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Tributes In Book Reviews and Op-Eds
Tributes to I.F. Stone


Tributes in Book Reviews and Op-eds

The Nation finds I.F. Stone among the 20th century most influential progressives (September 16, 2010):

"Stone was an investigative journalist whose persistent research uncovered government corruption and wrongdoing. … He inspired generations of muckraking reporters." (See slide #26 of The Nation's slideshow.)

Dan Froomkin wrote in WashingtonPost.com (July 9, 2007):

"That bloggers have taken up so many of Stone's tactics is a testament to their genius. That all of their voices still don't add up to one I.F. Stone's Weekly is a testament to his genius. And now the collective genius of the Internet age may elevate Stone's critique of conventional journalism to a financial imperative. The Internet has exposed a reality harshly at odds with the increasingly buttoned-down corporate newsrooms of the bottom-line driven media companies: Readers have an enormous appetite for voice and passion. It would be ironic if business values drove corporate media to Stone's way of doing journalism, but it would be a great thing for the industry and the country." (See http://niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Background.view&backgroundid=193)

John Powers wrote in The Nation (October 23, 2006):


“MacPherson pointedly puts Stone's career next to that of insider columnist Walter Lippmann, who for decades pulled more cultural weight than Rich, Friedman, Krugman and Dowd yoked together. Seduced by the journalist's deadliest illusion--the belief that you can bend the ear of the powerful--the fastidious Lippmann now seems less a titan than a cautionary tale, a second-string Raymond Aron still renowned for helping define the vanished American Century but irrelevant today--a fascinating exhibit in Jurassic Park's media concourse. In contrast, Stone's style and methods (if not all his opinions) make him our contemporary.” (See http://www.thenation.com/doc/20061023/powers)

Christopher Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair:

There's always something faintly but definitely phony, to my ear, in the praise of one journalist for another. Our craft saturates itself in testimonial dinners, awards, and—when the career is over—lavish obituaries. "Superb professional" , "Wrote like a dream" , "Unforgettable colleague" , "Fearless on dateline and deadline." The speeches or articles are customarily laced with pseudo-modest anecdotes about that time when he/she and I pulled that terrific scoop. What do the readers make of this self-regard? When I. F. Stone was finally offered a dinner in his honor, at the National Press Club in Washington in 1981, he told the organizers that (a) he had resigned from the joint in 1941 in protest of its refusal to allow him to entertain a black guest; (b) he had not at the time been able to collect the mere 25 signatures necessary to support his protest; and (c) he would not attend unless or until the club's committee found that insulted black guest and invited him back. (The man, William H. Hastie, later a judge, turned out to have become the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands.) With these conditions fulfilled, Stone upped his demands and insisted that a Palestinian Arab, Edward Said, be invited to the top table as well....

His analysis of the Roosevelt administration's shameful cover-up of the Pearl Harbor catastrophe remains a masterpiece of lucidity, exposing the government's incompetence and dishonesty so comprehensively as to leave no room for conspiratorial speculation.

However, it is an absolute moral certainty that he would have repudiated any official pretext for bullying or invigilating American citizens in wartime. One of his most excoriating scoops was printed—not without great trepidation on the part of the editor—mid-war in The Nation, in July 1943. It exposed the secret F.B.I. guidelines for spotting subversive tendencies among government workers. The bureau's official list of questions to ask about a suspect ran, in part: "Does he mix with Negroes? Does he seem to have too many Jewish friends? Does his face light up when the Red Army is mentioned? Is he always criticizing Vichy France?? Does he buy out-of-town newspapers?? Do you think he is excessive in opposing fascism or Nazism?" (The Vichy question is, I think, the gem of that little collection.) This seemed like no way to fight a war against Hitler, but for exposing it, and for declining to identify his inside source even to his editor, Stone earned himself constant surveillance from an already hostile F.B.I. until the foul racist and pervert J. Edgar Hoover finally turned into carrion on a full-time basis in 1972....

