About Isidor Feinstein
Isidor Feinstein Stone (December 24, 1907 – June 18, 1989; born Isidor Feinstein, better known as I.F. Stone and Izzy Stone) was an iconoclastic American investigative journalist. He is best remembered for his self-published newsletter, I. F. Stone's Weekly which was ranked 16th in a poll of his fellow journalists of "The Top 100 Works of Journalism in the United States in the 20th Century".
Stone was born Isidor Feinstein in Philadelphia. His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants who owned a store in Haddonfield, New Jersey. His sister is journalist and film critic Judy Stone. He studied philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, and as a student he wrote for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Stone attended Haddonfield Memorial High School, where he ultimately graduated ranked 49th in his class of 52. He started his own newspaper, the Progress, as a high school sophomore. He later worked for the Haddonfield Press and the Camden Courier-Post. After dropping out of the University of Pennsylvania, he joined the The Philadelphia Inquirer, then known as the "Republican Bible of Pennsylvania". Influenced by the work of Jack London, he became a radical journalist. He joined the Inquirer's morning rival, the Philadelphia Record, owned by liberal Democrat J. David Stern, and he moved to the New York Post after Stern bought that paper during the Great Depression. In the 1930s, he played an active role in the Communist-dominated Popular Front opposition to Adolf Hitler. But in the wake of the Hitler-Stalin pact in August 1939 Stone wrote to a friend saying “no more fellow traveling” and used his column in The Nation to denounce Stalin as “the Moscow Machiavelli who suddenly found peace as divisible as the Polish plains and marshes.”
In 1929, he married Esther Roisman, who later served as his assistant at I.F. Stone's Weekly. They remained married until his death and had three children: Celia (m. Gilbert), Jeremy, and Christopher.
New York Post
Stone moved to the New York Post in 1933 and during this period supported Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. His first book, The Court Disposes (1937), was a critique of the Court's role in blocking New Deal reforms. On the advice of an editor that his political writings would be better received if he were not perceived as Jewish, he changed his name to I. F. Stone in 1937. He would later recall he "still felt badly" about the change, and referred to himself as "Izzy" throughout his career.
After leaving the New York Post in 1939, Stone became associate editor and then Washington editor of The Nation. His next book, Business as Unusual (1941), was an attack on the country's failure to prepare for war.
Stone's exposé of the FBI for The Nation during the war caused a sensation and deeply embarrassed J. Edgar Hoover, when Stone revealed the bigotry of the questions the FBI asked to ferret out subversives from the civil service: "Does he mix with Negroes? Does he...have too many Jewish friends? Does he think the colored races are as good as the white? Why do you suppose he has hired so many Jews?" And, hilariously given the time, when Vichy France was a Nazi puppet regime, "Is he always criticizing Vichy France?" In Izzy's column he noted "questions like these are being used as a sieve to strain anti-fascists and liberals out of the government. They serve no other purpose." Many readers wrote in to thank the magazine for running the article, but the Nation was criticized for allowing Stone to conceal the identity of his sources. In 1946, the Nation's editor Freda Kirchwey fired Stone when she found out that he had signed with the lefist New York newspaper PM as a foreign correspondent covering the Jewish underground in Mandatory Palestine.
Work for PM
After the end of the Second World War, Stone traveled to the Near East to report on the efforts of displaced Eastern European Jews to enter Palestine. In the resulting book Underground to Palestine (1948), Stone wrote that the displaced persons made strenuous efforts to reach the Jewish homeland of Israel although it would have been far easier to emigrate to the United States because,
They have been kicked around as Jews and now they want to live as Jews. Over and over I heard it said: "We want to build a Jewish country. ... We are tired of putting our sweat and blood into places where we are not welcome." ... These Jews want the right to live as a people, to build as a people, to make their contribution to the world as a people. Are their national aspirations any less worthy of respect than those of any other oppressed people?
