Izzy Feinstein grew up admiring the muckrakers of the early twentieth century, and then he himself became one of the best of them. Quotations from him are often as applicable now as they were when he uttered them. He is now better known as I. F. Stone, the name he and his family legally adopted late in 1937 when Izzy was thirty years old and fascism looked like the face of the future. There was Adolf Hitler’s spread through Europe and the Stalin-Hitler pact, German Bundists in America, and the Spanish Civil War. Izzy told his brother Lou that opposing fascism was of extreme importance “and that there was a tendency, when you had a writer by the name of Feinstein, to discount whatever he wrote because he was Jewish.” Although he had written articles for various magazines and political journals, the public had little reason to notice the name change.
Paying attention to what Stone had to say helped twentieth century readers gain a greater perspective of how their world was changing. Myra MacPherson, herself a long-time reporter of the Washington scene, is one such person. Her admiration for Stone is clear throughout “All Governments Lie!”: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I. F. Stone as is her general agreement with his political leanings.
At thirty, Izzy had already spent nearly half of his life as a chief editorial writer for major metropolitan newspapers. At the early age of fourteen he had already been a publisher, with his four-page The Progress discussing not high school issues, but world affairs. Later he told friends, “I started as a publisher and worked my way down.”
When Izzy was sixteen, publisher J. David Stern of the Philadelphia Record hired him as a local correspondent. Soon he was writing editorials for the Record. In 1931 he became the youngest chief editorial writer of a major American newspaper. In 1933 when Stern bought The New York Post, he brought Izzy along. This was well before the era of newspaper consolidation, and the Post was one of sixteen papers in New York Cityall with conservative editorial bents. Stern and Feinstein turned the Post into the first liberal voice in New York City.
In 1940 another liberal voice emerged when Ralph Ingersoll created the PM tabloid, and Stone was welcomed there. More than ten thousand reporters applied to write for PM. One of the lucky two hundred hired, Stone exposed the profiteering of United States oil companies selling oil to Hitler’s Germany in 1941 and other corporate dealings with the Axis. He railed at Secretary of State Cordell Hull for supporting the Vichy government of Nazi-occupied France. After Stone wrote about the Civil Service Commission “victimizing” suspected liberals in the government, the commission revised its regulations to protect them.
PM did not survive the nation’s turn to the right after World War II, and Stone signed on with the new Daily Compass, which MacPherson calls “the last fling in New York leftist newspapers.” That paper did not last long either. When it folded in 1952, Stone started I. F. Stone’s Weekly. He produced it for nineteen years, when ill health caused him to shut it down. He continued to write, however, until his death in 1989.
For any investigative journalist, Stone was an inspiration and a model to be learned from. He was, as MacPherson calls him, a “human fact-finding machine.” Early in the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he taught himself constitutional law so he could read and understand Supreme Court decisions. Invited to a dinner with three famous legal scholars, he “boned up for that dinner as if I was boning up for an examination” and proceeded to astonish the lawyers with his knowledge. When he was nearly seventy, he learned to read ancient Greek so he could experience Homer, Sappho, and Plato in the original language. He then went on to write a successful book, The Trial...
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