Comments on I. F. Stone

Raymond Marcus, July 1995

    I.F. Stone was born Isidor Feinstein in 1907 in Philadelphia to Jewish immigrant parents from Russia. Raised in New Jersey, he started his journalistic career at age fourteen with a liberal neighborhood monthly. While attending University of Pennsylvania he worked full-time for the Philadelphia Inquirer editing and rewriting articles. He then write editorials for the New York Post, was an associate and then Washington editor for The Nation, and then worked for P.M., the New York Star, and the New York Daily Compass. After the successive collapse of these three New York liberal dailies, Stone launched his newsletter, I. F. Stone’s Weekly, with 5,300 subscribers in 1953, which he produced at his home in Washington, D. C. with the assistance of his wife, Esther (circulation eventually reached 70.000).
    Although Stone’s most important work was done in Washington, he was not part of the political/journalistic establishment, and he had no wish to be so. Instead of cozying up to important insiders, he based his work primarily on the study of newspapers and documents, employing his exceptionally keen and probing intellect to slice through the fog of official positions on national and international affairs so as to expose the underlying truth to his readers with characteristic brevity and clarity.
    Stone was an independent leftist. Although it is probably true that in the earlier years of the Cold War he sometimes tended to minimize Moscow’s misdeeds while maximizing Washington’s, and that he was certainly wrong in concluding his 1953 book The Hidden History of the Korean War that South Korea and the U.S. were the aggressors, he was no friend of Communist dictators. He bitterly denounced the Soviet bloc after his trip to the Soviet Union in 1956, and wrote, “The worker is more exploited than in Western welfare states. This is not a good society, and it is not led by honest men.”
    I was a charter subscriber to the Weekly. Having earlier subscribed to George Seldes’ “In Fact,” I found Stone’s newsletter a worthy successor and looked forward to each issue. The Weekly undoubtedly reached a readership for more influential than its small circulation would indicate.
    In the months following the assassination I eagerly awaited Stone’s critical analysis. With his long demonstrated ability to demolish official falsehoods, I had little reason to doubt he would make mincemeat of the just released Warren Report; whose no-conspiracy conclusions had been leaked to the press and public for many months, and whose questionable veracity in many crucial instances had already been amply demonstrated.
    Then came I. F. Stone’s Weekly of October 5, 1964, headed “The Left and the Warren Report.” It was a paean of praise for the Warren Commission and its conclusions. He chastised the Left on whose behalf, and for sane policies, he said he had been fighting all his adult life, accusing it of the same kind of slander, character assassination, guilt by association, an demonology of which it had frequently been the victim in the past. He praised the Report for criticizing the Secret Service and FBI by saying “There was insufficient liaison…between the Secret Service and the other Federal agencies…” He attempted to defuse the few items he mentioned questioning the official version by highlighting them in boxes “refuted” by his quotes from the “Speculation and Rumors” section of the Warren Report. He said, “…the Commission has done a first-rate job, on the level that does our country proud and is worthy of so tragic an event.” He regarded the case against Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone killer as “conclusive.”
    Of the Commission members he indicated they were all honorable men. Of Cong. Gerald Ford, “He denies any association with the FBI, and there is no evidence of any such link” (later it was shown beyond question that Ford was reporting regularly to the FBI about proceedings of secret Commission meetings). He said Senator John Sherman Cooper had made a principled speech against the Anti-Communist Act passed in 1954. He said he knew John J. McCloy during the war as an unusually competent public servant. He said he had “…criticized Allen W. Dulles constantly over the years. But I would not impute to him or any other member of the Commission conduct so evil as to conspire with the secret services to protect the killers of a President.” And finally, of Warren himself. he said, “This is also to assume that Chief Justice Earl Warren, whom the right hates for his decisions protecting the Negroes and radicals, would be a party to a conspiracy to protect a cabal of rightist assassins.” He said those who, by rejecting the official conclusions could believe otherwise, “…belong in the booby hatch.”
    What was totally lacking in I.F. Stone’s comments was any evidence of the kind of critical analysis he normally employed in assessing official statements. The Warren Report was made public just a few days prior to his October 5th issue . It is extremely doubtful that Stone had time to do more than glance through it. The Volumes were not even published until almost two months later. It was obvious that I.F. Stone, for whatever reason and completely contrary to his usual working methods, had accepted official handouts and published them uncritically. I was shocked, dismayed, and angered. I wrote a lengthy letter to Stone listing fifteen highly improbably separate sets of circumstances surrounding the case, all of which would nevertheless have to be true for the official conclusions to be true. I urged him to study the questions and reconsider his position. I received no response to my letter.
    In September 1966, I was planning a trip to the east coast to meet in person with other critics with whom I had been corresponding. I also planned to visit the National Archives in Washington to view the Zapruder film.
    From L.A. I phoned Stone at his home in Washington. I told him I had previously written to him about his position on the case, and requested a meeting with him so that I could present to him some important evidence, primarily photographic, during my trip. His answer was immediate, loud (very loud), and clear: “I DON’T CARE ABOUT THAT ASSHOLE CASE!,” he bellowed, and then hung up. The thought occurred to me that had he written in his Weekly, instead of the actual contents of his October 5, ’64 issue, that he didn’t care about the case (with or without the expletive deleted), it would at least have had the virtue of being honest, and incapable of misleading his readers; despite being an uncharacteristic position for I.F. Stone to take on so vital a matter of national interest.
    Three years later, in his March 24, ’69 issue, Stone expressed his belief that the killing of Martin Luther King was the result of a conspiracy. He said, “J. Edgar Hoover, who hated and once insulted King, should be challenged to explain on what basis he announced within 24 hours of the killing that there was no conspiracy. How could he possibly have known so quickly?” He called for pressure on the White House for a complete investigation “…independent of the FBI and its chief,” adding that “The only virtue of the Memphis deal (Attorney Percy Foreman’s arrangement in which he persuaded James Earl Ray to plead guilty, ostensibly in order to avoid the death penalty) was that it keeps Ray alive someday to tell the full story.”
    I again wrote to Stone, and suggested that Hoover (and Attorney General Ramsey Clark) “knew” within 24 hours that there was no conspiracy just as the federal establishment “knew” within 5 hours following JFK’s murder that a number of prominent individuals, including Walter Lippman and Harrison Salisbury, had changed their original views and were now calling for a compete new investigation (although very little media attention had been paid to their new position). Again Stone did not deign to respond.
    The public record of public individuals, for reason of fairness and historical accuracy, should be judged in their entirely, weighing both their positive and negative contributions.
    I.F. Stone was typically a fearless tribune for truth; a tireless fighter for civil rights and civil liberties; a consistent advocate for racial justice; a strong and principled opponent of the McCarthyites and other enemies of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms; a clear and constant voice against our military involvement in Vietnam, first under Eisenhower and Kennedy, and then during the escalating madness perpetrated by Lyndon Johnson. For all this he deserves to be remembered with honor, for it is the major part of his legacy.
    But I.F. Stone, for whatever reason or reasons, willingly chose to endorse uncritically the Warren Report, and to excoriate and denigrate those of his fellow citizens, including those of his own readers, who chose instead to subject the Warren Commission’s findings to critical analysis and to draw reasonable conclusions, i.e., to treat this important official pronouncement as I.F. Stone himself normally treated such pronouncement. Buy so doing he lend his name, prestige, and considerable influence to the most monumentally fraudulent document ever foisted on the American public by its government. That also is and will remain a n important part of his legacy.

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