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Mark Dowie on I.F. Stone

Posted on May 29, 2009

By Mark Dowie

(Page 2)

Guttenplan’s 500-page biography is thorough to a fault, covering not only the endless stream of controversies that surrounded Stone’s own life and work, but also the intertwined social and political confusions that rocked an America The Weekly tried to make sense of. The book grapples with every issue that confronted serious journalists of the time—civil rights, federalism, McCarthyism, wars in Korea and Vietnam, sexual freedom and the American left’s gradual transformation from stodgy, pro-Soviet communism through democratic socialism to a vibrant new left libertarianism to which neither Stone nor his generation of leftists really never took. Any biographer would be remiss if he didn’t weigh in heavily on the question of Stone’s loyalty to his country and his alleged role as a Soviet spy. And Guttenplan does so, at some length, in drab detail.


book cover


American Radical: The Life and Times of I. F. Stone


By D. D. Guttenplan


Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 592 pages


Buy the book

I suppose it’s harder for my generation to get too worked up over that tiresome parlor game, although it is still played ad nauseam by some of my contemporaries, notably Paul Berman and Ron Radosh. And most of us are less likely than Izzy’s contemporaries to care whether Sacco, Vanzetti, Hiss or the Scottsboro Boys were really guilty as charged, although perhaps we should care more than we do. Even if, under code-name Blin, Stone did occasionally meet and share names and phone numbers with KGB agent Oleg Kalugin, who was, remember, posing as a press attaché, he hardly possessed or could transmit information damaging to national security, his sole source of documentation being the Congressional Record and other available government documents—all public records which any spook could have read without the assistance of an American reporter.

And as someone who, before Glasnost, frequently dined and exchanged sources with Tass correspondents, I really can’t understand what all the fuss is about. That was simply part of our work—sharing information with fellow reporters. So what if it was with people who, as it turned out, weren’t really press attaches? It still wasn’t spying. Nor was it in Stone’s case, if there is a case at all. Those innocent lunches, most of them at Harvey’s (J. Edgar Hoover’s favorite restaurant, where Hoover was once seated next to Joe McCarthy in plain sight of Stone and Kalugin), should never have been considered treasonous, given the fact that Stone’s motivations and the Russians’ were, at the time, both anti-fascist, as was the expressed foreign policy of the U.S. government. A more reasonable conclusion would be that Izzy Stone was merely tweaking power. Otherwise he would have met Kalugin in a parking garage.
I had to wonder, as I read this book, what Izzy would have thought of it and, even more so, what he would be up to were he alive today. He’d be blogging, of course, hourly not weekly. And he would certainly be arguing back against his biographers—and his hagiographers. But what would he make of Barack Obama and the crisis that capitalism faces? Surely he would be as glad and surprised as most of us that an African-American had reached the White House, but I imagine he would be after the president for allowing Wall Street to maintain such close ties to the Treasury, and he would be pushing the administration to accelerate troop withdrawal from Iraq, legislate a single-payer health care system, appoint some fellow radicals to the Supreme Court and, of course, he would still be looking for lies … and finding them.

Would that he were still alive and kicking.

Mark Dowie, a founder of Mother Jones magazine, is an award-winning journalist and author of several books, including “Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century,” “American Foundations: An Investigative History” and the just-published “Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict Between Global Conservation and Native Peoples” (MIT Press).

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By dihey, June 2, 2009 at 11:56 am Link to this comment

When the League of Nations expired the United Nations inherited the Mandate of Palestine and with it the also inherited duty to bring this undivided Mandate to the status of self-governance.
Instead the United Nations illegally arrogated to itself the ‘right’ to divide the Mandate into Jewish and Arabic portions. Where did the UN find that right? On Mount Sinai? Guess who the United Nations appointed as the spokesman for the Palestinian Arabs? King Farouk of Egypt! It was all a gigantic scam by the Western Powers who wanted the pesky Zionists off their backs a.s.a.p.
Instead of attacking this monstrous deal I. F. Stone supported what eventually became the major sore spot of the Middle East.
Want more meat on the bones? This is it.
Not enough meat? That is your problem, not mine.
My only mistake was that I called I. F. Stone ‘blind’. He was far from blind. On Israel he was a biased hack journalist. He knew who had murdered the Dutch poet Jacob Israel de Haan in Jerusalem because Jacob had defended the rights of Arabs in British court. Stone knew who had blown up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. He knew that the ‘Stern Gang’ and ‘Irgoen’ were terrorist organizations. His silence was criminal.

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By NYCartist, June 2, 2009 at 8:07 am Link to this comment

Inherit the Wind:they had the whole list,but the 3 you mention were not on it.  The obvious: they had to look at the mail to have the list, I would suppose.

