I.F. Stone: A Wonderful Pariah

Barrie Zwicker
Canadian Dimension, September 1989

I.F. Stone’s Weekly entered and changed my life in 1959, in the seventh of its 19 years. I still have my yellowing back issues to the December 1971 final number. Stone made me immediately aware that a. war was underway in Viet Nam (JFK had sent in the Green Berets), and the interests, delusions and lies behind the war – all before most people knew it had started.

Izzy Stone’s journalistic career started when at 14 he launched his own successful political monthly. Before it ended with his death in June at 82, he had authored more than a dozen books and thousands of insightful articles.

His greatest gift to journalism is himself as a model. He once told an international gathering of investigative journalists he was “half a Jeffersonian and half a Marxist. I never saw a contradiction between the two, and I still don’t.”

The Weeklies are classic Stone. Here is incisive analysis, the unmasking of hypocrisy and cant, the persuasive historical context, the daring cackle in the face of the emperor and his minions, the burrowing ferret investigative journalist, the fiercely compassionate social critic, the person of humour, the tireless defender of human rights and the prophet.

This from Weekly of Oct. 17, 1960, under the headline Mark Twain Would Have Enjoyed Dr. Pauling’s Inquisition:

Senator Dodd, in opening the hearing of Dr. Linus Pauling before the Internal Security Committee ... showed himself to be in the finest tradition of American deadpan humour ... Senator Dodd said no witness need fear “opprobrium because he is called to testify before this Committee.” To clinch his point he cited the cases of FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover and CIA Director Allen Dulles, both of whom had appeared before it... “Of course neither was asked in the manner sometimes encountered by less august witnesses whether he had ever consorted with Fascists, robbed a poor box or practiced necrophilia.”

From The Warning on the Synagogue Wall (January 18, 1960): “The wrath of the law is coming down on a few screwball nobodies while attention is diverted from the extent to which Adenauer’s new Germany is run by the same men who ran Hitler’s.”

From The Bitter Harvest in Central America (November 21,1960): “Yankee imperialism, to our shame, is not just a propaganda slogan in Central America. It is a reality. To recognize this, and to stop blinding ourselves with nonsense about Cuban plots, is the first essential to wiser policies and better relations.”

From the Weekly of May 13,1968: “To see the Poor People’s March on Washington in perspective remember that the rich have been marching on Washington since the beginning.”

From his so unfairly distorted article on the Six Day War, in the Weekly of June 12,1967:

“Israel’s swift and brilliant military victory only makes its reconciliation with the Arabs more urgent. Its future and world peace call for a general and final settlement now of the Palestine problem. To achieve (reconciliation) will require an act of sympathy worthy of the best in Jewry’s Biblical heritage. It is to understand and forgive an enemy, and thus convert him into a friend.”

In the final Weekly he wrote: “Politically I believe there cannot be a good society without freedom of criticism: the greatest task of our time is to find a synthesis of socialism and freedom.”

Stone possessed a vast intellect, an endless curiosity, an undeviating drive to get to the bottom of things (he learned Greek in his 70s in order to do original research for his historical writings), an unfailing care for the dispossessed, an unquenchable antagonism towards dishonesty and the abuse of power.

There’s a poignant and telling moment in I.F. Stone’s Weekly (the movie), in which Stone is walking away from the head table at the end of a banquet in his honour. He sees Walter Cronkite and walks toward the mainstream TV news star, extending his hand. There’s a split second when Cronkite can reciprocate, or pretend he doesn’t see Izzy and turn away. Cronkite turns away. I can still feel the sting. But it’s my sting, not Stone’s.

“It’s just wonderful to be a pariah,” Stone wrote (this published in the July 10 issue of The Nation). “To be regarded as nonrespectable, to be ... an outsider, this is really the way to do it. As soon as you want something, they’ve got you!”

Earlier he confided to his Weekly readers that the early years of ostracism were lonely, but that he was sustained by his readers. “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 my 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?”

He concluded his final issue: “I think every man is his own Pygmalion, and spends his life fashioning himself. And in fashioning himself, for good or ill, he fashions the human race and its future.”

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