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When done well, journalism is an intellectual pursuit. In fact, all journalists today who have intellectual pretensions owe something to I.F. Stone. As a new anthology that includes 65 of his essays will show, Stone used allusions to Socrates, Martin Luther, and other decidedly unfashionable historical figures while writing the contemporary journalism of expos�. Born in 1907, I.F. Stone is nearly forgotten today. His expos�s became part of the national consciousness in the 1950s, when he started a newsletter that allowed him to report and comment, from outside the traditional newsroom, about government and politics, war and peace. Stone had no reason to believe that his four-page Washington, D.C., newsletter, I.F. Stone’s Weekly, would succeed financially or in any other way. Yet Stone kept the newsletter afloat from 1953 until 1971, achieved fame through it, and is remembered today as an iconoclastic muckraker. Stone’s critics tended to smear him as an unpatriotic rabble-rouser, but Stone didn’t fall into any traditional definition of “liberal,” and he certainly wasn’t a “conservative.” The anthology, The Best of I.F. Stone, is edited by Karl Weber for PublicAffairs. The editor-in-chief of PublicAffairs, Peter Osnos, learned from Stone as an intern on the newsletter. Osnos later went on to work at The Washington Post. He shares his recollections in the anthology’s opening. The anthology allows Stone to speak for himself. But there is also a second new book, a biography by Myra MacPherson, which provides useful interpretation of Stone’s words and deeds. As MacPherson notes, Stone admonished his fellow muckrakers, “If you want to know about governments, all you have to know is two words, �governments lie.’ ” Exposing official lies was Stone’s greatest legacy, but there was an important flip side to his skepticism. Stone, writes MacPherson, “ never stopped praising the American freedoms that allowed him to speak and to think as he did. That is why he fought so hard against those who were bent on tarnishing them.” Those flip sides of Stone only hint at his many dimensions. All Governments Lie! The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone (Scribner), which took MacPherson more than a decade to complete, is worth the wait. The personal side of Stone wasn’t always as admirable as the professional side. He sometimes treated his loving wife condescendingly, paid little attention to his children, and exhibited impatience with interns. Still, the reasons to admire the private Stone far outnumber the reasons to dislike him. Lots of biographers, myself included, find that the more they come to know their subjects, the less they can muster admiration. Not MacPherson, a longtime newspaper, magazine, and book journalist: “Today, Izzy’s remarkable immediacy leaps off the pages. Not only is he a sheer joy to read, his views take on vital importance, sounding as if he had written them this morning.” MacPherson’s book works for two reasons: the breadth and depth of her research about Stone, and its unusual hybrid nature. It is a biography, sure, meant both as a fact-based examination of his life and as a document to defend Stone from, she says, “posthumous lies perpetuated by today’s right-wing media.” But it is a biography with an unusually rich context. MacPherson also weaves in a historical treatise on the press as well as Stone’s perspective on 20th-century America. Stone got his start as a teenage newspaper journalist in Philadelphia and New York City in the 1920s. From the start, he had no problem being considered a troublemaking outcast. It certainly brought him powerful enemies. Stone’s FBI file is thick, in part because he never stopped opening the curtain on J. Edgar Hoover’s secretive abuse of power. Stone called Hoover a “glorified Dick Tracy” and a “sacred cow” within government. The charges were true, but other journalists never dared to publish them while Hoover lived. Stone’s gutsy, relentless reporting played a role in ending Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s reign of anti-Communist terror, and information he uncovered about President Richard Nixon’s paranoid tendencies helped observers grasp that Nixon was making crucial decisions based on something other than logic. Stone influenced today’s investigative reporting by never kowtowing to those in government and by his close reading of documents previously thought boring or otherwise untouchable. The skepticism about government that emerged during the Vietnam War, partly due to Stone’s muckraking, led to his enshrinement as a journalistic icon. His war reporting received so much attention that the newsletter made money for a change. The charm of MacPherson’s book comes from passages like this about Stone and his newsletter during that era: “A toiler outside the system, Stone was never one to take a vow of poverty and reveled in buying his wife a mink coat, joking that he had become a war profiteer. His irredeemable optimism made it all sound simple, but he worked long and furiously, relying on his own digging, so that by the time he approached an official he was ready to confront him with facts.”
Steve Weinberg is a freelance investigative journalist in Columbia, Mo. He is old enough to have read Stone’s newsletter during its final years of publication.

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