London correspondent for The Nation magazine and the author of a new biography of Stone called American Radical: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone.
interviewed on Robert MacNeil on The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on March 22, 1988, shortly after the publication of his book The Trial of Socrates that examined one of the most famous historical events of Ancient Greece.
Twenty years ago today, I.F. Stone died at the age of eighty-one. He was the premier investigative reporter of the twentieth century, a self-described radical journalist. I.F. Stone’s legacy of work spanned the New Deal, World War II, McCarthyism, the Cold War, Israel/Palestine, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and beyond. He scooped reporters right and left. As the FBI tracked him, he tracked down the story. He is best remembered for his self-published I.F. Stone’s Weekly. At its peak in the 1960s, the one-man publication had a circulation of about 70,000. We speak to his biographer, D.D. Guttenplan, and air historic recordings of I.F. Stone at the 1965 Vietnam teach-in in Berkeley, CA, and on The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Twenty years ago today, I.F. Stone died at the age of eighty-one. He was the premier investigative reporter of the twentieth century, a self-described radical journalist.
Born Isidor Feinstein in Philadelphia in 1907, but known to everyone as Izzy, I.F. Stone’s legacy of work spanned the New Deal, World War II, McCarthyism, the Cold War, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, Israel-Palestine and beyond. He scooped reporters right and left. As the FBI tracked him, he tracked down the story.
This is how the late ABC news anchor, Peter Jennings, paid tribute to I.F. Stone on his evening newscast the day after his death, June 18th, 1989.
PETER JENNINGS: Finally, this evening, a brief word about the journalist and author I.F. Stone. He had a truly profound effect on the practice of journalism in America. He was eighty-one when he died yesterday. And from the time he first began to write in the 1920s, he generally found something useful to say.
He always succeeded in prompting other people to think. Sometimes they agreed, sometimes they were outraged, but there was no avoiding a connection with Stone’s intellect and passion. For many people, it’s a rich experience to read or re-read Stone’s views on America’s place in the world, on freedom, on the way government works — and sometimes corrupts.
Very briefly, and in no small measure, to remind ourselves, an observation by Stone on what he thought journalism was all about: in his words, “to write the truth, to defend the weak against the strong, to fight for justice, to bring healing perspectives to bear on the terrible hates and fears of mankind in the hope of someday bringing about a world in which men will enjoy the differences of the human garden, instead of killing each other over them. If you look, you’ll find much more.”
AMY GOODMAN: Peter Jennings remembering I.F. Stone the day after his death.
For more than sixty years, Izzy Stone pioneered his own distinctive brand of journalism, a unique combination of muckraking and scholarship. He often pored over pages and pages of government documents and records looking for facts or inconsistencies that others missed
He is best remembered for his self-published I.F. Stone’s Weekly. At its peak in the ’60s, the one-man publication had a circulation of about 70,000 and ranks in the greatest hits of twentieth century journalism.
Today we spend the hour looking at the life and times of I.F. Stone. I recently interviewed D.D. Guttenplan, the London correspondent for The Nation magazine, the author of a new biography of Stone called American Radical: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone. I began by asking him to start where he begins his book.
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: I start on a morning in December 1949, when I.F. Stone is on Meet the Press. Now, people may not remember that Meet the Press was originally a radio program before it became a TV program. And when Meet the Press started in the mid-’40s, I.F. Stone was one of the regular panelists on the radio program. He was also one of the regular panelists on the TV program.
At that time, Stone was a columnist. He had been a columnist for PM, the left-wing New York daily tabloid that didn’t accept any advertising and changed the way newspapers looked. He was also Washington correspondent for The Nation. So he was a very well-known journalist, the sort of person you would expect to see on one of today’s Sunday chat shows.
And they liked him on Meet the Press, the original producer of Meet the Press told me, because he was a good needler. He was very good at getting under the skin of sort of pompous guests.
And on this particular morning, the person he was battling with was a guy called Dr. Morris Fishbein. Now, in the ’40s, Morris Fishbein was the most famous doctor in America. He was the editor of The Journal of the American Medical Association, and he was the person that the medical and pharmaceutical industries put up to oppose socialized medicine, or national health or a national health insurance. He was the person who coined the phrase “socialized medicine” as a means of discrediting national health insurance.
Fishbein had described the proposals for national health insurance as a step on the road to communism. And so, Stone said to him, “Dr. Fishbein, given that President Truman has already spoken out in favor of national health insurance, do you think that that makes him a dangerous communist or just a deluded fellow traveler?” You know, and it’s familiar, isn’t it? And —-
AMY GOODMAN: But explain that. Explain where President Truman stood.
