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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 Peter Osnos

Good afternoon.

I am Peter Osnos and I was an employee of Izzy's.  And truth is I'm a little embarrassed at how much mileage I've gotten out of having worked for Izzy and talking about it in various venues as though it was some sort of preternatural hazing.

At least one occasion had a surreal twist.  In 1974, shortly after the I.F. Stone's Weekly movie was in theaters, in which I had a cameo describing the enthusiastic way Izzy used to read newspapers, I was introduced to Robert Redford, who was visiting the Washington Post newsroom as part of his preparation to play the role of Bob Woodward in All The President's Men.

It was Carl Bernstein who introduced me to Redford.  He wants to meet you, said Carl.  Redford stuck out his hand and said, I really enjoyed your movie.  Congratulations.

My movie?  As I said, it was a surreal moment and it was the high point of my movie career.

It is generally not protocol on occasions such as this to talk about yourself, but there is one anecdote, revealed here, for those who have heard me go through this kind of thing before for the first time, that highlights what it was like to be Izzy's assistant in 1965 and 1966.

I was just out of Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism and sharing a small townhouse on Capital Hill with a friend.  After a few months of long days at 5618 Nebraska Avenue, which was, after all, Izzy's home and office, I sensed something was missing.

Instead of the fun and games of collegiate life, my nights tended to consist of falling asleep on a couch with the Congressional Record propped upon my chest because Izzy wanted a daily index of what was being said.

As the grandson, nephew and brother of Freudian-trained psychiatrists and a recent psychology student of Abraham Maslow, I decided to seek help for what was bothering me.

I find myself in the office of a doctor whose name I remember as VonMendelson and began to explain why I was there.  After a few minutes he interrupted me and said in his Vienna drawl, I have the solution to your problem.  What is that, I asked.  I want to introduce you to my daughter.  And so ended that phase of my efforts at self-discovery.

Those years 1965, '66, the Weekly was moving into what was probably its most visible period.  Combination of the Civil Rights Movement and the increasing American presence in Vietnam provided vast amounts for Izzy to write about.  And my job was to chase bits and pieces from around Washington.

And in the enormous array of newspapers, magazines and documents that I tracked in my office in the basement, I even got a few bylines.

There was an unforgettable moment when Izzy returned from a trip to Vietnam and was stuck trying to meet his own standards for reporting from the front.  His first drafts were below par, with too much travelogue about beautiful girls in local dress.

Esther and I plotted how to tell him what was wrong without, at least in my case, being ridiculously presumptuous.  Izzy paced the neighborhood and was clearly troubled.

Then early the next morning, still in his bathrobe with his head characteristically close to the typewriter keyboard, he banged out a piece so superb, it was included in a collection of that year's best prose writing.

Izzy did agitate some of his subscribers that spring by saying he thought Ralph Ginzburg, publisher of the magazine Eros, deserved to be fined for sending out subscription solicitations from a town called Blue Balls, Pennsylvania.

The First Amendment had enough trouble, wrote Izzy, in what was something of a prudish commentary, without subjecting it to sophomoric tests.  I can't say I agree with Izzy on that one.

All in all, the ten months with Izzy were exhilarating and left me with indelible guidelines about reporting, writing and, years later, starting your own publishing business.

Izzy always said that one of the greatest innovations in American democracy were second-class mailing privileges which made mailing the Weekly cheap enough to pay himself a decent salary and have enough left over to give me $100 a week, raised to 110 after I'd earned my spurs.

In 1987, I did start a publishing company called Public Affairs, and wanted readers to know something about our aspirations to standards and values.

So in the back of every book is a dedication page to three people I've worked for:  Ben Bradley, the great editor of the Washington Post; Robert Bernstein, Chairman of Random House and the founder of Human Rights Watch,; and Izzy.

This is what I said:  "I.F. Stone, proprietor of I.F. Stone's Weekly, combined a commitment to the First Amendment with entrepreneurial zeal and reporting skill and became one of the great independent journalists in American history.

"At the age of 80, as he published The Trial of Socrates, which was a national bestseller, he wrote the book after he taught himself ancient Greek."

The tribute is a small gesture compared to the great gift Izzy gave me when I left his employ in a letter saying that he had worked me very hard, and now that I was no longer his assistant, we could be friends -- which we were, to my enormous pleasure, for the rest of his life.

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