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100th Birthday

Remarks at the I.F. Stone 100th Birthday Celebration
at New York University

By his son Jeremy J. Stone, March 12, 2008

Eight years ago, as the Century was coming to a close, Mitchell Stephens, our host, organized a poll of the 100 greatest journalistic triumphs of the 20th century.  I.F. Stone’s Weekly came out 16th and all but one of those higher ranked were books or radio or TV journalism.  Among newspaper work, only Ernie Pyle’s World War II dispatches came out higher and Walter Lippman was 64th.

When I began building an ifstone.org website, I decided to research how this poll came about and I reached Mitchell Stephens to discuss it.  He said he had not only organized the poll but had himself nominated I.F. Stone.  In the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I.F. Stone would have been 100 years old on Christmas Eve of 1907.  Mitch–who seems to have a thing about the number 100–decided that a party was in order. 

So I.F. Stone fans have a lot to thank Mitch Stephens for.

What is being shown behind me now is the I.F. Stone website with its many tributes to I.F. Stone–including the video tributes by the three anchors of major networks on the day he died.  Don’t miss the statement by Peter Jennings.  It has tapes of Stone speaking, short biographies, refutations of two ridiculous charges made against him, much information about his writings and many other features.

A half century ago, when I.F. Stone was standing up under the most extraordinary pressures of the McCarthy period, he would have addressed an audience as: “fellow grey beards and FBI agents”.  There were not many people listening then.  But the number of people listening to I.F. Stone has grown steadily since that time and, in a certain way, more are listening now than ever before.

The decision, announced just last Wednesday, by Bob Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, to sponsor an “I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence”–followed by an “I.F. Stone Workshop on Strengthening Journalistic Independence” will be, I think, of great significance for journalism and I want to ask Bob to say something about it in a minute.

But first let’s look at the art work for the medal.  It is now being manufactured at the Northwest Territorial Mint–and cannot be used, I hasten to mention to the many viewers on C-Span--without the permission of the Mint, myself and Harvard.

On what numismatists call the “obverse”, it shows that he was “journalist”, “publisher” and “scholar” and it has an image of him at age 64.  And on the reverse, it shows that he was: resolute, indefatigable and erudite and portrays a famous newsletter about the Tonkin Gulf episode in which his headline said: “All we really know is that we fired first.”

But what you can’t see is what it has as “edge markings”.  I.F. Stone once said: “I have gone from pariah to gadfly and, if I live long enough, I will become an institution.”  In fact, he lived long enough to become not just an institution but an icon.  And, now, thanks to the Nieman Foundation and its curator, Bob Giles, he is being used as a fulcrum for strengthening journalistic independence. 

So what is being put on the edge is this: from pariah to gadfly to institution to icon to fulcrum for journalistic independence.  Fortunately, this is a 3 inch coin with a 9.4 inch circumference!

When I.F. Stone died, he had, hanging on his wall, a letter from Harvard University appointing him a “lecturer.”  Lecturer may be a low form of academic life but for a man who dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania to write editorials, it really meant something.  And Harvard had a special meaning for I.F. Stone.  I remember him telling me when I went to Swarthmore that Harvard and Swarthmore were the two colleges that meant something to him. 

So to have Bob Giles awarding a Harvard Medal in his name and stamping the Harvard motto, “Veritas,” on the I.F. Stone medal–and by implication on the I.F. Stone life– is for I.F. Stone, a wonderful, wonderful thing.

So now I turn the microphone over to Bob Giles.  Bob is a journalist and more.  Under his editorship, two different newspapers won Pulitzer prizes.  And he has been President of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.  He is in his 8th year as curator of the famous Nieman Foundation and, as I have learned, is a splendid administrator.

Also read remarks by Bob Giles

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