“Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.” — I.F. Stone
December 24 is I.F. Stone‘s birthday (he would have been 98). His journalistic example is about as good a reason as any to celebrate.
Born Isador Feinstein, the incomparable I.F. Stone served as an editor at The Nation and worked for several other papers before founding his own journal in 1953 . . . with $3,000 borrowed from a friend and a 5,300-name subscription list inherited from a handful of defunct lefty publications. I.F. Stone’s Weekly reached a circulation of 70,000 by the 1960s and Stone was widely praised — even by his enemies — for his investigative skills and his ability to see through the hype.
Victor Navasky of The Nation wrote that “Izzy” was “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 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the ‘Pax Americana.'”
“I. F. Stone was the modern Tom Paine — as independent and incorruptible as they come,” said Ralph Nader. “Notwithstanding poor eyesight and bad ears, he managed to see more and hear more than other journalists because he was curious and fresh with the capacity for both discovery and outrage every new day.”
Without high-placed sources or invitations to the big press conferences, Stone scooped the big name reporters time and time again. He scoured public documents, studied the transcripts of Congressional committee hearings, and searched the large newspapers for inspiration. According to Navasky, Stone “once told David Halberstam that the Washington Post was an exciting paper to read ‘because you never know on what page you would find a page-one story’.”
“What Stone never talked about was the effect he had on many reporters who, often without attribution, ‘lunched off’ his scoops,” said Nader. “He taught them courage and insistence without ever meeting them . . . while others in his profession cowered, he stood tall to challenge the abusers of power no matter where they came from — right, middle or left.”
In an attempt to explain why he risked his career and ventured out on his own to create the Weekly, Stone explained: “To give a little comfort to the oppressed, to write the truth exactly as I saw it, to make no compromises other than those of quality imposed by own inadequacies, to be free to follow no master other than my own compulsions, to live up to my idealized image of what a true newspaperman should be, and still be able to make a living for my family — what more could a man ask?”
Mickey Z. is the author of several books, most recently 50 American Revolutions You’re Not Supposed to Know: Reclaiming American Patriotism (Disinformation Books). He can be found on the Web at
http://www.mickeyz.net. This essay was adapted from 50 American Revolutions You’re Not Supposed to Know.