Izzy Stone: A pre-blogging blogger

Christopher Hitchens has written a thoughtful review of Myra MacPherson’s biography of I.F. Stone. Hitch signs off like this:

I possess a fairly full set of I. F. Stone’s Weekly, as well as all his books and several anthologies of his essays, and rereading them lately has made me morose as well as exhilarated. Some of the old battles now seem prehistoric: as it happens, Izzy never believed that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were innocent, and as it happens he was as right about that as he was wrong about the Hitler-Stalin pact. I recognized my own middle age in his confession of angst about the writer’s life: “The perpetual gap between what one would have liked to get down on paper and what finally did get itself written and printed, the constant feeling of inadequacy.” (His italics.) I also moaned with shame at the current state of the profession. Even the slightest piece written by Izzy was composed with a decent respect for the King’s English and usually contained at least one apt allusion to the literature and poetry and history that undergirded it: an allusion that he would expect his readers to recognize. Who now dares to do that? Who would now dare to say, as he did as an excited eyewitness, that there was still something “saccharine” about Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” oration? The rule of saccharine rhetoric and bland prose is now near absolute, and one could almost envy Izzy the sad deafness and myopia that allowed him to tune out the constant bawling from electronic media. I once had the honor of being the I. F. Stone fellow at Berkeley (where his old typewriter is enclosed in a glass case: probably the most hagiography he could have stood), and I told my students to read him and reread him to get an idea of the relationship between clean and muscular prose and moral and intellectual honesty. Perhaps I could invite you to do the same, if only to get an idea of what we have so casually decided to do without.

Paul Berman’s New York Times review says, en passant:

He was especially shrewd at explaining how the government, by playing to the vanity of individual journalists, was able to manipulate the news. MacPherson, who used to work at The Washington Post (and has written a book on the Vietnam War), quotes him saying, “Once the secretary of state invites you to lunch and asks your opinion, you’re sunk” — which may not be true of every reporter who ever lived, but does point to a recognizable human frailty.

And the relevance to our own time is hard to escape, given our own recent experiences with disastrous policies, official mendacities and a sometimes error-prone and manipulated press. To read Stone’s description of clueless Americans wandering around Saigon in 1966, reprinted in “The Best of I. F. Stone,” is to plunge into glum reflections on the Green Zone of Baghdad, 40 years later…