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Well, President Truman had been, although in many ways very -— he had moved the country to the right on foreign policy, took a very tough line to the Soviet Union, as opposed to Franklin Roosevelt, who had been much cooperative and conciliatory. But he came to office with labor union support. He came to office with working-class support. And he was very much someone who was in favor of controlling healthcare costs. He had seen what a generation of Americans had done and what government had done for them during the Depression. And so — and also, he had been the chair — this is one of the — he had been the chair of the special Senate committee, before he became vice president, on military production, on defense industries.
And I.F. Stone had written a series of scoops in PM exposing the way that — for example, the aircraft industry. The aircraft industry, at the beginning of the first —- of the Second World War, was producing about 500 planes a year. And President Roosevelt said that in order to defeat Hitler, they need to produce 500 planes a day. And basically, Stone pointed out that the aircraft industry had this huge backlog. It didn’t suit them to expand production. They wanted to keep things the way they were. They had a monopoly, just like pharmaceutical companies might have today. So Truman knew that some things are too important to be left to private enterprise, and he felt that healthcare was one of them.
But what’s interesting about this argument that Stone was having with Fishbein is two things: first, that that was the last time I.F. Stone was ever on Meet the Press, and secondly, that he wasn’t again allowed to be on national television for eighteen years. He became a kind of disappeared person in the midst of the McCarthy era.
AMY GOODMAN: Eighteen years?
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Eighteen years he was not on national television again.
AMY GOODMAN: Red-baited?
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Red-baited, but also blacklisted. Very much blacklisted. I mean, he was an identified unabashed public radical at a time when the whole mainstream political discourse was shifting to the right. PM had been a very important but not usually profitable newspaper, but it had lasted eight years. By the time he was on this program, he was on one of its successors, which soon went out of business. And after that, he couldn’t get a job.
AMY GOODMAN: And when you talk about PM changing the face of newspapers, a non-commercial newspaper, you know, today newspapers are being shuttered around the country, and there’s a big discussion about nonprofit media -—
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: — you know, what we in public radio and television have been doing for decades. But what about that, PM being non-commercial, didn’t have advertisements?
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Well, it wasn’t non-profit. In fact, the guy who founded it, Ralph Ingersoll, said, “If we’re any good, we should all become rich,” because he was — he had worked at The New Yorker, he had worked at LIFE magazine, he had worked at Time, Incorporated. He was not a radical, Ralph Ingersoll. But he thought that advertising corrupted journalism, and he wanted journalists to be able to say and report the truth as they saw it. And he felt that people would be willing to pay for that.
And he was right, up to a point. The problem is that the point he was right up to wasn’t sufficient to make a profit in a newspaper in New York City, where the other papers were denying him access to the Associated Press, where the Daily News was getting PM thrown off the newsstands. So it was very — it was a very tough environment. And although PM had a regular readership of about 180,000, it wasn’t enough to keep it going forever, and eventually it went out of business.
But I want to say something else, just shift for a second, which is that the important point about Stone’s disappearance from Meet the Press isn’t so much for the man; it’s that the debate on national healthcare hasn’t moved in sixty years. And in a way, that’s why I open my book with this story, because it shows what happens to our politics and our national conversations when we shut out and suppress the radical voices, that, you know, because these voices were silenced, the conversation on national healthcare — we are less far now — President Obama’s proposals are a less radical than President Truman’s proposals were sixty years ago.
AMY GOODMAN: The issue of corporate control of the media, the issue of who is allowed to speak and who isn’t, well, ultimately led I.F. Stone to start his own weekly. First, give us a little more background on who I.F. Stone was. Let’s back up.
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: And then talk about how he founded this newspaper that would change America.
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Well, he was born in 1907 in Philadelphia to Russian immigrant parents. His father had walked across Europe to England and then taken a boat to basically escape the czar’s army. He grew up, though, in Haddonfield, New Jersey, rather than Philadelphia. He lived part of his early childhood in Indiana. And I think these are significant, because it meant he felt very connected to America. He was not someone who grew up, as my father did, on the streets of the Bronx. He was not someone who many New York intellectuals — like many New York intellectuals who cut their political teeth in the city college cafeteria, you know, where Trotskyists hated Stalinists and where anarchists, you know, derided socialists. As Stone said, “I grew up in a small town. And in a small town, everybody on the left has to get along. You all know each other, and you have to get along, because you’re so outnumbered.” And so, in a way, that shaped his politics very much.
He went to the University of Pennsylvania and dropped out in his junior year, because he basically preferred, as he said, the smell of the newsroom to the smell of the faculty club. He went to work for eventually the Philadelphia Record, which was owned by J. David Stern, a kind of muckraking, crusading newspaper owner, who also eventually bought the New York Post. But Stone actually quit working for the Philadelphia Record in 1927, because he wanted to cover the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, and his boss wouldn’t let him. So he walked off the job out of the newsroom and hitchhiked up to Boston.
AMY GOODMAN: Back up for a minute. Sacco and Vanzetti.
