Saturday, May 29, 2004

The Legacy of I.F. Stone

According to Victor Navasky, I.F. Stone was the antithesis of the modern (read New York Times) reporter:

[A]lthough he never attended presidential press conferences, cultivated no highly placed inside sources and declined to attend off-the-record briefings, time and again he scooped the most powerful press corps in the world.

His method: To scour and devour public documents, bury himself in The Congressional Record, study obscure Congressional committee hearings, debates and reports, all the time prospecting for news nuggets (which would appear as boxed paragraphs in his paper), contradictions in the official line, examples of bureaucratic and political mendacity, documentation of incursions on civil rights and liberties. He lived in the public domain. It was his habitat of necessity, because use of government sources to document his findings was also a stratagem. Who would have believed this cantankerous-if-whimsical Marxist without all the documentation?

And as he gleefully explained to a group of Swarthmore students in 1954 (I know, because I was one of them), if you didn't attend background briefings you weren't bound by the ground rules; you could debrief correspondents who did, check out what they had been told, and as often as not reveal the lies for what they were.
Sounds like some of the better bloggers, eh?
Even after he died, they still didn't quite know how to handle him. In a classic example of the sort of on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand journalism against which I.F. Stone fought all his life, the lead paragraph of his obituary in the New York Times neatly balanced his "admirers" against his "critics."
Sounds like the New York Times, doesn't it? Plus ca change,....