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Tributes to I.F. Stone


Testimonials From Obits and Memorials on Stone's Death

Jeff Cohen, Huffington Post, 6/16/08:
"For days, the death of a famous journalist has preoccupied many. Including me. For it was nineteen years ago this week that I.F. (Izzy) Stone died. The legendary blogger was 81.

"Confused? You say he died years before web blogs were invented?

"Well, yeah, but when I think of today's blunt, fact-based online hell-raisers, my mind quickly flashes on Izzy Stone. You may think of Josh Marshall or Glenn Greenwald or Arianna Huffington. I think of Izzy. " [Click here to read more.]

Marvin Caplan, 7/18/89:
"What he brought to American journalism were the skills of the Talmudist. The ability–no, the impelling need–to pore over obscure and difficult texts. To examine and reexamine. To extract new and unexpected meanings from passages others found dense and impenetrable.... "

"Izzy Stone was critical of Israel, sometimes harshly critical. But so was Isaiah. So was Jeremiah. Izzy’s reasons were much the same as theirs. Like them, he wanted the Jewish people to be better.

"The passionate commitment to justice and moral principle that made the Weekly so exhilarating to read was not much different from the passionate commitment of an Old Testament Prophet.”

Frank Wilkinson, Executive Director
National Committee to Abolish HUAC, Los Angeles Times
(from a letter printed in the Los Angeles Time of Saturday, July 1, 1989):

“One additional item in his illustrious career that deserves notice: Izzy deserves credit for launching the successful campaign to abolish the old House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

"In mid-May, 1957, when most civil libertarians were devoting their energies on this issue by just defending the “victims” of HUAC, it was Stone who correctly sensed that the time was ripe for its abolition.

"Based on a little noticed U.S. Supreme Court decision (Watkins vs. U.S.) at that time, where Chief Justice Earl Warren pointedly asked, “Who can define the meaning of Un-American activities?”, the Weekly devoted an issue on the HUAC question and Izzy was on the phone to friends all over the nation, including the writer, insisting that not another day be lost.

He was most persuasive. Response was immediate: Alexander Meiklejohn, Corliss Lamont, Carey McWilliams, Aubrey Williams, Clarence Pickett, Harvey O’Connor and many more took up the call–through petitions, editorial, and grass-roots organizing, the campaign to end congressional inquisitions started. Hollywood 10's Dalton Trumbo joined Princeton’s Professor H.H. Wilson to pack Carnegie Hall for a kick-off rally sponsored by the then-Emergency Civil Liberties Committee; to be followed thereafter by the creation of the National Committee to Abolish HUAC.

"While it took 18 more years to do the monster in, in 1975, the ultimate victory over the committee and for the First Amendment, properly goes to I.F. Stone."

John R. MacArthur wrote in "In These Times," August 1989
"I.F. Stone and Howard Simons, two of the most accomplished journalists of the older generation, died within a few days of one another in June, leaving their trade much impoverished. Of the two, I most admired Stone, who epitomized the reporter as outsider. I always thought of him as an old-fashioned solo practitioner, the prototypical muckraker who would sooner go to jail than hold back on a story or fudge the truth to accommodate someone in power."

The New York Times Obit entitled "I.F. Stone, Iconoclast of Journalism, is Dead at 81" (June 19, 1989) by Peter B. Flint said:
“Admirers of his informed skepticism praised him for courage and insights. Detractors acknowledged his integrity but accused him of obsessive opposition to the use of power, particularly military power. Everyone agreed that he annoyed some people all the time and all people one time or another.” (This splendid obit has much more at this link)

ABC clip
ABC News
Monday, June 19, 1989

The Washington Post Obit entitled “I.F. Stone Dies at 81 After Career As Investigative Journalist, Author” (June 19, 1989) by Bart Barnes said:
“Mr. Stone told The Post in 1988, 'What I said to my wife a long time ago is that if I lived long enough I’d graduate from a pariah to a character, and then if I lasted long enough, from character to public institution.'” (This obit can be purchased at this link.)