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: OK. Sacco and Vanzetti, two anarchists who were accused and tried and convicted of a payroll robbery in Massachusetts in, I think, 1924. And eventually, they were executed. And Felix Frankfurter, who at that time was a Harvard law professor, basically led the fight to reverse the convictions or to at least get them clemency. A. Lawrence Lowell, who was the president of Harvard at the time, chaired a commission, which was supposed to look into the trial and look into the verdict, and essentially let them die.
And there was a generation of Americans who were, if you like, radicalized by the Russian Revolution. There was a generation of Americans who were radicalized by the Great Depression. Stone was in the middle. And for him and for a whole slice of people like him, Sacco and Vanzetti was the seminal event of their youth. It was, for them, the revelation that the establishment will commit murder to stay in power.
AMY GOODMAN: So he walks off the job.
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: So he walks off the job. He goes up, eventually comes back. He gets another job. He goes back to work for Stern later, because he was very good. He becomes an editorial writer for the Philadelphia Record.
And then, when [Stern] buys the New York Post, which he does partly as a political move — he buys the Post because Stern is very connected to the Democratic Party, and New York City does not have a pro-New Deal newspaper. Franklin Roosevelt has just been elected. So he buys the Post essentially to give the New Deal a voice and a cheering section in New York City. And the day he buys the paper, Stone turns up in New York, and he says, “I’m your chief editorial writer.” And he becomes, at the age of twenty-five, the chief editorial writer for the New York Post, able to write whatever he likes. And essentially he becomes —-
AMY GOODMAN: Just like the New York Post today.
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Just like the New York Post today, exactly. Left-wing, liberal, crusading, always on the side of the worker, absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: Rupert Murdoch, its greatest cheerleader, right.
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: So what happened? Why did he start his own newspaper, his own magazine?
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Well, it’s interesting. In the ’30s, Stone was a very -— he was left-wing, but he was a very conventional, ambitious, successful, enterprising, favor-trading journalist, not unlike lots of people who work in mainstream media today and maybe even some people who work in alternative media today.
AMY GOODMAN: Favor-trading?
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Yes. He wrote speeches for the President but was never acknowledged.
AMY GOODMAN: For Roosevelt.
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: For Roosevelt. Tommy Corcoran, who was Roosevelt’s political lieutenant and his fixer in the White House, recruited Stone to write a book attacking the Supreme Court when the Supreme Court was overturning all of the New Deal legislation in the mid-’30s. Felix Frankfurter put up the money for that book, which Stone — he took, he accepted, accepted expense money from Frankfurter, took a leave from his job, and wrote a book called The Court Disposes, which was attacking the Supreme Court.
He was not in favor of packing the Court. He listed four things you could do about the Court’s opposition to progressive legislation, and packing the Court was his last and least favorite alternative. But in a way, he was part of the similar effort, which was to say, we’ve passed this legislation to deal with the economic crisis, Congress has passed it, the President was elected to do it, but the Court won’t let him do it, because the Court kept on protecting capital.
So — and Stone’s father, who had the dry goods store in New Jersey that he grew up over, the store went out of business in the Depression. He lost all his money, he needed a job. Stone used his contacts in the White House to get his father a job at the US Mint.
So we’re not talking about somebody who’s a saint. We’re talking about a human being who’s trying to get things done, but who is like other human beings and, you know, uses various things, levers that he has within his reach.
Eventually, he parts company with Stern, I think mainly over the Spanish Civil War, because the New York Post was the only paper in New York that supported the Republican government in Spain that opposed Franco. And that mattered because there was a strong — unlike — the Nazis didn’t have a big cheering section in New York City. Mussolini had certain elements of the Italian American community. But basically, fascism was not usually popular in the United States. But in Spain, Franco had the Catholic Church on his side. And so, Stern’s papers, which were supporting the Republican government, were boycotted. The Tablet, the Catholic Church paper in New York in Brooklyn, advocated a boycott of the New York Post in those days. So it cost him a huge amount. And although he kept his position for many years, eventually Stern gave in, changed his mind, published an apology to the Church, stopped speaking up about Spain. And over that and various other causes, he and Stone fell out. He fired Stone, and Stone went then to work full time for The Nation and eventually PM
AMY GOODMAN: D.D. Guttenplan, author of American Radical: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone. When we come back, how the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover tracked his every move. We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to my interview with D.D. Guttenplan, author of American Radical: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone, talking about the political landscape in the early part of Izzy Stone’s career.
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: In the ’30s and the ’40s, Stone’s politics were mainstream. There was a mainstream influential left. The idea was that things like national healthcare, unemployment insurance, Social Security, these were all left proposals, radical proposals, that became — except for national healthcare, became law. And so, there was a sense of a broad coalition, what I, in my book, and most historians call the Popular Front, which stretched from wherever you draw the line on the left, but it certainly included the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, anarchists, libertarians, to liberals, to sort of liberal-leaning Republicans. It was a very broad coalition, and it got a lot of things done. It was the mainstream. It was, in a way, the conventional wisdom of the day.