Stone shared the Zionists' aspirations and strongly supported the creation of the State of Israel before it was recognized by the government of the United States. Like other moderate Zionists, including the distinguished diplomat and later Israeli Minister Abba Eban, Stone also supported a bi-national state in which Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs could live together. As the years passed, however, Stone became increasingly sympathetic to the Palestinian Arabs' plight, attracting Eban's displeasure. Fellow "gadfly" Noam Chomsky claimed in a 2009 interview that Eban had disparaged both himself and Stone as "neurotic self-hating Jews".
According to D.D. Guttenplan, Stone stopped going to Israel in 1950, because the State Department wouldn’t give him a passport. But as soon as he got his passport back, in part because of a legal victory by his brother-in-law Leonard Boudin . . . who kept the State Department from taking away your passport for political reasons, [and] who established the right to travel, Stone got his passport back and went to Israel again in ’56, before the Suez War. And he wrote two things. He wrote, “Israel is a transformed country. What was once a struggling country is now a thriving country. Economically, it’s booming. It will win—it’s prepared for war and will win, you know, the next war, or the next war after that, militarily.” He said, “But there will be wars and wars and wars until Israel comes to terms with the Palestinians.” He wrote in 1956, “The road to peace lies through the Palestinian refugee camp.”
In 1967, Stone wrote:
Stripped of propaganda and sentiment, the Palestine problem is, simply, the struggle of two different peoples for the same strip of land. … For me the Arab problem is also the No. 1 Jewish problem. How we act toward the Arabs will determine what kind of people we become – either oppressors and racists in our turn like those from whom we have suffered, or a nobler race able to transcend the tribal xenophobias that afflict mankind.1 (I.F. Stone, “Holy War,” New York Review of Books, August 3, 1967)
PM went under in 1948 and was replaced first by the New York Star and then The Daily Compass until it ceased publication in 1952. A critic of the emerging Cold War, Stone published the Hidden History of the Korean War that same year. The book suggested that South Korea initiated hostilities with unprovoked cross-border attacks, and was highly critical of U.S. policies under John Foster Dulles, General Douglas MacArthur, and Korean dictator Syngman Rhee. Stone wrote:
I believe I have succeeded in throwing new light on its origins, on the operations of MacArthur and Dulles, on the weaknesses of Truman and Acheson, on the way the Chinese were provoked to intervene, and on the way the truce talks have been dragged out and the issues muddied by American military men hostile from the first to negotiations. I have tried to bring as much of the hidden story to light as I could in order to put the people of the United States and the United Nations on guard.
I. F. Stone's Weekly
In the 1930s and 1940s, Stone had been a mainstream journalist, appearing on Meet the Press (then a radio show); in 1950 he found himself blacklisted and unable to get work. In 1953, inspired by the example of the muckraking journalist George Seldes and his political weekly, In Fact, Stone decided to start his own independent newsletter, I.F. Stone's Weekly. Over the next few years, Stone's newsletter campaigned against McCarthyism and racial discrimination in the United States.
In 1964, using evidence drawn from a close reading and analysis of published accounts, Stone was the only American journalist to challenge President Lyndon B. Johnson's account of the Gulf of Tonkin incident. During the 1960s, Stone continued to criticize the Vietnam War. At its peak in the 1960s, the Weekly had a circulation of about 70,000, yet it was regarded as very influential.
Hundreds of articles originally published in the Weekly were later republished in The I.F. Stone's Weekly Reader (1973), and in three volumes of a six-volume compendium of Stone's writings called A Noncomformist History of Our Times (1989).
According to Nation Magazine editor Victor Navasky, Stone's journalistic work drew heavily on obscure documents from the public domain; some of his best scoops were discovered by peering through the voluminous official records generated by the government. Navasky also believes that as an outspoken leftist journalist working in often hostile environments, Stone's stories needed to meet an extremely high burden of proof to be considered credible. Navasky argues that most of Stone's articles are very well sourced, typically with official documents. Navasky described Stone's willingness 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."