NBC News
Monday, June 19, 1989

 

Robert Kaiser, later managing editor of The Washington Post, said:
Stone “changed the way journalism is performed. He did it by the power of example. Izzy taught a great many of us about the importance of independence, the critical ingredient of a good journalist. Izzy was totally independent from the politicians and officials he wrote about. He once said, "You cannot get intimate with officials and maintain your independence. No matter whether they are good guys or bad guys, don’t get intimate with them.” From Tribute to An Iconoclast: Friends Recall Writer I.F. Stone by Lois Romano, The Washington Post, July 19, 1989. (This can be purchased at this link)

Peter Osnos of PublicAffairs cited his “stubborn tenacity, ferocious independence, and extraordinary will.”
From Requiem for a Radical Journalist by D.D. Guttenplan in NY Newsday, July 13, 1989.

ABC clip
CBS News
Monday, June 19, 1989

 

The L.A. Times headlined an article on his death as I.F. Stone Dies; ‘Conscience of Investigative Journalism,’ (June 17, 1989).
Author and journalist I.F. Stone, often dubbed “the conscience of investigative journalism” died at 81 of a heart attack in a Cambridge, Mass. hospital Sunday. Stone published his first newspaper as a New Jersey schoolboy of 14 and proceed to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted for the rest of his life. ...Many admirers noted Sunday that Stone was ahead of public opinion on many issues, ranging from McCarthyism to the Vietnam War. “If you read him in the 1950s and the early 1960s, he was off the beaten track in many ways,” said New York Times columnist Tom Wicker, who narrated a 1975 documentary film about Stone’s life. “Then the Vietnam War came along and it became apparent that the government didn’t know what it was doing and would lie about it and he’d been saying that all along.” “I have a tear in my eye,” said longtime CBS producer and Columbia University journalism school dean Fred Friendly. “He was the conscience of investigative journalism.” “He was the scholar of our profession,” said James Reston, the former Washington bureau chief of The New York Times. And Jack Nelson, The Los Angeles Times’ Washington bureau chief, said: “He was one of the great investigative reporters of the 20th century.” (The complete article can be purchased here.)

Oliphant I.F. Stone Cartoon

Oliphant © 1989 Universal Press Syndicate. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.


The London Guardian
headlined an obit Weeks of Wisdom (June 10, 1989) and said:
As he once said, it was the first article of Izzy Stone’s faith as a journalist that ‘the intelligence supplied by such a network [as the CIA] is probably a good deal less reliable than that which a careful reader can get for himself from the American, British and French press.' His “retirement” was a kind of hyper-activity. Apart from his work for the New York Review of Books, he began to learn classical Greek in pursuit of his fascination with Socrates, the original gadfly, and would quote copiously at Georgetown dinner-tables. By now the lens of his spectacles were thick as bottle bottoms, and he still needed the help of a magnifying glass to cope with sustained reading, and he wrote his last book on a word processor that produced a text in headline type. When it was announced, as the product of ten years of research and reflection, some formidable indictment of the despised political culture of the Reagan years was expected. Instead, it was a study arguing that Socrates was a cold-minded elitist who effectively contrived his own death sentence to discredit democracy and free speech: “Socrates needed the hemlock as Jesus needed the Crucifixion”, Stone wrote, “to fulfil a mission.” Stone’s last scoop.

The London Times entitled its obituary "I.F. Stone: Spirit of America’s Independent Journalism" (June 20, 1989):
“Stone came into his own in 1953 when with only $6,500 he launched his newsletter, I.F. Stone’s Weekly, which he and his wife produced from their home in Washington. Almost immediately it achieved a nationwide reputation largely for its spirited anti-McCarthyism. His was a lone voice for many months. Even newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post were cautious and he must be credited for keeping alive the spirit of American independent journalism.”

In An Outsider Looking In, Mary McGrory said:
“He was your quintessential outsider. His only access was through the printed word. He was an investigative reporter whose weapons were scissors and paste. He quoted what public officials said in public, not what they whispered on deep background, off the record or “not for attribution.”

Nobody understood better than Isidor Feinstein Stone what Washington was all about. He saw it as the greatest guff factory in the world.

He flatly refused to deal in this commodity. He neither brought nor sold it in all his years. Because he was self-employed he did not have the troubles of other reporters, who envied or resented him. But he knew what it was like for them.

“There are many ways to punish a reporter who gets out of line.” he said. “If a big story breaks at 3 a.m., the press officer may neglect to notify him while his rivals get the story.”

...”In the darkest days of McCarthy, when I was often made to feel a pariah, I was heartened by the thought that I was preserving and carrying forward the best in America’s tradition, that in my humble way I stood in a line that reached back to Jefferson.”

