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REMEMBRANCE OF A GREAT HUMANITARIAN:
IF Stone: An Iconic Radical Journalist
Monday, 19 October 2009
No bureaucracy likes independent journalism, especially radical muckrakers digging out the most sensitive material it wants suppressed. The fault Stone found with most newspapers wasn't the absence of dissent. It was the absence of real news, the timidity of journalists to write it, and the power owners held over them.
Born Isador Feinstein in 1907, his brother Louis said he changed his name at age 30 because "he didn't want to turn a reader off who might be anti-Semetic, right away, to avoid anti-Semitism in his work." Most people called him Izzy, and when he died in 1989, biographer DD Guttenplan said "he had (so) transformed (himself) from America's premiere radical journalist into a respectable icon of his profession" that all four major television networks announced his passing.
ABC's Peter Jennings called him "a journalist's journalist." The New York Times featured his death on its front page (usually reserved for the rich and powerful) in a Peter Flint obituary titled, "IF Stone, Iconoclast of Journalism, Is Dead at 81." A quintessential muckraker, he described him as "the independent, radical pamphleteer of American journalism hailed by his admirers for his scholarship, wit and lucidity" over a career spanning 67 years.
He quoted Stone saying:
In a 1987 interview, he deplored what he called the ascendancy of "right-wing kooks (and) the ugly spirit (of Reagan's not so subtle message that) you should go get yours and run." Late in life he learned classical Greek to be able to read untranslated works and write "The Trials of Socrates" after more than a decade of study. He criticized the accepted Plato view that he died for exhorting his fellow Athenians to be virtuous. According to Stone, he was seen as a security threat at a time Athenian democracy was imperiled.
They were many, loyal, and included Ralph Nader who called him "the modern Tom Paine - as independent and incorruptible as they come (as) journalism's Gibraltar and its unwavering conscience."
Stone called himself "a newspaperman all my life," publishing a paper (the Progress) at age 14, working for a country weekly, and then as correspondent for two city dailies (the Haddonfield Press and Camden Courier-Post). Beginning as a high school sophomore, he did this into his third year of college (at the University of Pennsylvania), then quit because "the atmosphere of a college faculty repelled me." At the same time, he worked afternoons and evenings at the Philadelphia Inquirer "doing combination rewrite and copy desk (work), so I was already an experienced newpaperman making $40 a week - big pay in 1928." He did everything "except run a linotype machine."
In the 1920s as a teenager, he became radicalized, mostly from reading Jack London, Herbert Spencer, Peter Kropotkin (a noted Russian anarchist and early communism advocate), and Karl Marx. He joined the Socialist Party and was elected to its New Jersey State Committee "before I was old enough to vote." He did publicity for Norman Thomas (1894 - 1968) in the 1928 presidential campaign, but then "drifted away from left-wing politics because of the sectarianism of the left."
He also believed that party affiliation was incompatible with independent journalism, and he wanted to be "free to help the unjustly treated, to defend everyone's civil liberty, and to work for social reform without concern for leftist infighting."
Remembering them "with affection," he praised his employers for never forcing him to compromise his conscience, even as an anonymous editorial writer. From 1932 - 1939, that was his job for the Philadelphia Record and New York Post, both strongly pro-New Deal papers at the time. In 1940, he came to Washington as The Nation's editor and remained until his death, working as reporter and columnist for PM, the New York Star, New York Post and New York Compass.
In the 1950s, during the Cold War and McCarthy era, no daily paper (or The Nation) ran his byline, so when the Compass closed in 1952, he launched his own four-page IF Stone's Weekly in 1953 and wrote:
Earlier from its 1946 inception until 1949, he was a regular on "Meet the Press," first on radio, then TV. No longer, nor was he seen again on national television for another 18 years because his muckraking threatened the powerful.
It's never easy starting out on your own, but Stone succeeded by what he called "a piggy-back launching" from the PM, Star, and Compass mailing lists as well as people who had bought his books. From them, he got 5,000 subscribers at $5 each. During McCarthy's heyday, he got a second-class mailing permit, and was on his way after "working in Washington for 12 years as correspondent for a succession of liberal and radical papers."
Earlier, he supported Progressive Party nominee Henry Wallace in the 1948 presidential election campaign, civil liberties for everyone, including communists, and advocated for peace and co-existence with the Soviets. He fought the loyalty purge, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, Senator Pat McCarran's virulent anti-communism as Senate Judiciary Committee and Internal Security Subcommittee chairmen, and Joe McCarthy.
He wrote the first article against the Smith Act for its 1940 use against Trotskyites and other leftists with suspected subversive leanings.
His idea was to make the Weekly radical by providing information readers could check out on their own. He "tried to dig the truth out of hearings, official transcripts and government documents, and to be as accurate as possible." He wanted every issue to provide facts and opinions unavailable elsewhere in the press. He felt like "a guerilla warrior, swooping down in a surprise attack on a stuffy bureaucracy where it least expected independent inquiry."
