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Working with I.F. Stone
100th Birthday

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

Remarks by Anthony Lewis

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I'm Tony Lewis, not Peter, Paul and Mary.  Celia decided to drop Peter, Paul and Mary for reasons of time, so here I am.  And I'm bound to be, as the last in the order list here, I'm bound to be repeating what's been said and I apologize for that.

I start out taking courage from Celia saying that Izzy loved poetry, and the first name she mentioned was Milton.  So I'm going to quote some lines of Wordsworth.  You'll understand in a moment.

Here they are:  "Milton!  thou shouldst be living at this hour:  England hath need of thee."  Famous Wordsworth lines.

I thought of those lines and Izzy Stone during the last eight years.  We needed Izzy more than ever, because his profession, journalism, failed to perform the job marked out for it by the author of the First Amendment, James Madison.

Madison thought the press justified its freedom and the abuses that came with that freedom by keeping the people informed about, as he put it, the merits and measures of public men.

The press simply retreated from that role after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, with the exception as Bob Giles reminded us of John Walker, winner of the I.F. Stone medal.

Most of the press did not seriously inquire into and much less challenge the reasons for making war on Iraq, did not expose the propaganda campaign carried on by the Bush administration to persuade Americans that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11; a campaign so successful that in 2003, 45 percent of Americans questioned in a poll believed that preposterous untruth.

The press was so incurious about the march to war that eventually the New York Times and the Washington Post apologized for their failure to do the job of digging and challenging.

And for me, even worse than the failure and the march into war was the failure to -- at the beginning -- to understand the depravity, the depth of depravity in the Bush administration's policy of torture and detention of Americans at home as well as foreigners abroad.

It's one of the darkest pages of American history and it was a long time, too long until Sy Hersh and CBS News told us about Abu Ghraib and we began to learn about that depravity.  Izzy, you should have been living at that hour.

You have to remember that Izzy began his great adventure with the Weekly at a time, in 1950, when the press was a tame tiger.  Rather than checking the abuses of government, the established press was more like a stenographer:  Uttering the words and the ideas of Washington.

Journalists were on the march to respectability.  The dining with Secretaries of State, Izzy scorned those games, as you heard from Chesa.  He didn't seek social or political acceptance.  He sought facts.

That leads me to say something else, maybe with apologies to Kate Gilbert.  It's easy to imagine that today Izzy would be a blogger, with all the independence that gives.  But I have to differ with that, to at least some extent.

Yes, bloggers operate on their own, saying what they want.  But most of what bloggers offer -- again, apologies -- is opinion.  Izzy had opinions, of course, but what he was after in his endless search through the Federal Register and the hearing records was facts.

We are drowning in opinions nowadays.  We need more of what Izzy gave us, facts.  Of course, put in an analytical context that Izzy provided.

One last thought in these brief comments that have already been indicated by his descendants, his relatives, and others:  People who today don't know Izzy Stone or his work because they were born too late might think if they hear about him and his work now that he was a dour figure, a Dickensian ghost of Christmas past, pointing an angry finger.

But he was the opposite of dour.  He had such fun out of life.  It was a delight to be with him.  It was not just his writing that had panache, it was Izzy.

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