The late, great I. F. stone

When I think of great American journalists, I do not think of people like Edward R. Murrow that the media establishment reveres. I think of I. F. Stone. His basic working principle was that you had to assume that governments lie and work from there. He later extended that principle to corporations too.

His excellent 1952 book The Hidden History of the Korean War exposed the US government’s lies about that war, not by cultivating inside sources or attending government briefings but by piecing together the actual hard information and analyzing all the inconsistencies. It was a brilliant piece of journalism but just one part of a vast body of work that included figuring out that Lyndon Johnson had likely manufactured the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident that enabled him to get public approval for his disastrous escalation of the Vietnam war.

Victor Navasky described how Stone got scoop after scoop while working pretty much alone with no big institution backing him.

[H]e never attended presidential press conferences, cultivated no highly placed inside sources and declined to attend off-the-record briefings, time and again he scooped the most powerful press corps in the world.

His method: To scour and devour public documents, bury himself in The Congressional Record, study obscure Congressional committee hearings, debates and reports, all the time prospecting for news nuggets (which would appear as boxed paragraphs in his paper), contradictions in the official line, examples of bureaucratic and political mendacity, documentation of incursions on civil rights and liberties. He lived in the public domain. It was his habitat of necessity, because use of government sources to document his findings was also a stratagem. Who would have believed this cantankerous-if-whimsical Marxist without all the documentation?

Note the similarity to the exposes of NSA abuses. Without access to Snowden’s government documents, who would have believed the journalists who wrote about them?

Stone actually avoided socializing with political figures because he did NOT want to get to know them and like them because he felt that it would dull the edge of his criticisms. He would have nothing but contempt for much of the establishment media these days and things like the White House Correspondents Dinner. But fortunately there are some who are inspired by him and follow that same model.

For those unfamiliar with him, there is now a documentary titled The Legacy of I. F. Stone that you can watch.

Part 1:

Part 2:


  1. Chiroptera says

    I haven’t read much of Stone’s journalism (although I am aware of his reputation), but I did enjoy The Trial of Socrates very much. I’ll never read Plato’s dialogues in the same way again.

  2. jimmyfromchicago says

    With governments and politicians, the question is always “Why are they telling this particular lie at this particular time?”

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