But after Roosevelt died, that changed. And Truman turned to a more kind of crony, patronage Democratic politics, which — first of all, Stone, although he had known Truman and Truman had been a good source for him as a reporter, he was appalled by that, because he really believed in Roosevelt and the New Deal, and he felt that Truman was not carrying out the New Deal.
But secondly, and in a way just as important, this sense of cooperation, of sort of the essential — that you had to have radicals as part of your coalition in order to get things done and that radicals and liberals could work together, this sense of domestic cooperation was mirrored in the way that the United States and the Soviet Union had combined to defeat Hitler during the war. And so, when Truman and Stalin ceased to cooperate — and, you know, I think Stone thought that there was plenty of fault on both sides in that ending of cooperation, but he felt, in a way, that the Soviet Union had just lost 20 million people in this war and that Stalin, in a way, had reasons to be paranoid and reasons to fear encirclement and things like that. So I suppose he pressed harder on the United States than he did on the Soviet Union.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about nuclear testing, Don Guttenplan.
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: OK. Well, when Stone had no place else to work, he started his own newspaper, I.F. Stone’s Weekly. He started it in 1953. He had 4,000 subscribers at first. When it ended in 1971, he had 70,000 subscribers.
And this is the story of his favorite scoop, and it’s also a good example of the way he worked.
In the ’50s, there was a pressure — there was a campaign, a kind of peace movement, for a nuclear test ban treaty. And the government was sort of — Eisenhower was not necessarily opposed to this, but Edward Teller, who was the father of the H-bomb, he was very much opposed to this.
So, the Soviets came out with a proposal. They said, “We will allow you to have monitoring stations inside the Soviet Union every thousand kilometers,” about every 600 miles, “so that if we test, you’ll be able to pick it up, and that will give you the security to know that we’ll abide by the treaty,” because the opponents to the treaty said, “Well, you can’t trust the Russians,” and Eisenhower said, “Well, we don’t have to trust them if we can monitor them.” Harold Stassen was Eisenhower’s negotiator. And he came back with this proposal.
Within a month, Teller had arranged an underground nuclear test in the US. And the political point of the underground test was to say, “It doesn’t matter if we sign the treaty with the Russians. They’ll cheat. They’ll test underground. And we won’t be able to detect them.” So the government, the Atomic Energy Commission, put out a story saying that the test could only be detected from 200 miles away.
And Stone read this story in the New York Times, his morning paper, but he noticed a shirttail to the story, a little item at the end, saying that it had been picked up in Italy. And he went out and got a later edition of the Times, the late city edition, and he noticed that there was a — it said that they had detected the test in Tokyo. So Stone thought, “That’s interesting,” and he kind of filed it in his — he had this incredible basement file of stories. He’d rip them out of newspapers. He filed it and put it away. He said, “I wish I had the money to go and run this down,” but he was putting out this four-page newspaper all by himself every week, so he didn’t.
A few months later, Stassen comes back with a really solid proposal for listening stations, and Teller says, “It won’t work. The Russians will cheat.” And the Atomic Energy Commission issues an official report saying that tests can only be detected 200 miles. But the official — they issued the report under embargo, meaning reporters get it before it’s disseminated to the public.
So Stone goes out to his file. He finds this clip. And he calls up — he said, “I realized I needed a seismologist.” So he calls up the Coastal and Geodetic Survey department of the government, and he said, “What about these Italian and Japanese detections of this test? What do you think about that?” And they said, “Well, we don’t really believe those. We don’t trust their instruments. But we have listening stations in Fairbanks, Alaska, and they picked up the test. And we have listening stations, you know, all the way up in Nova Scotia, and they picked up the test, and they’re 1,700 miles away — or 2,500 miles away.” And he said, “Oh, really? Can I come down and get a list of stations that — you know, government stations that detected the test?” So he gets in his car, and he drives over to the Coastal Geodetic Survey. And he always says they were thrilled to see him, because they hadn’t seen a reporter down there since the ark landed in Ararat and sent a tremor. And they gave him this list.
And he basically forced the government to admit that they had been mistaken — of course, they never said they lied — that they had been mistaken in claiming 200 miles and that, in fact, listening stations every 600 miles could pick up a test, and that, in fact, our own government listening stations had picked up this underground test from thousands of miles away.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was the fallout of this exposé?
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Well, the fallout —-
AMY GOODMAN: So to speak.
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: —- so to speak, was that it meant that the negotiations continued, and eventually a limited nuclear test ban — it took until the Kennedy administration, but it was a limited nuclear test ban treaty signed, banning all tests, as we know, except underground tests.
AMY GOODMAN: Don Guttenplan, talk about FBI surveillance of I.F. Stone.