I once had the honor of being the I. F. Stone fellow at Berkeley (where his old typewriter is enclosed in a glass case: probably the most hagiography he could have stood), and I told my students to read him and reread him to get an idea of the relationship between clean and muscular prose and moral and intellectual honesty. Perhaps I could invite you to do the same, if only to get an idea of what we have so casually decided to do without.

Joe Conason wrote in Vanity Fair in October 2006:

It is the story of a principled dissident long treated by his establishment colleagues as a pariah, who reveled in his outsider status during lonely years in Washington -- and who lived to see himself vindicated on searing issues such as the Holocaust and fascism, the McCarthy purges, the nuclear arms race, the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam, and the endless struggle between Israelis and Palestinians. It is also the story of a democratic leftist who eventually turned away from early hopes for socialism in the Soviet Union and China, as so many intellectuals did during the 20th century, without ever abandoning his cheerful good humor about humanity. And it is the story of a man who pursued his own unique version of the American dream by starting a small business, raising his beloved family and making lots of money, with a freedom and independence envied by his peers.

...It was Stone's early and outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War that brought him thousands of new readers and fresh notoriety in the '60s, only a few years before his weekly ceased publication. That brief period of celebrity earned him new enemies as well, who have not stopped slandering him almost two decades after his death. The enmity of such discredited figures as Reed Irvine, Ann Coulter, Robert Novak and Martin Peretz is an honor, of course, but their calumnies of Stone -- as a "Stalinist" and possible Soviet agent -- nevertheless require refutation.

The supposed evidence that Stone's radicalism led him to work for the KGB has been eviscerated many times, nowhere more thoroughly and more capably than in "All Governments Lie." Using FBI files that she retrieved through the Freedom of Information Act, MacPherson reveals the secret feud between Stone and late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover that began in the '30s and resulted in continuous, intrusive surveillance of the journalist that went on for almost 40 years. The FBI never found a shred of evidence against him. But decades later, a former KGB agent named Oleg Kalugin, who had posed as a Soviet press attaché in the '60s, suggested that Stone had willingly helped him gather information in Washington. MacPherson shows conclusively how Kalugin, never a reliable source, has repeatedly contradicted himself, and how the other "evidence" against Stone evaporates upon examination.

From The Columbia Journalism Review, October 2006

He dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania mainly because he preferred working at The Philadelphia Inquirer, and never left journalism despite two afflictions that would seriously handicap most reporters, terrible eyesight and worse hearing. And after the New Deal ended he had few, if any, high-level Washington sources. He was considered such a radical (and was under such constant FBI surveillance) that many officials feared their careers could be destroyed if they were even caught talking to him. He did, however, have great insight, and sometimes considered the lack of sources more a blessing than a curse. “Establishment reporters undoubtedly know a lot of things I don’t,” he once said. “But a lot of what they know isn’t true.”

In the 1974 film documentary, I.F. Stone’s Weekly, there is a scene in which the ABC White House reporter is seen playing tennis with Nixon’s press spokesman, Ron Ziegler. “If you’re one of the crowd,” Stone says as the tennis balls fly back and forth, “you find yourself at dinner parties agreeing with people, a lot of half-baked nonsense, you shake your head very wisely and people see you shaking your head wisely, and pretty soon, you know, you’re caught up in the God-damnedest mess of crap anybody ever got caught up in.”

See http://cjrarchives.org/issues/2006/5/

Steve Weinberg wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times (August 13, 2006)

“The skepticism about government that emerged during the Vietnam War led to Stone's enshrinement as a journalistic icon. His reporting about the war received so much justifiable attention that the newsletter made money for a change. The charm of MacPherson's book is hinted at in this passage about Stone and his newsletter during the Vietnam era: "A toiler outside the system, Stone was never one to take a vow of poverty and reveled in buying his wife a mink coat, joking that he had become a war profiteer. His irredeemable optimism made it all sound simple, but he worked long and furiously, relying on his own digging so that by the time he approached an official he was ready to confront him with facts."

No journalist ever did it better.

