I. F. Stone: ‘All Governments Are Run by Liars’
Go to a sports bar, a boomer dinner party, an Occupy Wall Street campout, a meeting of the Young Republicans of Palo Alto, lunch at Barney’s, a hipster hair salon, or to the quad of almost any journalism school in the United States of America or elsewhere. Drop the name I. F. Stone in conversation. The response will be about the same in every place: I. F. Who?
The question is something like an outrage. When I. F. Stone was alive, making history by challenging the narratives of his era’s entrenched history-makers, he was among the most controversial public figures of the time. Stone’s struggles and victories against complacency and deception deserve to be remembered, and emulated. In fact, in this day of cozy media corporate synergy and news as infotainment, it’s a borderline crime that a major motion picture is not rolling out for Oscar contention, immortalizing the exploits of a lone man who held entire governments to account for their actions.
Stone’s gimlet eye for despots, bigots and hypocrites, big and small, was just as pointed back home in the United States of America.
At the risk of outlasting the attention spans of your interlocutors, you clarify: Born Isador Feinstein Stone in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 24, 1907; muckraking journalist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Camden Courier-Post and New York Post. In the early 1930s, I. F. “Izzy” Stone was one of the first public voices raised in America against the influence of an obscure and obstreperous failed German landscape painter—Adolf Hitler.
Stone’s gimlet eye for despots, bigots and hypocrites, big and small, was just as pointed back home in the United States of America. He left the New York Post in 1939 and wrote for a series of left-leaning political publications, which folded one after another. In 1953, tired of having his employers die out from under him, Stone founded his own paper.
I. F. Stone’s Weekly was, basically, a newsletter published from Stone’s kitchen table. The paper ran until ill health forced the self-described “radical journalist and scholar” to put it to bed in 1971. Although Stone’s DIY newssheet never had a circulation above 70,000, it ranked 16th in a 1999 New York University poll to determine the Top 100 Works of Journalism in the United States in the 20th Century, honored with the best of Edward R. Murrow, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, H. L. Mencken, Seymour Hersh, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and the entire New York Times.
A passion for truth, a profound distrust of authority (“All governments are run by liars” is an oft-repeated and oft-applicable quote), a fearless contempt for bullies, and indefatigable research and verification distinguished I. F. Stone’s reporting. Unfazed at being blacklisted, he led the attack on McCarthyism and racial discrimination in the U.S., and he was the first journalist to debunk the official version of the Gulf of Tonkin incident (a misrepresented altercation that escalated into the Vietnam War).
Because of his complete editorial independence as a one-man operation, I. F. Stone has been called America’s first political blogger—despite the fact that the Internet wasn’t invented until long after Izzy had retired. (Explore I. F.’s full legacy at the Official Website of I. F. Stone, a thorough tribute run by his son, Jeremy J. Stone.)
Every October, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard awards its I. F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence. The ceremony is an occasion to recall I. F. Stone, and to remember that in today’s era of bank failures, government unaccountability, eroding individual rights, secret wars and open wars, environmental corruption, ongoing discrimination and ubiquitous abuses of power, a watchdog press is more necessary than ever.
The 2011 I. F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence was awarded to A.C. Thompson, a staff writer for ProPublica. Thompson’s reporting in the immediate wake of Hurricane Katrina exposed racially motivated killings of unarmed civilians by the New Orleans police department.
It was work I. F. Stone would have been proud to have called his own.
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