For himself, Stone had this to say about his style of reporting:
"I made no claims to inside stuff. I tried to give information which could be documented, so the reader could check it for himself.... Reporters tend to be absorbed by the bureaucracies they cover; they take on the habits, attitudes, and even accents of the military or the diplomatic corps. Should a reporter resist the pressure, there are many ways to get rid of him.... But a reporter covering the whole capital on his own — particularly if he is his own employer — is immune from these pressures."
Retirement, classical scholarship and death
In 1971, angina pectoris forced Stone to cease publication of the Weekly. After his retirement, he decided to return to the University of Pennsylvania, whence he had dropped out years before and earn his degree in Classical Languages. Stone successfully learned ancient Greek and wrote a book about the prosecution and death of Socrates, The Trial of Socrates, in which he argued that Socrates wanted to be sentenced to death in order to shame the Athenian democracy, which he despised.
In 1970, Stone received a Special George Polk Award, and in 1976 he received the Conscience-in-Media Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
Stone died of a heart attack in 1989 in Boston.
Composer Scott Johnson makes extensive use of Stone's voice taken from a recorded 1981 lecture in his large-scale musical work, How It Happens, completed in 1991 on commission for the Kronos Quartet.
The 2008 Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards lists Stone's The Trial of Socrates as one his three favorite books.
On March 5, 2008, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University announced plans to award an annual I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence and an associated I.F. Stone Workshop on Strengthening Journalistic Independence.
In 2008, The Park Center for Independent Media at the Roy H. Park School of Communications created the Izzy Award, named after Stone. The award goes to "an independent outlet, journalist, or producer for contributions to our culture, politics, or journalism created outside traditional corporate structures" for "special achievement in independent media."
Allegations of being a Soviet agent
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1992 allegations and their rebuttal
In March 1992, Guardian journalist Andrew Brown quoted a Soviet Embassy attaché, KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin, as saying, "We had an agent — a well-known American journalist — with a good reputation, who severed his ties with us after 1956. I myself convinced him to resume them. But in 1968, after the invasion of Czechoslovakia … he said he would never again take any money from us." In June 1992, Herbert Romerstein, a former official of the USIA and minority chief investigator of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Ray Kerrison reported in the New York Post that Kalugin identified Stone as that agent. The allegations were further developed in a book written by Romerstein and Eric Breindel, editorial page editor of the New York Post, The Venona Secrets.
Brown subsequently conceded that when he had "used the phrase 'an agent' to describe someone who turned out to be I.F. Stone", that he understood the term, "agent" to mean "useful contact," and that the "take any money" reference simply meant that Stone would not permit a Soviet employee to pick up the check for lunch then, or in the future, as had sometimes been done before. He adds that New York trial lawyer and author Martin Garbus recounted that in September 1992, while at the Moscow Journalists Club, Kalugin had explained to him, "I have no proof that Stone was an agent. I have no proof that Stone ever received any money from the KGB or the Russian government, I never gave Stone any money and was never involved with him as an agent."
Kalugin's testimony also contradicted Romerstein's allegation that Stone was a Soviet "agent" in interviews he gave I.F. Stone's two most recent biographers, historian D.D. Guttenplan (author of Holocaust on Trial) and former Washington Post writer Myra MacPherson (author of the Vietnam War classic, Long Time Passing). Guttenplan reported Kalugin’s denials in articles in the Nation and the New York Post. To Myra MacPherson Kalugin said: "We had no clandestine relationship. We had no secret arrangement. I was the press officer... I never paid him anything. I sometimes bought lunch."
MacPherson notes, however, that American journalist Max Holland persisted in repeating allegations about Stone accepting money from the Soviet Union, even while acknowledging the unreliability of their source (i.e., Oleg Kalugin):
As for the conflicting tales woven by former KGB agent Kalugin about his relationship with Stone from 1966 to 1968, Holland correctly notes that "Kalugin seemed incapable of telling the same story more than once." Still, this did not keep Holland from repeating the damaging and long refuted lie that Herbert Romerstein, former HUAC sleuth, developed after talking with Kalugin, that Moscow Gold subsidized Stone's weekly newspaper. No where is there any evidence that Stone took money for anything except a possible lunch or two. Nor is there any evidence, as Holland points out, that Kalugin was able to plant stories with Stone.
