Unknown: For nineteen years, Isidor F. Stone wrote and edited and published his own four-page Newspaper, the I.F. Stone Bi-weekly. He called it a flea bite Newspaper or the journalistic equivalent of the old fashioned Jewish momma and poppa grocery store. When he decided to retire it in 1971, it had built up a national circulation of more than 60,000 subscribers and an influence that went well beyond its sise and number of subscribers. It was, like its one-man editorial staff [Fucking A.], aggressively independent, liberal tyrannical in outlook and relentless in its pursuit of the elusive Truth. His colleagues in the Washington Press Corps generally regard Izzy Stone as the best investigative reporter in the Business. A number of his pieces in recent years have been collected in the I.F. Stone Reader, only the most recent of his ten or so books. Since retiring the bi-weekly, he’s become a contributing editor for the New York Review of Books.
1. Day: Mr. Stone, in the last nineteen years with the I.F. Stone Bi-weekly, you’ve had a chance to stand apart from Institutions, not be a part of any Institution. Why?
2. I.F. Stone: Institutions are very powerful. Those who run them are run by them because the circumstances and the nature of the Institution severely limit his decision making capacity. It’s true of everybody, but men can’t live without Institutions.
3. Day: Of course.
4. I.F. Stone: So it’s important in a Good Society to have Institutions. You have to have them. It’s also important to have independent voices with the Freedom to Express Themselves who can check the abuses of Institutions.
5. Day: What about the men you’ve dealt with over the years, in Institutions? Do they behave differently as members of Institutions than they might behave as Individuals, so they are influenced by the Institution?
6. I.F. Stone: I think inevitably and invariably. No matter how. Take a man like McNamara who’s a very able man. There were severe limits to what he could do as the Secretary of Defense. That’s a tremendous Organisation, a military Bureaucracy. No matter how active, vigilant, vigorous the head of it is, very severe limits to what he can do. The only way to be free is not to have Power. I mean, Diogenes in his tub was free and could afford to tell Alexander to get out of his, to get out of the way while taking a sunbath.
7. Day: You have to have People with Power?
8. I.F. Stone: Yeah, sure, and you have to have People without Power. You have to have a. You can’t run a complicated Society without Bureaucracies and you have to have Mechanisms that preserve Independence of Judgement and Expression and will check their abuses and criticise their shortcomings and act as a watchdog over them. That is what the Press is supposed to be in a free Society, but the Press itself becomes institutionalised.
9. Day: Does it have an adversarial Relationship with Institutions with Government and.
10. I.F. Stone: [Mnemotechnique] It has to have. If it stops being adversary, it stops doing its Job. That doesn’t mean it needs to be perpetually hostile, but basically skeptical and never to allow itself to be drawn into the Universe of the men who run the Government. Everybody has their own Universe and their own rationale and their own excuses and their own adjustment to what they have to do. And most men are, Most men are honorable and want to do a Good Job.
11. Day: Do you mean the Government Institutions are not riddled with Evil men?
12. I.F. Stone: No, no. I mean, certainly, I’ve been in Washington a long time. People don’t realise that down in the bowels of the Government are a lot of devoted and hard working People. People are led to do Evil, in spite of themselves, by the nature of the Institutions in which they are trapped.
13. Day: And have the capacity to rationalise that, I suppose, for their own.
14. I.F. Stone: I once had to talk to a group of visiting journalists and I said, “The first thing to remember when you talk to Government officials here, is don’t believe anything they have to say. [adding to himself] Don’t take seriously anything they say.” They laughed. I said, “I didn’t say that for a laugh. I wasn’t being cynical. But what I mean is that most of what you hear is the rationalisation of bureaucratic inertia, the momentum of the huge Machine. To get ahead in that Machine, you have to show you’re on the team,” as the Military say. Therefore, you have to excuse it, to rationalise it, to further its own purposes and these Institutions which are supposed to be a Means become an End in themselves.
