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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In "Say It Ain't So, Izzy," the New Haven Independent's Paul Bass reviews a recent controversy over investigative journalist I. F. Stone's contacts with the Soviet Union... back when there was one. Apparently, Stone was someone the Soviet KGB talked to often enough in the 1930s to have a code name for him.

Bass's lead: "I.F. Stone, writer of truth to power, hero to generations of independent journalists... and Soviet agent?" The tale starts with a new Yale University Press book, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, particularly a handful of pages about Stone, whose career Paul sums up neatly: 

Few survivors of the great 20th century political wars have remained as revered as Stone. He was a dogged reporter, a culler of public documents, a courageous defier of McCarthyism. He wrote passionate editorials for the once-liberal New York Post. He was a mainstay of the great newspaper experiment of the century, PM.  When McCarthy's crowd drove many liberal writers out of business or underground, Stone refused to buckle. He published his own sheet, I.F. Stone's Weekly. It became a legend that continues to inspire independent journalists, and now bloggers.

Bloggers? In fact, Dan Froomkin at Harvard's Nieman Foundation has called Stone the best blogger ever, even though Stone died a decade before the first blogs were blogged. See Froomkin's review of a different book All Governments Lie! The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone by Myra MacPherson. Also, here's an excerpt from that book: The importance of being Izzy and the death of dissent in journalism.

Marking the 2007 centennial of Stone's birth, Harvard's Nieman Foundation launched an I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence, presenting the first one last October. I don't see anything on the Harvard site about a 2009 award, or responding to the Yale Press book about what Stone did or didn't say to KGB spies 70 years ago. I hope this doesn't turn into some kind of Yale-Harvard game, but if it does get people reading, thinking and talking, that's OK too.

Until I've read more, I'll agree with Eric Alterman's Daily Beast characterization to Stone's activities in the 1930s:

"A man of avowed anti-Fascist sympathies, still-foolishly naïve about Stalin and the Soviet Union, agreed on a couple of occasions to help those whom he believed to be actually fighting fascism, while his own country, still mired in childish isolationism, looked away."

I.F. Stone led a long and productive life as a journalist, never disguised his left-leaning political sympathies, and inspired a generation of reporters to dig into public records, look for facts and contradictions, maintain their independence, and speak their minds. It would have been wonderful if he had also written an "apologia" for whatever dealings he had with the Soviets before World War II, or for not thoroughly denouncing the Soviet system before the mid-fifties, but I think his career is transparent enough. As the site for his (downloadable) collected writings says, "Izzy Stone was a reporter, a radical, an idealist, a scholar and, it is clear, a writer whose insights have more than stood the test of time."  For even more his work, the entire run of I.F. Stone's Weekly is now online  at

4:21:41 PM    

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