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IF Stone: An Iconic Radical Journalist

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IF Stone: An Iconic Radical Journalist - by Stephen Lendman

Born Isador Feinstein in 1907, his brother Louis said he changed his name at age 30 because "he didn't want to turn a reader off who might be anti-Semetic, right away, to avoid anti-Semitism in his work." Most people called him Izzy, and when he died in 1989, biographer DD Guttenplan said "he had (so) transformed (himself) from America's premiere radical journalist into a respectable icon of his profession" that all four major television networks announced his passing.

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ABC's Peter Jennings called him "a journalist's journalist." The New York Times featured his death on its front page (usually reserved for the rich and powerful) in a Peter Flint obituary titled, "IF Stone, Iconoclast of Journalism, Is Dead at 81." A quintessential muckraker, he described him as "the independent, radical pamphleteer of American journalism hailed by his admirers for his scholarship, wit and lucidity" over a career spanning 67 years.

He quoted Stone saying:

"I tried to bring the instincts of a scholar to the service of journalism; to take nothing for granted; to turn journalism into literature; to provide radical analysis with a conscientious concern for accuracy, and in studying the current scene to do my very best to preserve human values and free institutions." In the spirit of author Finley Peter Dunne (1867 - 1936), he "comfort(ed) the afflicted and afflict(ed) the comfortable," in a way few others matched or kept doing for so long.

In a 1987 interview, he deplored what he called the ascendancy of "right-wing kooks (and) the ugly spirit (of Reagan's not so subtle message that) you should go get yours and run." Late in life he learned classical Greek to be able to read untranslated works and write "The Trials of Socrates" after more than a decade of study. He criticized the accepted Plato view that he died for exhorting his fellow Athenians to be virtuous. According to Stone, he was seen as a security threat at a time Athenian democracy was imperiled.

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In Izzy on Izzy (on ifstone.org), he called himself an "anachronism....an independent capitalist, the owner of my own enterprise, subject to neither mortgage or broker, factor or patron....standing alone, without organizational or party backing, beholden to no one but my good readers."

They were many, loyal, and included Ralph Nader who called him "the modern Tom Paine - as independent and incorruptible as they come (as) journalism's Gibraltar and its unwavering conscience."

Stone called himself "a newspaperman all my life," publishing a paper (the Progress) at age 14, working for a country weekly, and then as correspondent for two city dailies (the Haddonfield Press and Camden Courier-Post). Beginning as a high school sophomore, he did this into his third year of college (at the University of Pennsylvania), then quit because "the atmosphere of a college faculty repelled me." At the same time, he worked afternoons and evenings at the Philadelphia Inquirer "doing combination rewrite and copy desk (work), so I was already an experienced newpaperman making $40 a week - big pay in 1928." He did everything "except run a linotype machine."

In the 1920s as a teenager, he became radicalized, mostly from reading Jack London, Herbert Spencer, Peter Kropotkin (a noted Russian anarchist and early communism advocate), and Karl Marx. He joined the Socialist Party and was elected to its New Jersey State Committee "before I was old enough to vote." He did publicity for Norman Thomas (1894 - 1968) in the 1928 presidential campaign, but then "drifted away from left-wing politics because of the sectarianism of the left."

He also believed that party affiliation was incompatible with independent journalism, and he wanted to be "free to help the unjustly treated, to defend everyone's civil liberty, and to work for social reform without concern for leftist infighting."

Remembering them "with affection," he praised his employers for never forcing him to compromise his conscience, even as an anonymous editorial writer. From 1932 - 1939, that was his job for the Philadelphia Record and New York Post, both strongly pro-New Deal papers at the time. In 1940, he came to Washington as The Nation's editor and remained until his death, working as reporter and columnist for PM, the New York Star, New York Post and New York Compass.

In the 1950s, during the Cold War and McCarthy era, no daily paper (or The Nation) ran his byline, so when the Compass closed in 1952, he launched his own four-page IF Stone's Weekly in 1953 and wrote:

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"Early Soviet novels used a vivid phrase, 'former people,' about the remnants of the dispossessed ruling class. On the inhospitable streets of Washington these days, your editor often feels like one of the 'former people.' "

Earlier from its 1946 inception until 1949, he was a regular on "Meet the Press," first on radio, then TV. No longer, nor was he seen again on national television for another 18 years because his muckraking threatened the powerful.

It's never easy starting out on your own, but Stone succeeded by what he called "a piggy-back launching" from the PM, Star, and Compass mailing lists as well as people who had bought his books. From them, he got 5,000 subscribers at $5 each. During McCarthy's heyday, he got a second-class mailing permit, and was on his way after "working in Washington for 12 years as correspondent for a succession of liberal and radical papers."

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