15. Day: You’ve seen the growth of Institutions here in Washington in the years you have been here. Is that going to be inevitable that it will continue to grow and grow and Institutions will take a larger and larger part in our lives?
16. I.F. Stone: I think so, yeah. I think so because Life is becoming more complex. Our problems are becoming more difficult. It makes it all the more important, however, to keep a check on the enormous Power in the Government.
17. Day: At the same time, those who keep that check, the Press in this particular case, is also becoming, I suppose, more institutionalised in the sense that there are fewer and larger Newspapers resulting.
18. I.F. Stone: It’s true, but still, Institutions. Well, at the moment, I’ve never seen the Media as Good as they are today. Compared with the twenties, for example, the thirties, far better. The reporting is better, far more Independence, as far as the big Good Papers are concerned. Most Papers in this Country do a very Bad Job in the sense that there is very little News in them. They rarely express an opinion one way or another. They are really an adjunct to the advertising pages. [Houston Chronicle] The average American in the average small town is very poorly informed.
19. Day: So for a man who ran one of America’s smallest Newspapers, you say that quality often is with the largest, not with the smallest, even though you, yourself, ran a quite different kind of small Newspaper, the size does have some Relationship to quality then?
20. I.F. Stone: There is a lot of Myth. I started Work on a small town daily in a town of about 5,000 Population. There’s a lot of Mythology about small town editors and Newspapers. In a small town, it’s very hard to be independent. People know each other too well. You can’t step on their toes. There’s no diversity of Advertising. You have to depend on the Powers that be for legal Advertising. A local editor in a small town has much less Power than an editor of a big Paper in a big City, because if he antagonises one group of advertisers, there’s another one to turn to. There is more diversity in the Market, and he can afford to express much more independent opinions. Then I’ve seen some Institutions change. The New York Times in the twenties and thirties was really pretty Bad. It’s gotten steadily better.
21. Day: What’s brought about the improvement in these large City Newspapers, the large Papers?
22. I.F. Stone: What’s that?
23. Day: What’s brought about that improvement? Increased professional standards?
24. I.F. Stone: Well, I think Tradition plays a very useful part in human Life, and the Jeffersonian Tradition, the Idea of the First amendment, the Duty of the Press, the sense of public Obligation tends to mold People just as judges are molded by the Law, so newspaper-men tended to be molded by the fact that they are in our Country. I think American Journalism is superior to that of most Countries in the World in the sense that the journalist in our Country has a higher and more dignified position than most Countries. If you read Balzac, see what 19th century French Journalism was like. Even in England, a journalist was looked upon as a hack unless he works for one of the gentlemanly Papers. Here, because of the First Amendment and Jefferson and the whole Spirit of the American Government, the Press is regarded as really a Fourth Estate. A sense of Duty and Responsibility, Power, and Obligation mold People. And then the effect, the Vietnam War had some Good effects. It taught reporters that they could be lied to over and over and over again by the Government, and they better watch and not just take down the words of the Secretary of State or the President as Holy Writ. They learned a lot of lessons. Then the new Generation of youngsters came along with much less stuffiness, much less Respect for existing Institutions, much less desire to just make a buck, much more desire for public service, much more concern for other human beings. These youngsters have had a Good effect. Look at Time Magazine, how that’s improved over what it was fifteen, twenty years ago. I feel that the big Media and TV are doing a much better Job than they did. I’m not sure it will go on. I think that.