Steve Weinberg served as executive director of Investigative Reporters & Editors, an international membership group based at the University of Missouri Journalism School.

Victor Navasky wrote in the The Nation (July 21, 2003)

Sidney Hook, the Marxist philosopher-turned-neoconservative who once mistakenly listed I.F. Stone among those who had defended the Moscow purge trials, wrote a book called The Hero in History. In it he distinguished between eventful men (like the Dutch boy who put his finger in the dike), people who happened to be in the right place at the right time--and event-making men, the ones who make things happen.

To me, I.F. Stone, né Isadore Feinstein, known to his friends as Izzy, was an event-making man. He was event-making not because Izzy and his little newsletter, I.F. Stone's Weekly (later biweekly), were right about McCarthyism, right about the war in Vietnam (he was one of the first to raise questions about the authenticity of the Gulf of Tonkin incident), right about the Democrats' repeated failure to live up to their own principles, right about what he called, long before the US invasion of Iraq, the "Pax Americana." Writing in The Nation (which he served as Washington editor in the 1940s), he was prophetic about the Holocaust, which in 1942 he called "a murder of a people" "so appalling...that men would shudder at its horrors for centuries to come." He was even, by the way, prescient about the meltdown of the Soviet Union. In 1984, seven years before it happened, he told Andrew Patner, the young Chicago journalist who had the wit to debrief Izzy on tape, that "all these dictatorships look so goddamned powerful. [But I think] one day they [will] just collapse. They're rigid, and rigid structures crack."

It's the way he was right, the way he lived his life, the way he did his journalism that magnified his influence, made him something of a role model for the most idealistic of the next generation. This college dropout who couldn't see without his Coke-bottle glasses, and who couldn't hear without his hearing aid (which he turned on and off strategically), was something of a pariah among his peers in 1953, the nadir of McCarthyism, when he founded I.F. Stone's Weekly. His name was on a Senate Internal Security Subcommittee list of the eighty-two "most active and typical sponsors of Communist-front organizations" (which in Izzy's case meant mainly popular front, antifascist organizations or civil liberties groups upholding the Bill of Rights against those who would undermine it in the name of combating a phantom domestic Red Menace).

When Izzy founded the weekly, with the help of a $3,000 loan from a friend and a 5,300-name subscription list inherited from the defunct PM and its successor progressive papers, also defunct, he was unemployed and some thought unemployable, including by The Nation. (Freda Kirchwey, The Nation's editor, who had fired him as Washington editor when he didn't notify her that he had signed on with PM to become the first journalist to travel with the Jewish underground to the Holy Land, was reluctant to re-employ him.)

But in short order, although he never attended presidential press conferences, cultivated no highly placed inside sources and declined to attend off-the-record briefings, time and again he scooped the most powerful press corps in the world.

His method: To scour and devour public documents, bury himself in The Congressional Record, study obscure Congressional committee hearings, debates and reports, all the time prospecting for news nuggets (which would appear as boxed paragraphs in his paper), contradictions in the official line, examples of bureaucratic and political mendacity, documentation of incursions on civil rights and liberties. He lived in the public domain. It was his habitat of necessity, because use of government sources to document his findings was also a stratagem. Who would have believed this cantankerous-if-whimsical Marxist without all the documentation?

And as he gleefully explained to a group of Swarthmore students in 1954 (I know, because I was one of them), if you didn't attend background briefings you weren't bound by the ground rules; you could debrief correspondents who did, check out what they had been told, and as often as not reveal the lies for what they were.

Despite his poor eyesight, Izzy saw what others missed, even though it was often in plain sight. Partly it was a matter of perspective. Izzy was always looking for evidence of the great forces and trends that shaped our history--"the fundamental struggles, the interests, the classes, the items that become facts." And he was not merely a Marxist; he wanted to synthesize Marx and Jefferson. How many Jeffersonian Marxists, after all, had penetrated the periodical galleries of the House and Senate? Izzy, by the way, had to sue to get his press card.