new museum on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, that celebrates the First Amendment, the history of journalism, and features displays of famous journalists and their work around the world.

As John Walcott began his speech that afternoon, the audience could look past him to a magnificent view of the dome of the U.S. Capitol.  Izzy Stone would have enjoyed that moment, I believe.

He surely would have seen the Capitol as a symbol of the country he loved and the freedom it gave him to be a skeptical, independent-minded journalist who famously said, All governments lie.

That inaugural ceremony recalled I.F. Stone's Weekly, the publication that gave voice to his bold dissent from conventional wisdom.

The selection of John Walcott as the first recipient of the I.F. Stone Medal seemed especially fitting as a contemporary expression of the lonely journalists in the nation's capital boldly dissenting from the conventional wisdom surrounding the Bush administration's case that an invasion of Iraq was essential.

In his time Izzy Stone documented that Vietnam was a war made of lies.  He warned against government tendencies to build up public fears of a global menace that were then used to justify policies of suppression, a doctrine of preemption and the restricting of basic liberties, all characteristics of U.S. policy at the time of Vietnam that have resonated so frighteningly in the first decade of 21st century America.

During the 1970s, Stone had occasional encounters with the Nieman fellows.  He began his first Nieman seminar by asking why the Nieman program had taken so long to invite him.  And the curator, Jim Thompson, smiled and replied that they would be sure to invite him back every year.

The Nieman Foundation's decision to align itself with I.F. Stone's spirit of independent journalism is compatible with the foundation's own mission to promote and elevate the standards of journalism.

This mission is central to the traditions of our fellowship program, now 70 years old, and to our outreach to the larger world of journalism through the Nieman Watchdog Project and other initiatives, and now in our commitment to honor these values through the inspiration of I.F. Stone.

Our purpose in helping keep alive the memory of his journalism is to remind the current generation of journalists that an independent press remains the single institution free to probe for facts about wrongdoing or information the government wants to keep from its citizens, as well as to inspire and embolden them to stand alone and speak their minds.

As many know, the Nieman Foundation is housed in the Walter Lippmann house, and it is interesting to reflect on the fact that the foundation honors both Lippmann and Stone, who represent such starkly different approaches to journalism.

Walter Lippmann was the insider.  Presidents and kings were part of his life.  He advised candidates for high office, even as he wrote about them in his syndicated column, and never saw a conflict in that dichotomy.

I.F. Stone was the outsider.  As Izzy said of himself, I am a wholly independent newspaperman standing alone, without organizational or party backing, beholden to no one but my good readers.

In this turbulent world where governments still lie and the future of our democracy must rely on the independent journalist and journalistic independence, Izzy's self-characterization is a fitting benediction for this occasion.

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