25. Day: Why aren’t you sure?
26. I.F. Stone: You see, this Country is partly a Democracy and partly a Plutocracy. People have the Right to Vote, and when they want something and get off their butt and really ask for it, they get it. It works. But they don’t know what they want or don’t pay much attention, then men with big Money buy what they want. That’s the big Evil disclosed behind Watergate: Just buy the Government and buy its policies. The Expense of running Campaigns makes it necessary to go out and raise an awful lot of Money that’s why I’m for public financing of Campaigns. These big-moneyed men tend to buy up Newspapers like any other Property and run them like a Property, that is to make Money. A Newspaper isn’t supposed to be - it has to make a Profit, sure - but it isn’t supposed to be devoted to making Money. It has a very fundamental role to play in a free Society, and it’s a great role protected by the Constitution. We’ve had some great publishers who’ve worked that way. We still have some great Newspapers like the Times and the Washington Post, the Washington Star which is different in outlook, but equally independent. I feel very Good about the State of the Media except out in the Country. When you get out and travel around the Country, you’re just cut off in the News. You don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know how People can. Even the main TV shows are cut down and space is made for local Television and local Sports and things like that. The Country, in many ways, is very poorly informed for such a literate People, for such a free Society.
27. Day: You began your own journalistic Career in a relatively small Town, didn’t you, in New Jersey?
28. I.F. Stone: I started in a small town weekly while I was going to high School, then I began to Work as country correspond for a small city paper. I’ve done everything on a paper except set type.
29. Day: Didn’t you publish your own Newspaper, as a matter of fact, when you were in high School at the age of fourteen?
30. I.F. Stone: Yes, I did. At fourteen, I started a little Paper. It only ran for three issues because my father discovered I was completely neglecting my school work and made me stop.
31. Day: You have five hundred subscribers or so didn’t you?
32. I.F. Stone: I had advertising, subscribers-
33. Day: Editorial policy?
34. I.F. Stone: Editorial policy.
35. Day: What was the policy?
36. I.F. Stone: Well, I was a very strong League of Nations man. I remember writing pieces supporting Gandhi and the cause of Indian Freedom. I was very critical of William Randolph Hearst, who at that time was a very demagogy right wing publisher, earlier had been different. The old typesetters said it would spit out tobacco juice and said I was going to come to a Bad end writing all that radical stuff.
37. Day: Those are pretty firm, and perhaps radical convictions for a youngster of fourteen. What brought you these convictions at an early age?
38. I.F. Stone: I think Jack London.
39. Day: Your own reading.
40. I.F. Stone: I think Jack London was the start of my social consciousness. And then.
41. Day: Any particular books of London that did this?
42. I.F. Stone: Well, Martin Eden and. I just remember London opening my eyes and then all kinds of things. Herbert Spencer, Kruputkin, and Marx and Engels. And Charles Beard. I was a very great. I was a great reader. A real bookworm.
43. Day: You were, were you an eclectic reader? You read everything?
44. I.F. Stone: Yeah, but I graduated 49th in a class of 52 in a Country high School. Only one boy ranked lower than me because I just stopped doing the schoolwork. I was doing Newspaper Work during my sophomore, junior and senior years, and a lot of reading, but I was very rebellious about doing my lessons.
45. Day: Did you come from a family that read a great deal, or was it something you picked up entirely on your own?
46. I.F. Stone: No. I really picked it up on my own.
47. Day: Did you have other interests besides reading? It sounds as though you didn’t.
48. I.F. Stone: Well, in a small town with woods, you go out swimming and trapping. We had a raft. It was still a very small town where you could have just a touch of Tom Sawyer, you know, Huckleberry Finn, enough to understand Mark Twain. Book, I think books were, and still are, my passion. I feel like Oliver Wendell Holmes that once said with a sigh, “I hate to face my maker with the Thought of so many great books unread.”
49. Day: Do you look back on it as a relatively happy boyhood?
50. I.F. Stone: Oh yes. Except it was lonesome in a small town where very few People read books. To be an intellectual in a small town, a Jewish intellectual in a small town was rather lonesome. There was nobody, really a couple [human beings] that you could talk to about books and about ideas.
51. Day: What about teachers? Apparently not.
52. I.F. Stone: Well, both at School and at College, I had a couple of teachers that I really loved and revered. No other words for it. Most teachers, I just rebelled against. I didn’t think they were very Good. I rebelled against School altogether, even though. I just rebelled against having things crammed down my throat by rote.