In his own memoir about his years as an undercover KGB man working as a Soviet press attaché in Washington, Oleg Kalugin revealed that he routinely met with many journalists in addition to Stone, including Walter Lippmann, Joseph Kraft, Drew Pearson, Chalmers Robers and Murray Marder of the Washington Post, and others.
According to Kalugin, Stone followed a practice of having lunch with a Soviet press attaché from time to time, but broke off this luncheon relationship after his first visit to the Soviet Union in 1956 and after hearing Nikita Khrushchev's "Secret Speech" denouncing Stalin and the tyranny of his regime. When Stone returned home from this trip to Russia he wrote in his newsletter: "Whatever the consequences, I have to say what I really feel after seeing the Soviet Union and carefully studying the statements of its leading officials. This is not a good society and it is not led by honest men." (italics in original) Stone's comment that "nothing has happened in Russia to justify cooperation abroad between the independent left and the Communists" cost him several hundred subscribers to the Weekly.
Kalugin stated that later he persuaded Stone to lunch with him until after the 1968 Czechoslovakian uprising and subsequent quelling of the revolt when Stone angrily refused to let Kalugin pay for the lunch and stopped lunching with him.
Cassandra Tate of the Columbia Journalism Review wrote that the alleged evidence of Stone’s involvement with the KGB is based on a few lines at the end of a KGB officer's speech. She concluded that he was not an "agent" and that there is no evidence he collaborated with KGB.
In a 1992 article in The Nation, Guttenplan argued that the evidence shows clearly that Stone was never a witting collaborator with Soviet intelligence, while leaving open the question of exactly what the Soviets may have meant by the term "agent of influence." (See also, the further Sections below.)
VENONA Project decrypts: Agent "BLIN": a question of identity
In July 1995, the National Security Agency released to the public documents relating to the VENONA Project, a US Signals Intelligence effort to collect and decrypt the text of Soviet KGB and GRU telegraph messages from the 1940s. According to the VENONA files, on September 13, 1944, the KGB New York station sent a message to Moscow that Vladimir Pravdin, a NKVD (the predecessor of the KGB) officer working under cover as a correspondent for the Soviet news agency TASS, had been trying to contact a person by codename "BLIN" (the Russian word for pancake) in Washington, but that "BLIN" had been refusing to meet, citing a busy schedule. He reported that Samuel Krafsur, an American NKVD agent code-named "IDE" who worked for TASS in the building that housed Stone’s office, had tried to "sound him out but BLIN did not react."
VENONA transcript 1506, dated October 23, 1944, indicated that Pravdin had by now successfully met with "BLIN". The cable claimed that "BLIN" was "not refusing his aid" but "had three children and did not want to attract the attention of the FBI." "BLIN"'s fear "was his unwillingness to spoil his career," since he "earned $1500.00 per month but...[Pravdin speculated] would not be averse to having a supplemental income."
Walter and Miriam Schneir, in a 1999 Nation article about the VENONA materials, "Cables Coming in From the Cold," remarked on the difficulties of interpretation caused by their hearsay nature; the many steps between a conversation and the sending of a cable; language difficulties; the possibility of imperfect decryption, and concluded "the Venona messages are not like the old TV show You Are There, in which history was re-enacted before our eyes. They are history seen through a glass, darkly."
However, in the August 2000 book Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, Cold War historians John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr claim with certainty that BLIN was Stone.