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Well, the interesting thing about the Weekly is that it’s the only radical newspaper that I can think of that was founded under the eye of daily FBI surveillance, that what happened is the FBI picked up Stone’s name in some decoded Russian cables from the 1940s that they finally decoded in the ’50s. And because of that — and the truth of why the FBI started watching Stone wasn’t known. When Stone died, and I put in a Freedom of Information request, I was told that they had 6,000 pages of file on Stone, which is about three times as much as they had on Al Capone. So you have to figure there was — the FBI was up to something. But I put in my request in 1990. They didn’t release the truth about these Venona, as they’re called, these Venona decrypts until 1996, and it wasn’t clear that that’s what had started the surveillance of Stone until almost 2000. So, it’s one of the reasons that my book took a long time to write, is that the FBI was very slow in releasing material. And until I got it, I couldn’t find out what was going on.
Anyway, they thought that Stone was a Russian spy. And so, Hoover ordered daily surveillance. Stone was followed. He was followed to Grand Central Station. He was followed to bookstores. We get the names of every Jewish delicatessen in Washington, because they would follow Stone as he went to buy his corned beef sandwiches to take out. We get the names of what were in those days the best Chinese restaurants in Washington, because Stone liked Chinese food. They followed him to driving lessons with his son.
But interestingly, I spoke to Stone’s son, and he said, “Well, it’s not like the FBI was following my father.” I mean, the Stone family had no idea about this surveillance, which is in contrast to, for example, when they were following Carl Bernstein the Watergate reporter’s family around. They made a point of being noticeable, because they wanted to intimidate them.
In Stone’s case, Hoover was a little afraid of him. There are instances in Stone’s file of the FBI saying, “Well, we’re on this other investigation, and the only person who could really tell us what this is about is I.F. Stone. Can we contact him?” And Hoover wrote in his handwritten notes, “Absolutely under no circumstances. He is not to be contacted.” When they were doing surveillance instructions and he was still, at that point, working for a New York newspaper, they said, “It’s difficult to surveil him at the newspaper, because they have plate-glass windows and he might see us. And if he sees us, he’ll expose us in the newspaper.”
So they had to be careful about it, but they followed him every day. They read his mail. They rifled his garbage. They bugged his phones. And after almost two years of this — and those were exactly the two years during which I.F. Stone’s Weekly was starting, so Stone was writing fundraising letters, he was trying to get support. They were opening his mail, so they knew who all of the Weekly subscribers were. Eventually, Hoover said, “Well, we found no evidence, not one item of evidence, to indicate that this man is anything other than he appears, and we’re ending the investigation.”
AMY GOODMAN: And the right’s fixation today on I.F. Stone as a Russian spy?
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Well, I think the right’s fixation today is fascinating, because he’s more attacked now than he was when he died. When he died, his death was on every newscast. You know, Peter Jennings gave a minute-and-a-half eulogy the day he died on ABC News. Now, the right, basically they want to discredit him.
AMY GOODMAN: The date of his death?
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: The day of June 18th, which is — so it’s almost twenty years, June 18th, 1989.
I think the reason is because it’s easy for the right, if everyone on the left is either under the influence of a foreign power or a slave to some kind of ideology that they can discredit. And the thing about Stone is that it’s not that he didn’t have an ideology. He had an ideology. He was a socialist all his life, it was very clear. But he was independent. He was an independent radical. He always said he was a Jeffersonian Marxist, and he believed that Jefferson and the free press was just as important as Marx.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain, a Jeffersonian Marxist.
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Well, Jefferson said, “If I had the choice between a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I’d much rather have newspapers without a government,” that he believed that you needed to have independent scrutiny of power and that the press — in those days, there wasn’t media; it was just the press —- but the press was the only thing that could supply that.
And Stone believed that all his life, so that whenever he would go to eastern European countries, he would always report on the presence or absence of a free press, usually the absence of a free press, and he would always say that no matter what you might hear in radical circles in the US, this country is not free until it has a free press, these countries won’t be free until they have a free press.
But he was also a Marxist in his view of, you know, economic relations, how power works, how economic power influenced politics. So -—
AMY GOODMAN: And what does that mean? How would he look, do you believe, at what has happened today with the economic global meltdown?
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Well, I think he would not be surprised by the extent to which, you know, during the last eight years corporations essentially called the tune and were allowed to do whatever they liked. But again, it kind of goes back to the anecdote about Meet the Press, because even before George W. Bush was president, in the Clinton years, you had a consensus which excluded radical voices. So, you know, you had a kind of consensus which was to the left of the Bush consensus, but it was a consensus where — which was very rigidly policed. And, you know, you were — certain kinds of liberal voices were OK, but radical voices were excluded, marginalized, silenced. And I think, in a way, that’s an explanation or part of the explanation for the kind of political stillbirth of Clinton’s more progressive programs, is that they tried to do them without ever having a movement or being connected to a movement and, indeed, by trying to silence the movement that might have brought these things to pass.