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By prgill, June 2, 2009 at 7:25 am Link to this comment

Founder of Mother Jones magazine or not, this review is milque-toast. It does not inspire to buy the book or even, to read more about I.F.Stone.

What’s the matter TD Editors, have you run out of people to write tough reviews? I found Sepharad’s comment about Isaac Babel riding with the Red Army more informative.

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By Inherit The Wind, June 2, 2009 at 4:50 am Link to this comment

NYCartist, June 1 at 5:52 pm #

PS Forgot to say, (senior moment) that the government agency worker went into the boss’ office waving a list of magazine subs as evidence: IF Stone’s Weekly, The Nation and The Catholic Worker (how could you go wrong for a penny for a sub) - reading material = communists indeed in the agency “logic”.

I’ll bet he didn’t show them your sub to Time, Reader’s Digest and Popular Science!

I always figured when they hit my house they’d find my copy of Capital and say “Aha!”  Consequently I always made sure it sat on the shelf between “Wealth of Nations” and “Atlas Shrugged”.

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By NYCartist, June 1, 2009 at 2:52 pm Link to this comment

PS Forgot to say, (senior moment) that the government agency worker went into the boss’ office waving a list of magazine subs as evidence: IF Stone’s Weekly, The Nation and The Catholic Worker (how could you go wrong for a penny for a sub) - reading material = communists indeed in the agency “logic”.

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By NYCartist, June 1, 2009 at 2:40 pm Link to this comment

Good review.  I read IFStone’s Weekly in the mid60s in my mid20s.  Had a sub in the South, where I was with a relative doing Antipoverty program organizing.  A certain federal agency went to my relative’s boss and said, “fire him; they are communists”.  The boss laughed and said, “No”.  I thought it a joke:I was too young to be a communist and as an artist, not very “radical”, although I was a pt time volunteer researcher,etc for a Civil Rights Law office.  Later, I learned about COINTELPRO.

I’d have added other things Izzy would have covered about Obama:Afghanistan, the drones/missiles into Pakistan villages, the torture policies not ended, the SECRECY continuation from Bush Administration, also. I also remember learning that Izzy learned Greek in his 70s or so, so he could read in the original.

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By Sepharad, May 30, 2009 at 11:00 pm Link to this comment

dihey, I.F. Stone was not blind when it came to any subject, especially not Israel, which he knew well and understood.

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By Sepharad, May 30, 2009 at 10:57 pm Link to this comment

Inherit, I also grew up with Izzy Stone’s Weekly and BiWeekly. I’d been trying to write stories since kindergarten, but his writings were what made me want to be a journalist (and of course along with other environmental influences and experiences, shaped my politics and still do). The only equal he had was the fiction writer Isaac Babel, whose stories of the Red Cavalry (which he rode with for a time) are as politically deft as Stone’s commentaries. We could steal the old saying “from Moses to Moses there was no one like Moses”, substituting “from Isaac to Izzy. ...” (Though I’m not sure Maimonides would have approved of either Isaacs’ sentiments, he would have definitely appreciated their depth, independence and perceptiveness.)

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By Night-Gaunt, May 30, 2009 at 12:27 pm Link to this comment

You managed to not answer my question at all. Just a synopsis could have been done by you with the reading recommendation. You stop being lazy by foisting it off to me with nothing but a dismissal. I don’t know when I will be able to afford that book. Can’t you just give me your interpretation of where I.F.Stone was “blind” in respect to Israel? Is it that hard for you to articulate? If so then I will demur. If not then I will ask again one more time. Thank you for your time.

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By dihey, May 30, 2009 at 9:02 am Link to this comment

My recommendation is: please stop being lazy and read “The best of I. F. Stone”, a book edited by Karl Weber with an Introduction by Peter Osnos. What they have to say on this subject exceeds the word limit of this website.

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By Inherit The Wind, May 29, 2009 at 8:40 pm Link to this comment

One should see the MARVELOUS documentary “I.F Stone’s Weekly”.

I grew up with the Weekly, then the Bi-Weekly showing up in our mailbox.  By the time I had an inkling what it was about, and who I.F.Stone was, it was already declining.

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By Pelerin A. Galimatias, May 29, 2009 at 2:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“The Nation, a staunchly pro-Soviet journal of opinion”:  Why did Dowie make this contentious, gratuitous shot at a rival publication in this place?

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By Night-Gaunt, May 29, 2009 at 12:57 pm Link to this comment

Really Dihey, then give us something more than a facile, empty comment? No meat on those bones. Blind in what way? Why bother commenting if you give nothing but your opinion on something you haven’t iterated on. How would I or anyone else know what you mean? That is taking brevity to the point of pointlessness.

Try again. With information this time.

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By dihey, May 29, 2009 at 11:00 am Link to this comment

Unfortunately, this brilliant Izzie was blind when it came to Israel.

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