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Associated Press

Happy Birthday, I.F. Stone, Muckraking Journalist

December 24, 2010
by Isabel Cowles
I.F. Stone’s reporting career spanned six and a half decades, and eight major publications. He is best remembered for his newsletter, I.F. Stone’s Weekly, wherein he scrutinized the government and the press, exposing injustices of the McCarthy and Vietnam era.

I.F. Stone’s Early Days

I.F. Stone was born Isidor Feinstein on Dec. 24, 1907, to Russian-Jewish parents in Philadelphia. By the time Stone was a sophomore in high school, he was running his own independent newspaper.

Stone studied philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania while working as a cub reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer. When the publication offered him a full-time position, Stone abandoned college and became a professional journalist.

In 1933, Stone took a job at the New York Post, a position that allowed him to begin actively expressing his left-leaning political views, most notably through his support of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal.

Stone’s Journalism Career

Stone’s journalistic career spanned 65 years and included work for eight publications. After working for the Post, Stone became associate editor of The Nation in 1939. From 1940 to 1948 he wrote for PM, a New York leftist newspaper. 

In 1952, Stone wrote “The Hidden History of the Korean War,” a book that accused the government of fabricating the origins of the war. Stone grew increasingly vocal in his dissent against the government; in 1953, he began a four-page newsletter for which he is most prominently remembered, I.F. Stone’s Weekly.

The newsletter exposed several government deceptions. For example, the government claimed that the Atomic Energy Commission’s first underground atomic test could only be detected within a radius of 200 miles; in fact, it was detected 2,600 miles away.

The information contained in his newsletter came primarily from press and documentation, rather than from individuals. According to The New York Times, Stone read at least 10 newspapers per day to gather his information.

The opinions and facts expressed in Stone’s weekly newsletter appeared to be prescient. Victor Navasky, Publisher Emeritus of The Nation, wrote that I.F. Stone’s Weekly proved to be “right about McCarthyism, right about the war in Vietnam … right about what he called, long before the US invasion of Iraq, the ‘Pax Americana.’”

More important, Stone’s work empowered fellow journalists to openly question government choices, an especially intimidating task in the paranoid atmosphere that characterized the McCarthy era. Meanwhile, Stone himself was under constant surveillance by the FBI; by the end of his life, his file was approximately 5,000 pages thick.

The Rest of the Story

After a heart attack in 1968, Stone’s newsletter ran bi-weekly; it ceased publication altogether in 1971. He continued to write avidly for publications such as The Nation and the New York Review of Books until his death from another heart attack on June 18, 1989.

Stone was committed to expressing the truth his entire life. At age 14, he had this to say concerning the debates about evolution at the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee: “There still seem to be many worthy gentlemen … who wish to anchor the world in a sea of narrow minds (including their own) and hold it there, lest it move forward …They are utterly out of place in this age of rationalism.” 

Perhaps one of Stone’s most enduring legacies was his style of writing, which became increasingly sharp and scathing after his teenage years. Seen by many as one of the first muckrakers, Stone’s style and wit are said to have influenced modern journalists like Seymour Hersh.

A recent article commemorating Stone’s would-be 100th birthday even suggests that Stone was the first blogger, even though he died before the spread of the Internet. According to The Village Voice blog Runnin’ Scared, “By poring over the Congressional Record and scrutinizing government documents that the rest of the press largely passed over, Stone regularly scooped the major dailies and newsmagazines.”

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