National Commentary

Helen Thomas: Izzy Stone: From Iconoclast To Icon

WASHINGTON — A brilliant biography of the controversial newspaper columnist I.F. Stone — whose career spanned most of the historical highlights of the 20th century — resonates with the political scene today.

Journalist Myra MacPherson vividly retraces the life and times of the rebel newsman in her new book titled "All Governments Lie."

An iconoclast and a pariah who became a journalistic icon in later life, Stone started his own newspaper at the age of 14. Known to friends and foes as "Izzy," Stone rooted for the underdog in the turbulent labor and racial struggles of last century and later battled fascism and McCarthy witch hunts.

He was a leftist, sure, socialist, probably, but not a card-carrying communist, according to MacPherson.

Nonetheless, he was often dubbed a "commie" by his political detractors, especially J. Edgar Hoover, the formidable FBI director, who kept voluminous files on him.

Long before former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush succeeded in demonizing the label "liberal," Stone was indeed a liberal until the day he died in 1989 at the age of 81.

In 1941, Stone escorted William H. Hastie, a black man and dean of Howard University Law School, to the all-white, all-male National Press Club but they were never served "not even a glass of water," MacPherson wrote.

Stone resigned when his protest received little support from fellow members. Toward the end of his life, he was lauded at a club award luncheon.

The first black member was taken into the club in 1955 and women were admitted as members in 1971.

Stone’s defiant views were self-published in the "I.F. Stone Weekly." This newspaper had a small circulation but a large impact on readers, who sought more than the compliant mainstream press had to offer.

Stone was far ahead of his colleagues in detecting the rise of fascism and Hitler.

"Izzy’s remarkable immediacy leaps off the pages," MacPherson wrote. "His views take on vital importance as if he had just written them this morning, illuminating the tumultuous first five years of the twenty-first century."

Stone wrote of U.S. policy: "There was increased reliance at home and abroad on suppression by force and an increasingly arrogant determination ‘to go it alone’ in the world."

MacPherson notes that Stone wrote this during the Cold War escalation, but it could have been written when President Bush ignored the United Nations, colleagues, international treaties, and advice of allies and started a war by invading Iraq in 2003.

MacPherson was struck when Stone said that "all governments are run by liars," and it inspired the title of her book.

Stone’s view of federal fibs "was not about the weapons of mass destruction or subsequent other Iraq War lies," MacPherson writes, but about lies told during the Vietnam War.

Stone’s writings recalled past limitations of American liberties during times of fear of anarchists and communists, MacPherson wrote, adding: "This was not about the excesses of the Patriot Act but about investigative assaults and secret surveillance of citizens in 1949."

The First Amendment was Stone’s "bible and Jefferson his God," she said.

Stone never stopped preaching against secrecy in government, MacPherson said, and he combed government documents for that he called the "significant trifle" which gave him deeper insight into Washington doings.

MacPherson said Stone wrote "millions upon millions of words on everything from Woodrow Wilson’s peace initiatives to Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars."

Stone, born to immigrant Russian Jewish parents, "had a roiling history with fellow Jews," MacPherson wrote. He was "beloved when he became the first reporter to travel illegally with Holocaust survivors to Palestine, he was soon denounced by some as a Jew hater for championing the rights of displaced Palestinians," she said.

Stone was attacked for thinking the road to peace with Communist regimes was through diplomacy rather than tough threats of war. He felt vindicated when President Richard M. Nixon made his breakthrough trip to China and Reagan — ardent foe of the "evil empire" — went to a Moscow summit meeting.

As long as he lived, Stone fought against bigotry and for individual freedom, the rights of man and a free press. Through it all he used to say: "I’m having so much fun I ought to be arrested."