AMY GOODMAN: I.F. Stone famously said, “All governments lie.”
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Yes, but he also said the truth slips out, because they lie, but they put out so much information that they can’t always hide things.
I want to talk about Vietnam for just a second, because, in a way, the most important issue of I.F. Stone’s Weekly was in 1965 after the State Department put out a white paper on Vietnam justifying the American escalation of the war. And they basically painted the Viet Cong as tools of North Vietnam who were, in turn, tools of Moscow and China, so that the whole war could have been stopped, in the view of the Johnson administration, which later became the view of the Nixon administration, if you put sufficient pressure on Moscow and China.
And what Stone showed was — he basically went to the appendix. He always said you should read a government document from the back, because that’s where they put the stuff they don’t want you to notice, which they have to include, but they don’t want you to notice it. So at the back of the State Department white paper was a report on weapons captured by the US forces in Vietnam. And Stone showed — it was a detailed list — that 95 percent of these weapons were made in the West, that they were either American or British, and that they had obviously been captured by the army of — you know, the Vietnamese army that we were arming, so that, you know, far from being a Moscow-equipped and —backed force, the Viet Cong were an indigenous native opposition to the South Vietnamese government and that their -— and their weapons came from the weapons we were giving to the army that they were defeating.
And this — in a sense, what was important about it is, first of all, that it exposed the government’s big lie about Vietnam, and secondly, it gave legitimacy and credibility to the opposition, because it came out of the time when, for example, the Students for a Democratic Society were trying to decide what was the big issue to organize around in the United States. And they asked Stone to speak to them. And that’s sort of interesting, because he was a lot older than they were. And, you know, in general, they didn’t have a lot of time for journalists of his generation. He was the only journalist asked to speak at the first Vietnam War Moratorium. And he basically said, “Look, the government is carrying on this war, and there’s no peace movement here.” You know, there were stirrings of a peace movement, but it had been so terrorized by McCarthyism and so marginalized that he felt that that was the most important cause, and that was what they should throw themselves into wholeheartedly.
AMY GOODMAN: This is the speech he gave in 1965 at the Berkeley teach-in?
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Well, this was before. This was a talk he gave to the national leadership of SDS before there were any teach-ins. I mean, essentially, he said — because there was some debate. Some people in SDS thought they should organize around apartheid in South Africa as the most important issue. Some people wanted to organize around campus issues. And Stone said these are all important issues, but Vietnam is happening, there’s a war going on, and there’s no organized opposition to it.
AMY GOODMAN: Civil rights movement?
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: The civil rights movement, by ’65, was, you know, in full flower. But Stone was a huge and early supporter of the civil rights movement. And I think what’s interesting about his relationship to the civil rights movement is that in 1954, before Rosa Parks, Stone wrote in the Weekly, “The American Negro needs a Gandhi to lead him, and we need the American Negro to lead us.” Stone consistently thought that America did not deserve the patience of African Americans, that they were much more patient in getting their rights than this country deserved.
But he also — and this is very unusual for a white journalist of his generation, and probably of later generations — he realized that the civil rights struggle had to be led by blacks, that it could not be something that white liberals did for blacks. And he realized that there had to be an indigenous African American movement for that to happen. And when it happened, he greeted it, supported it, publicized it immediately.
AMY GOODMAN: And the issue, what many will call a false dichotomy between advocacy and journalism, his views on this?
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Well, his views were that you can either be — he said two things that I think are important. He didn’t believe in objective journalism. He said people who talk about objective journalism are basically just trying to make you say the same things that everybody else says to enforce a consensus.
He did say, though, that journalists have a choice to be either consistent or honest, that if you’re worried about what you reported last week and whether what you’re reporting now is consistent with it, you’re going to end up distorting what you say in order to maintain consistency. So he felt you needed to be prepared to be, and allow yourself to be, surprised by facts. And it was Stone’s willingness to be surprised by facts that, in a way, makes him such a good read.
But he certainly believed in and was part of a tradition that is much older than the tradition of objective journalism, and that’s the muckraking tradition, the tradition that if you tell people the truth, then they’ll be able to take action.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Israel-Palestine?
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Israel-Palestine. Well, Stone went first to Palestine in 1945. He was in America during the Second World War, but as soon as the war was over, he went to the DP camps in Europe, for the displaced persons camps where Holocaust survivors were living, many of them, in the same places and in pretty similar conditions to those that they had been under the Nazis. Stone wrote, “We treat them the same way the Nazis do, except for we give them more coffee.” And he, in 1946, went back and was the first journalist to run the British blockade to Palestine.
On neither of these trips was Stone either a Zionist or an anti-Zionist. He was like most American Jews: he was neither. But he became convinced by what he saw in Europe that the Jews in Europe did not want to go back to Poland or to Germany, where they’d be — where they had been, you know, turned in by their neighbors. They wanted to go to Palestine. And he very much supported their right to go to Palestine.
