I’m reading a biography of I.F. (‘Izzy’) Stone, a grand and curmudgeonly old-school journalist who raised hell from the age of 15 well into the (and his own) 80s. Stone was an independent radical who drew the wrath of J. Edgar Hoover but relished his outsider role and seemed blithely unconcerned about being persona non grata for people whom he despised.
I ran into his Weekly at a 1969 antiwar demonstration without having ever heard of him (radical Jewish writers weren’t big during my midwestern childhood) and immediately recognized the four-page handout as a jewel of common sense bracingly independent of the jingoist or cozily complicit mainstream papers. Stone used direct extracts from open congressional hearings or government reports in his famous sidebars to illustrate the points he made in the central text. I became a loyal reader, but unfortunately Stone had to retire the Weekly a couple years later, just months after he had agreed to let me send him contributions on spec for those ‘boxes’. (I never managed to place one with him.)
Stone would have appreciated the brouhaha over Bittergate, especially the enterprising work by Mayhill Fowler at Huffington Post’s Off the Bus team, to which I briefly belonged. Pundits, advocates, boosters and ideologues of all stripes have fallen over themselves to make hay of Obama’s now-famous phrases, but plenty of them also have attacked the eminently thoughtful Fowler for daring to report it, incredulous to the possibility that a committed individual might not belong to any claque.
Stone wasn’t one to express too many regrets, but he must have felt a twinge at giving Joe Stalin too much of a pass during the Popular Front period in the late 1930s despite the accumulating evidence of the thuggery of his totalitarian state. Izzy was too busy sounding the alarms about Hitler to maintain a cautious note about the erstwhile ally on the eastern front, and despite his prescience on that score, it wasn’t good enough later to excuse casting a willful blind eye.
Bush is a bad man, and Obama’s a good one. I hope the latter becomes a great president. That doesn’t mean we have to suspend our critical faculties or pretend not to hear what we heard. And for reporters, good reporters anyway, it shouldn’t mean placing oneself in the bag for anybody. There are plenty of eager acolytes ready to suck up to the powerful, and if Obama’s choice of phrasing in telling a discomforting truth causes people to vote for the McCain-Clinton party instead, well, that’s just biped self-immolation at its most exasperatingly typical, and there’s really nothing a sane person can do about it anyway.