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Mark Dowie on I.F. Stone
Posted on May 29, 2009
By Mark Dowie
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.
American Radical: The Life and Times of I. F. Stone
By D. D. Guttenplan
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 592 pages
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.
Would that he were still alive and kicking.
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