But he also — when he went to Palestine, he saw something that for some reason seemed to escape many other American journalists. He saw that there were already people there. And he wrote in ’46, “I never met an Arab in Palestine who favored a Jewish state, and I never met a Jew in Palestine who claimed to know an Arab who favored a Jewish state.” So Stone’s position, until 1948, was for a bi-national state, Jews and Palestinians each having a kind of political identity or an ethnic identity inside a unitary state.
When Israel was born, Stone was in the room. He was there when David Ben-Gurion signed the Declaration of the State of Israel in May 1948. He reported Israel’s war for independence under fire from the frontlines. It was his first experience and only experience of, you know, being a war correspondent, being shot at, being dive-bombed. And he was incredibly passionate about Israel’s survival and remained passionate about Israel’s survival his whole life.
But even in ’48, he wrote a book called Underground to Palestine, which was the story of his odyssey with the refugees. And when he got back to the US, it was published in ’48, and it became a huge sort of fundraising, you know, propaganda book for the Haganah, which was trying to raise money for weapons. But American Zionists offered to finance a huge advertising campaign for the book, they said, “if you would take out one sentence.” And that was the sentence where he said that there should be a bi-national state and that the Palestinians needed a state and had just as much right to a state as the Jews did. He refused to take out the sentence; they refused to spend the money on the advertising.
He stopped going to Israel in 1950, because the State Department wouldn’t give him a passport. But as soon as he got his passport back, in part because of a legal victory by his brother-in-law Leonard Boudin, who forced the State Department to not — who kept the State Department from taking away your passport for political reasons, who established the right to travel, Stone got his passport back and went to Israel again in ’56, before the Suez War. And he wrote two things. He wrote, “Israel is a transformed country. What was once a struggling country is now a thriving country. Economically, it’s booming. It will win — it’s prepared for war and will win, you know, the next war or the next war after that militarily.” He said, “But there will be wars and wars and wars until Israel comes to terms with the Palestinians.” He wrote in 1956, “The road to peace lies through the Palestinian refugee camp.”
AMY GOODMAN: Don Guttenplan, I want to thank you very much for being with us.
D.D. GUTTENPLAN: Been a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: D.D. Guttenplan, author of American Radical: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone. For a copy of today’s show, go to democracynow.org. When we come back, we’ll hear I.F. Stone, in his own words, on war and more. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: In his seventies and eighties, I.F. Stone turned his attention to a lifelong fascination, the study of the classics. In 1988, the year before he died, I.F. Stone published his last book, The Trial of Socrates, that examined one of the most famous historical events of Ancient Greece. In one of his last major TV appearances, I.F. Stone was interviewed by Robert MacNeil on The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. This an excerpt from March 22nd, 1988.
ROBERT MacNEIL: Let me put one of your sentences to you, concerning its a propos, of its relevance. You say, “Athens was free of the paranoia that has begun to affect our own society in the era of the national security state.” Elaborate on that a little bit. Why “begun to affect,” when some people would say that the McCarthy era, which preoccupied you so much in the earlier days of your journalism, is long past, that if that was a time of paranoia, things are very different now? Why “begun to affect”?
I.F. STONE: Well, because I don’t think it — I think the paranoia receded. And it’s not a new factor in American history. In the wake of the French Revolution, as you know, under John Adams, at the end of the eighteenth century, we had the Alien and Sedition Laws and fear of dangerous ideas coming in from France. And then we had a good deal of hysteria about the abolitionists before the Civil War and a good deal of hysteria in the latter part of the nineteenth century about the anarchists, especially when several presidents were assassinated. And then, right after the First World War, there was a lot of excitement about the Russian Revolution. So there have been these paranoid periods.
Whereas in Athens, the great — the Franklin D. Roosevelt of Athens, Solon, about two centuries before Socrates, in establishing the democracy, by which I mean by opening the right to vote to the poor as well as the well-to-do and the middle class, provided not only freedom of speech and assembly, but also the right of association, so that the aristocratic opposition, some of it oligarchic and loyal, but some of it very disloyal, a very small fringe, pro-Spartan, had organized these clubs and secret conspiracies that Plato refers — that Socrates refers to. These were never prosecuted, because there was a right of association.
And their views are regarded as very good jokes. You know, some years before the first dictatorship, that of the 400, Aristophanes wrote a play called The Birds, and he invented a word for this disloyaled youth. He called them “Socratified.” That’s a good English translation, perfect translation, of the Greek word “esokritaun.” It means exactly that: Socratified. And pictured them as long-haired, dirty, unwashed. The Athenians were very fastidious.
ROBERT MacNEIL: The sort of things people were saying about — the establishment were saying about kids in the ’60s in this country.
I.F. STONE: Yeah, yeah.
ROBERT MacNEIL: Is this a paranoid society now, do you think, this American society?