53. Day: You wrote?
54. I.F. Stone: By rote.
55. Day: By rote, I’m sorry, yes. You did go on to the University of Pennsylvania and what, studied Philosophy though, but you didn’t finish.
56. I.F. Stone: I majored in Philosophy but I was working on the Newspaper, and I quit in my third year.
57. Day: You were working on the Newspaper a Good part of the time, I gather.
58. I.F. Stone: Yeah. I waited on tables awhile the first year, but most of the time I worked on a Newspaper. The year I quit, I was working about eleven hours a day and night while going to School.
59. Day: Pretty well committed at that point, I suppose to a Career with Newspapers.
60. I.F. Stone: Well, yeah. I was an experienced man by that time. I was making forty dollars a week while going to School. In 1927 [AD], that was a lot of Money. I was doing re-write and copy desk, so I was experienced.
61. Day: You stayed with Newspapers then for quite a few years as a matter of fact, didn’t you?
62. I.F. Stone: Yes.
63. Day: Left a small town and then.
64. I.F. Stone: I worked on the Camden Courier, the Philadelphia Record, the Philadelphia Enquirer, The New York Post. I was editorial writer on the Post in the thirties, from 33 to 39. Then I went down to Washington, came down from Washington from the Nation as Washington editor to help for about five or six years. While Washington editor of The Nation, I began to Work for PM and the successor papers, the New York Star and the New York Daily Compass. When the Compass closed in 1952, and I couldn’t get my Job back at The Nation, I decided I would start a four-page newsletter.
65. Day: What gave you the inspiration to do your own Newsletter, to go entirely on your own after all those years with Newspapers?
66. I.F. Stone: Well, George Seldes had done it successfully with In Fact about a decade earlier and done it very well. I had seen so much Money go down the drain, Money that wonderful, wealthy People like Marshall Field, for example, who was very Good to us at PM and a wonderful man. There you had a wealthy man supporting a non-conformist Paper and taking a lot of static from his socialite friends for doing it. He was very Good to us. He lost a tremendous amount of Money. I thought, “Look, the market’s very small. I’ll try to fit the product to the market and make it pay for itself by putting it on a very small scale and doing all the Work myself.” My wife and I did all the Work. I managed to get 5,300 subscribers to start with, and I budgeted that very carefully so I didn’t have to run around pan-handling to keep going, and I managed.
67. Day: What kind of Principles did you set for yourself when you built this one man Newspaper?
68. I.F. Stone: Well, I wanted a radical Paper in a conservative format. I wanted a dignified topography. I didn’t want screaming, sensational headlines. I didn’t want exaggeration. I didn’t want to pretend I had inside Information when I didn’t. I wanted to be sober and factual, as accurate as I could make it, reasoned, not hysterical so that People on the other side would have to take it seriously, persuasive. I tried to prove what I was saying from the horse’s mouth as it were, using the Government’s own documents, Government reports and transcripts and press conferences and speeches and analysing the way a historian would, putting them in perspective, so that a man on a college campus who took it and showed it to a conservative colleague, he wouldn’t just brush it off, he’d have to take it seriously.
69. Day: You were concerned not just with reaching the converted, so to speak. But you wanted to.
70. I.F. Stone: No, I tried to reach other People.
71. Day: In fact, you had some very distinguished subscribers in that early subscription list and later ones too, of course.
72. I.F. Stone: I had a lot of undistinguished subscribers too, which pleased me even more, because I wanted to support People that were being harassed and destroyed by the Witchhunt. I wanted to defend what I considered basic, American Principles, that is the Right of Freedom of Speech and Free Political Activity. That meant defending first the Trotskyites then the Communists. I disagreed with liberals that were only prepared to defend People if it could be proven that they were practically illiterate and couldn’t possibly be Marxists and they weren’t really Communists. I felt that unless it was Freedom for everybody, it would be whittled away for everybody.