Boston Globe, June 21, 1989.

In By Giving His All, Colman McCarthy wrote:
“When I last spoke with I.F. Stone...most of his thoughts were on the prophets: Amos, Isaiah, Cassian, Simon and early Christian ascetics of the desert. Other times, he would phone to pass along breaking news from the third century of Tertullian, the fourth century of St. Jerome and the golden age of patristic literature, or the sixth century of St. Benedict who, in Stone’s time, was a clearer thinker than Augustine of Hippo.

"...On Stone’s passing, respectful huzzahs were emitted by much of the establishment media. A discounting of such memorializing is worth recalling: 'Funerals are always occasions for pious lying,' Stone wrote in 1963 in a piece on the funeral of John F. Kennedy. 'A deep vein of superstition and a sudden touch of kindness always leads people to give the departed credit for more virtues than he possessed.'

"[one of Stone’s virtues] was to offer whimsical relief from his style of bring-on-the-outrages prose.

"He wrote on Feb. 6, 1961: 'At the risk of alarming steady customers, inured to a weekly diet of apocalyptic pessimism, I must confess that I am becoming optimistic...I even feel a little embarrassed, like the prophet Jeremiah caught giving three lusty cheers. But ever since John F. Kennedy’s first press conference, I haven’t felt the same.'

"After eight years of 'Mr. Eisenhower’s lazy slovenliness,' Stone felt that 'for the first time since Roosevelt we have a first-rater in the presidency, a young man of energy, zest and ability.'

"Not to worry. Two months later, the Weekly documented the facts for the lead story, 'The Rapid Deterioration in Our National Leadership.'

"In 1967, Stone, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, revisited Israel. Reconcile with Palestinians, he urged: 'It was moral tragedy—to which no Jew worthy of our best Prophetic tradition could be insensitive—that a kindred people was made homeless in the task of finding new homes for the remnants of the Hitler holocaust. Now is the time to right that wrong.'”

The Washington Post, June 24, 1989
This article can be purchased here.

Feiffer I.F. Stone Cartoon
Reprinted with permission.

 

Editorials on Stone's Death:

The New York Times: I.F. STONE’S LEGACY
“There’s little need to rehearse the merits of I.F. Stone as reporter and advocate. The country discovered during Vietnam what his Washington colleagues had known for years: In a frenzied calling, he was a meticulous craftsman, buttressing unfashionable views with relentless spadework into unread official documents. But Mr. Stone, now dead at 81, was also a gifted teacher. He showed younger journalists how to develop stories without kowtowing to the powerful and how to write incisively without resort to cliches.... To detractors, Mr. Stone’s achievements were diminished by his past willingness to minimize Moscow’s sins even as he maximized Washington’s. His critics are unimpressed by his outraged rejection of the Soviet Union he visited in 1956. But time has played a trick. In recent years, the radical journalist more harshly condemned abuses in Communist states than did successive Republican Presidents–a fitting coda for a great dissident who disputed all the tidy dogmas about human behavior.” (full story here)

The Washington Post: I.F. STONE
“...his virtue was not that he was infallible in his judgments, but rather that he was capable–not an impulse the journalistic trade is famous for–of admitting error and revising opinion. This rare virtue proceeded from another inclination of his: to consult what the learned call 'primary sources'...Mr. Stone looked it up—again and again and again and no matter how tedious the digging was. Back in the pre-FAX, pre-word-processor days, when you could only get transcripts of important congressional hearings and other such events by trudging up to some unwelcoming office and taking notes from a single available tome, reporters deciding to do the inconvenient thing and go see precisely what had been said often as not had to wait because Mr. Stone was already there, poring intently over the text. I.F. Stone was a man of the political left, but increasingly over the years he also became a man of surprises and one who arrived at his position the hard way. He was a journalist who took absolutely nothing for granted and accepted practically nothing at face value: he wanted to see the evidence, the record for himself.” (This can be purchased here)

The Boston Globe: I.F. STONE
“For thousands of American journalists, I.F. Stone represented an ideal. Very much the individual without being a loner, Stone refashioned the standards of journalism not through leaks or close association with important persons but by careful reading of public documents and statements....A visitor to Stone last week reports that he was eager to leave the hospital and get back home to his books on philosophy, to resume his study and reinterpretation of issues thought dead. A fitting ambition for a man for whom truth was everything.”