Unlike beat reporters for major dailies or wire services, he was immune to the pressures they faced. He said Washington has lots of news. If information on some are blocked, go get others because "The bureaucracies put out so much that they cannot help letting the truth slip from the time to time." And by asking tough questions, a whole lot can be learned that as an independent can be published freely without fear of employer retribution.
It's why no bureaucracy likes independent journalism, especially radical muckrakers digging out the most sensitive material it wants suppressed. The fault Stone found with most newspapers wasn't the absence of dissent. It was the absence of real news, the timidity of journalists to write it, and the power owners held over them.
Most publishers aren't just hostile to dissent, they suspect any opinions likely to antagonize readers, consumers, and mainly advertisers. As a result, most newspapers "stand for nothing. They carry prefabricated news, prefabricated opinion, and prefabricated cartoons." Even the best papers are timid. They don't question the Cold War, arms race, or stand up for civil liberties and the rule of law. Only a few "maverick" dailies are around making it "easy for a one-man four-page Washington paper to find news the others ignore, and of course opinion they would rarely express."
Journalism was a "crusade" for Stone. What Jefferson symbolized for him was being "rediscovered in a socialist society as a necessity for good government." During the height of the McCarthy era, he felt like a pariah but believed he stood for and was preserving the best of America's traditions. It inspired what he did to the end.
DD Guttenplan's "American Radical: The Life and Times of IF Stone"
Guttenplan described him as a journalistic "irritant to power for his uncanny ability to seize on the most inconvenient truths and for his vociferous opposition to the existing order." After becoming radicalized, he was brash, forthright, anti-fascist, pro-labor, a supporter of New Deal politics, and a passionate activist for the oppressed, disadvantaged, and social justice.
In his preface, Guttenplan described the fateful December 12, 1949 moment when Stone went from prominence to a non-person in American politics and his profession. It was during an interchange with the AMA's Dr. Morris Fishbein on Meet the Press, an ardent foe of universal single-payer health insurance he denounced as "socialistic." Quoting Stone, Guttenplan wrote:
After that, he slowly vanished, was never again on Meet the Press, couldn't get his passport renewed after a year in Paris as foreign correspondent for the Compass, and when it closed in 1952 was blacklisted as a reporter. As he put it at age 40: "I feel for the moment like a ghost." And as Guttenplan wrote:
According to Guttenplan, Stone "rode into battle not as a paladin of the powerless or a gadfly, but as an insider, a confidential agent of the (left-wing) 'party within a party' that served" progressive politics in the 1930s. He later broke with Harry Truman and supported Wallace. The FBI followed him everywhere, investigated him for five years, and accumulated 6,000 pages in his file, threefold its size for Al Capone. His phone was tapped and his mail intercepted on suspicion he was a Soviet spy, that was, of course, untrue.
By 1970, he was invited in from the cold and given a special George Polk Award in journalism. He got honorary degrees from American University, Brown, Colby, and others, including a baccalaureate and doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania where he dropped out before graduating.
His numerous awards included:
In his name, the annual Izzy Award is presented to "an independent outlet, journalist, or producer for contributions to our culture, politics, or journalism created outside traditional corporate structures."
Three of Stone's great quotes were:
In a June 19 - 25, 2009 Counterspin interview, Guttenplan said Stone was never ideologically rigid, and would always change his views in light of new information. He:
And he showed how good journalism can make a difference, the kind so lacking then and now with no IF Stone around to write it.
He "challenged power by using power's own record against itself." And after his hearing failed, he relied increasingly on documents to prove what he famously said:
Published in 1952, Monthly Review co-founders Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy wrote in the preface:
First published, in part, in the Compass and two articles in France's L'Observateur, its publisher, Claude Bourdet explained in his article titled, "The Korean Mystery: Fight Against a Phantom?"
Stone called it international aggression. So did Huberman and Sweezy writing in August 1951 (14 months into the war):
The same one, he later learned, we had in Vietnam that made him outspoken against it. He was the only journalist asked to speak at the first nationwide November 15, 1969 "Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam War," that half a million to Washington one month after a global event was held.
He matched his anti-war spirit with his support for the disadvantaged, the oppressed, social equity, and above all accuracy and truth, and used his journalism as a "crusade" to produce it. He wrote:
On June 17, 1989, he died of heart failure in Cambridge, MA and is buried there at Mount Auburn Cemetery, leaving behind his wife, Esther, of 60 years, and three children, Celia, Jeremy and Christopher. He once told his wife that "if (he) lived long enough (he'd) graduate from a pariah to a character, and then if (he) lasted long enough, from a character to public institution." He omitted a legend, a committed radical, consummate independent, and ideological hero symbolizing what Public Affairs' Peter Osnos called his "stubborn tenacity, ferocious independence, and extraordinary will" in pursuing truth.
Or as Guttenplan ended his book:
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Mondays from 11AM to 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national topics. All programs are archived for easy listening.
Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.This story was published on October 19, 2009.
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