73. Day: That means Freedom for half Truths as well as Truths. Freedom.
74. I.F. Stone: Freedom for Lies.
75. Day: For Lies.
76. I.F. Stone: The basic premise of a free Society is that none of us can be sure of the Truth and none of us can ever be sure of the whole Truth, and therefore it’s worth listening to others. Unless you’re willing to have People tell Lies or half Lies, you shut off Truths. There’s no way of policing it. There has to be Freedom, there’s no halfway house. That was the Philosophy of Jefferson, of the First Amendment and. Then I wanted to fight for Peace and for Co-existence.
77. Day: Co-existence during a time of Cold War. You did not favour the Cold War.
78. I.F. Stone: No, I was against the Cold War. I was for [Henry] Wallace in 1948. I’m very glad that I was. I realise that he had certain shortcomings, but here’s Richard Nixon doing what Henry Wallace proposed in 1948. I think there’s a lot of things Wrong in Russia and the Soviet System. [Accurate.] I think that to make a Good Society there, you’re going to have to find some way to mesh together the Jeffersonian Idea with the Socialist Idea. To me, it’s very thrilling to see that when Workers revolt, as they did in Hungary in 1956 or in the Baltic Cities in Poland, one of the first things they asked for was Freedom of the Press. People that don’t have it realise it’s a necessity. For me, that’s a demonstration that what Jefferson represents, what Milton represents is a fundamental Value and necessity in human Life.
79. Day: It’s been very important to you to maintain your Independence, hasn’t it? You’ve not gone on the usual rounds of inside contacts in Washington. You’ve kept yourself apart from Friendships of that sort or apart from.
80. I.F. Stone: I’ve always felt that it was dangerous to get too close to People in Power, and when you were working on a really Good story, the People to trust, the People to go to were those People down in the bowels of that Bureaucracy that were dealing with that specific subject and who were never going to run for public Office, and had no ax to grind, because you have to be careful. You know, this business of leaks can be. It has its very Bad as well as its Good side. People leak for malicious reasons, for Unworthy reasons, for self-serving reasons. A reporter has to be very careful in taking leaks and judging the Person giving it to you and checking the thing out. Leaks are important but they are very dangerous, and a responsible journalist has to.
81. Day: You built up a subscription list. I said 60,000 in the beginning. It was over 70,000. It was a rather remarkable subscriber list for a Publication of this sort. Why did you give it up?
82. I.F. Stone: It just got to be too much for me. It just physically got to be too much. It was an enormous amount of Work. I had to change from a weekly to a bi-weekly. I began getting angina pectoris, and I just had to stop.
83. Day: Aside from the demands of Time and so forth, do you miss the voice that you had?
84. I.F. Stone: I don’t I like to look back. I enjoyed that very much, but I would like to learn a little more and work on a. Try to understand things better and work on some bigger projects.
85. Day: You’ve been quoted as saying that through all the years of your writing, you’ve been practicing the scales, and now you’d like to give yourself some time, in Leisure, to do something of real Value.
86. I.F. Stone: I would.
87. Day: Do you feel you have not done something of Value in the writing you have done in all these years?
88. I.F. Stone: I guess so, but I like to do my very best. A man never achieves his best, you have to keep striving for it. I would like to write something of Value, particularly in the field of Freedom of Thought and Expression and its importance for a Good Society. It’s menaced by the terribly draconian Dictatorships of the Communist States and it’s menaced by the new Technologies and Means of Surveillance and the means of inculcating Conformity in the West, and in our own Country it’s menaced by the enormous Power of the Office of the Presidency. The President, irrespective who he is today, is so powerful that the temptations of the office for Good or Evil are too great for any one man. I think we ought to begin to dismantle the office. I think we ought to have a head of State symbolising the Country and around whom the natural feelings of Patriotism and Reverence accrue, but separate him from the head of the Government.
89. Day: Thank you very much.