I.F. STONE: No, I don’t think it’s a paranoid society. I think it’s very impressive how we got rid of McCarthyism. We got rid of McCarthyism in a fascinating way. First of all, the leadership was taken by conservatives and, in fact, a couple of reactionaries. He was a crypto-fascist, really. It was done by the Senate, and the Senate is a club, in a good sense. People’s word is a matter of honor. A lot of the work is done in the cloak room. And McCarthy had begun to play the same dirty tricks on fellow members of the Senate that he did on members of the bureaucracy, collecting political scandal and sexual scandal about homosexuals. So they censured him. They censured him. They marked him as a bounder, as the English would say. And it broke his heart. He wasn’t sent to jail. He wasn’t deprived of his seat. They just marked him down as a no-good SOB, and that was it. And it was beautiful. It was not brutal. It was not dictatorial. They just decided he was no good.
ROBERT MacNEIL: What do you think about the tolerance? I mean, you’ve been writing about 2,400 years ago, and the issue was freedom of speech, free speech. What do you think about the tolerance for free speech in America today?
I.F. STONE: Well, free speech has always had to battle in every society and every age, and in fact in every group. Even little coteries of radicals have their party line, and if you go against it, well, you find your freedom of speech looked at askance.
But if you look at it objectively, in large terms, we have a tradition that is more powerful than that of any other Western society when it comes to freedom of speech. Our Whigs were, unlike the British Whigs of the seventeenth century, were the children of the French Enlightenment and not afraid to utter large and potentially explosive generalities about the equality of man, about freedom. So the Constitution itself and the Bill of Rights embody the Enlightenment and the best fruits of the English, American and French revolution. Whereas in Europe, generally, constitutions are full of ifs and buts. The Weimar Constitution had emergency clauses, did no good against Hitler. The Austrian Constitution has a multitude of ifs and buts. The French, after affirming freedom of speech and press and assembly in the French Revolution, then backed away a bit, and it’s not quite as sacred.
So I consider an ancient Athens, the 200 years of freedom, one of the bright spots of human history. And I think the 200 years of the American republic is comparable as one of the bright — in between, there’s such a wilderness of bigotry, persecution, murder. And talk about the follies of the common man, look at the follies of the uncommon man, how many stupid and silly ideas people were burned at the stake for advancing. So, it’s precarious. It’s always precarious. It’s always going to have to be fought for. It’s the sacred American ideology, so that those of us who are just satyrs and mavericks can feel part of the American tradition. This is the Jeffersonian — we’re the representatives of the Jeffersonian idea. And the other side is a little bit ashamed of it and a little bit on the defensive.
AMY GOODMAN: That was I.F. Stone interviewed by Robin MacNeil on The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. He died the next year on June 18th, 1989, twenty years ago today. We want to end today’s show by going back to 1965, to Izzy Stone speaking at the University of California, Berkeley, Vietnam teach-in. This is courtesy of the Pacifica Radio Archives.
I.F. STONE: I cannot understand the fury in the press and among the respectables against the teach-ins. The State Department has it almost entirely its own way. The government line dominates the press and the radio and the TV. Why are they so frantic? When, for a little while, in a few moments and on a few campuses and a few places, a voice of dissent is heard, a little bit of debate has begun. Are they so unsure of themselves? Are they secretly so weak about their own point of view that they fear to have it exposed to public debate and public examination? You know, when the State Department holds its conferences, it never invites the opposition. It never invites a critic. It doesn’t even invite critical newspapermen to private briefings, for fear they might ask embarrassing questions. The atmosphere of the State Department is very much like that of the big government agencies in Moscow. You get the same apparatchik atmosphere, the same regurgitation by bureaucratic parrots of the official line. And this is what we have to deal with in our own country.
You know, there’s a great deal we don’t know about war and about why men fight. We know a lot about what people have said were the reasons they were fighting for. But modern psychology has taught us that the explanations people give for their activities are rarely the truth. And so it is in this case.
One of the reasons for all the trouble our country is in around the world, I think, is that we possess so huge a military establishment. If a country doesn’t have soldiers, it takes a slight and makes a protest, and that’s the end of it. But when it has an enormous military apparatus like ours, the tendency is to try to solve all kinds of political and economic questions by military means, a process that’s something like trying to repair a watch with a sledgehammer. And conversely, as long as we have a large military establishment, it’s going to be looking for work to do to maintain its appropriations, to get its promotions, to prove its usefulness, and to avoid technological unemployment. And all this miasma about wars of liberation that is so central to what is happening today in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic is really a reflection of the military’s desire to find work to do. The “war of liberation” neurosis is made to order for the military.
AMY GOODMAN: I.F. Stone, investigative journalist extraordinaire, speaking in 1965 against the Vietnam War. He died on June 18th, 1989, twenty years ago today. Special thanks to the Pacifica Radio Archives.