Radical Writer I. F. Stone Wasn't A Paid Soviet Agent: He'd 'Perform Tasks' For Free
The Washington journalist Myra MacPherson has written a worshipful book about the radical leftist journalist I.F. Stone. A dozen years ago Stone's reputation was rocked when a retired KGB officer seemed to finger Stone as a paid agent of the Soviet Union. MacPherson evidently went to great pains to disprove this charge, and in her book she triumphantly claims to have done so. But, as Paul Berman explains in a fascinating review of her book (and a new collection of Stone's writing), MacPherson "seems not to notice that in her ardor to rescue Stone from his enemies, she has yanked the rope a little too firmly and has accidentally hanged the man." Berman continues:
MacPherson informs us that Kalugin, having specified that Stone was never on the Soviet payroll, described Stone as a "fellow traveler" — meaning a friendly supporter of the Soviet cause, though not a disciplined member of any Communist organization. Kalugin explained (in words no admirer of I. F. Stone will want to read) that Stone "began his cooperation with the Soviet intelligence long before me, based entirely on his view of the world." Stone was "willing to perform tasks." He would "find out what the views of someone in the government were or some senator on such and such an issue."
MacPherson beams a benign light on those remarks. She observes that, first, there is a world of difference between merely cooperating with the K.G.B. and actively serving as an espionage agent; and, second, any proper journalist would leap at the opportunity to chat with well-connected functionaries of a foreign power; and, third, many a Washington big shot has conducted back-channel conversations with foreign governments. And so forth, one exculpatory point after another, each of which seems reasonable enough, except that, when you add them up, the sundry points seem to have missed the point. Stone, after all, has been extolled as a god, or, at least, an inspiring model for the journalists of today, and while it is good to distinguish between cooperation and espionage, and excellent to learn that Stone sought out acquaintances in many a dark corner, something about his willingness "to perform tasks" as part of his longtime "cooperation with Soviet intelligence" is bound to make us wonder, What on earth was that about?
So Stone didn't work for the totalitarian government in Moscow. He merely "performed tasks" for the Soviet Union for free, out of conviction. I confess that in the past, I have described Stone as a paid agent. That wasn't true. What he was, though, was every bit as despicable.
Stone was lionized by the liberal media elite when he died in 1989. First, one item from MediaWatch:
PETER'S PUFFERY. When I.F. Stone, Marxist author, journalist, and publisher of I.F. Stone's Weekly died on June 18, his passing drew attention from all four network news shows. The next night Peter Jennings took time to pay special tribute to Stone's career at the end of World News Tonight. Although Stone had called himself "half a Jeffersonian, half a Marxist," and had supported every leftist cause from Stalin to the Sandinistas, Jennings declared: "He generally found something useful to say...For many people, it's a rich experience to read or re-read Stone's views on America's place in the world, on freedom, on the way government works, and sometimes corrupts."
Jennings found Stone's novel definition of what journalism "was all about" particularly meaningful and recited it approvingly: "To defend the weak against the strong, to fight for justice, to bring healing perspectives to bear on the terrible hates and fears of mankind in the hope of someday bringing about a world in which men will enjoy the differences of the human garden, instead of killing each other over them." So much for objective journalism. (The I.F. Stone quote we noted was cited in The Nation after his death: "In a way, I was half a Jeffersonian and half a Marxist. I never saw a contradiction between the two, and I still don't.")
Then there were two Larry King tributes we put in our Notable Quotables newsletter:
"The late I.F. "Izzy" Stone was one of the all-time treasured Americans. The folk hero of the New Left was arguably the best investigative journalist ever to take finger to typewriter and he was a cultural spirit to millions, yours truly most definitely included. We will never see his likes again." -- CNN and Mutual Broadcasting talk show host Larry King in USA Today, June 26, 1989.
"If I were really King I'd....Allow every citizen the choice of what to do with his or her own body....Build a fitting permanent memorial to I.F. Stone, a truly genuine hero....Place the Presidential wand on Mario Cuomo's shoulder and make him give it a shot....Make ozone layers and acid rain and all that yuck go away somewhere." -- Mutual Broadcasting and CNN host Larry King in USA Today, August 7, 1989.