Ode to An Inspiring Journalist
His name was I.F Stone and his was the power of example for two generations of journalists. As a 14 year old in the year 1921, he could wait no longer and started his own publication. At college he could not wait to graduate and went into daily journalism. When newspaper after newspaper failed his standards of accuracy, truth and importance, he started with his wife, Esther, the famous I.F. Stone weekly in 1953 right out of his kitchen. Stone’s inspiration for the weekly came in part from the newsletter, In Fact, which George Seldes, the muckraking reporter, began in the Forties. The Stones visited the Seldes family and spent several days learning the ways and means of surviving with one’s own newsletter. Stone did more than survive. By the time he closed the Weekly in 1968, due to failing health, he had a circulation of 70,000 worldwide. Albert Einstein was a subscriber; his $5 check was not cashed by Stone, but it was framed.
What was so unique about “Izzy” Stone? First, he read the written record, carefully and indefatigably. Congressional hearings, Defense Department reports, and other documents, documents and documents. He never played the favorites of the “inside journalist. He was the modern Tom Paine — as independent and incorruptible as they come.
The result of his reading was that he knew what he was writing about. He knew what was important and what was fluff. And he tied these facts to a ferocious practice of the First Amendment.
Stories about Stone are legendary in Washington. 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. He never was jaded at what official and corporate corruption or prevarication he located.
He could be jovial and irascible — the latter reaction most likely addressed to erroneous writing. He wanted to hand his Weekly over to a younger reporter but never found one who could meet his standards for consistency and stamina. So since 1968, he wrote articles, jolted many a budding journalist at conferences and delved deeply for the past ten years in the original Greek archives relating to ancient Athens and especially the trial of Socrates. From this research came his book on the trial of Socrates and the crisis of free speech that it represented in ancient Athens (population of 45,000) which became a national best seller.
What Stone never talked about was the effect he had on many reporters and editors who, often without attribution, “lunched off” his scoops. He taught them courage and insistence without ever meeting them. For it was Stone who took on Joe McCarthy early and fearlessly. It was Stone who showed that the Pentagon-military contracting complex was a highly tiered boondoggle wrapping its wrongs with the flag.
For over 50 years, I.F. Stone was both journalism’s Gibralter and its unwavering conscience. While others in his profession cowered, he stood tall to challenge the abusers of power no matter who they were or where they came from — right, middle or left. He did not have favorite perpetrators to let off. He was only concerned with the victims that the bullies pushed around or the dictators oppressed. He never allowed past acquaintances with influential power brokers dictate any self-censorship.
At one student journalism conference, he was introduced as an “investigative reporter.” He promptly took his introducer to task saying that such a description was redundant. All reporters should be investigative, he declared.
Through the originality and significance of his writings and addresses, Stone became a one man media — free, penetrating and, oh, so democratic in spirit. On Sunday, June 17, 1989, he passed away at the age of 81 in a Boston hospital after a heart attack.
If I.F. Stone had been born in ancient Athens over two thousand years ago, there now would be statutes of him in front of major newspaper buildings.