Then in late 2000, Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel published a book, The Venona Secrets, and repeated the allegation that BLIN was Stone. As evidence they cited a remark that Stone had made in his column of November 11, 1951 in response to reports in the NY Herald Tribune about his leftist sympathies, that he would not be surprised if he read in the Herald Tribune "that I was smuggled in from Pinsk in a carton of blintzes". Romerstein and Breindel suggest that Stone's use of the word "blintzes" betrayed a knowledge of his alleged codename, "BLIN." According to Stone's biographer, Myra MacPherson, however, the FBI never identified Blin/Pancake as I.F. Stone. Instead they suspected Ernest K. Lindley, who also had three children. The FBI contended that Blin must have been someone "whose true pro-Soviet sympathies were not known to the public..." and hence could not have been Stone, who, on the contrary, far from being "fearful," did not hide his beliefs. Indeed, rather than wishing to avoid FBI attention as BLIN reportedly did, I.F. Stone made a point of suggesting to the Soviet press attache Oleg Kalugin that they lunch together at Harvey's, a favorite Hoover haunt, in order to "tweak his [the F.B.I. Director's] nose."
2009 Klehr, Haynes, and Vassiliev book
In 2009, Klehr and Haynes together with Alexander Vassiliev, a former Russian KGB agent turned journalist, published Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America. The Yale University Press book was partially financed by the Smith Richardson Foundation, which also hosted a symposium to publicize it in May 2009 at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. The authors cite a KGB file (seen by Vassiliev while in Russia) that explicitly named "Isidor Feinstein, a commentator for the New York Post" in the 1930s, as BLIN and indicating that in 1936 BLIN "entered the channel of normal operational work." Another note listed BLIN as one of the New York KGB Station's agents in late 1938. Klehr, Haynes, and Vassiliev claim that Stone "assisted Soviet intelligence on a number of tasks, ranging from doing some talent spotting, acting as a courier by relaying information to other agents, and providing private journalist tidbits and data the KGB found interesting." Specifically, they state that "Pancake" was supposed to help recruit and support anti-Nazi resistance activity in Berlin, Germany, at this time (1936–38). The authors admit that Stone broke with the KGB after the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939; and they speculate that later Soviet contacts were in the nature of trying to reactivate the previous relationship. They conclude: "The documentary record shows that I.F. Stone consciously cooperated with Soviet intelligence from 1936 through 1938 [the period of the Popular Front]. An effort was made by Soviet intelligence to reestablish that relationship in 1944-45; we do not know whether that effort succeeded. To put it plainly, from 1936 to 1939 I.F. Stone was a Soviet spy."
Jim Naureckas, writing for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, counters that Klehr, Haynes, and Vassiliev's allegations, if true, indicate merely that Stone was "just gossiping," and he assails the authors for their "nefarious" and "tendentious" magnification of “relatively innocuous behavior” on the basis of one anti-Nazi maneuver. As for Stone being listed as an "agent", Naureckas points out that Walter Lippmann is listed as an agent as well.
Max Holland argues that, while in his opinion there is no question I.F. Stone was a "fully recruited and witting agent" from 1936 to 1938, Stone "was not a 'spy' in that he did not engage in espionage and had no access to classified material."
Reviewing Spies in the Nation (May 25, 2009), Guttenplan opines "Spies never explains why we should believe KGB officers, pushed to justify their existence (and expense accounts) when they claim information comes from an elaborately recruited 'agent' rather than merely a source or contact." He says the authors of Spies distort the report from VENONA 1506 (October 1944) and never prove that BLIN was Stone in 1936. He adds that their charges merely show that Stone "was a good reporter", and notes that Walter Lippmann is quoted in Spies as having professional contacts with "a Soviet journalist with whom he traded insights and information." This is the same man (Pravdin) whom Stone is said to have avoided.
Also, it is important to note that Stone was in fact critical of the Soviet Union during the 1930s, as Stalin consolidated control of that nation. In a December 7, 1934 editorial in the New York Post, Stone denounced Stalin's execution of Soviet citizens as similar to those executions occurring in Nazi Germany. Shortly thereafter, he said that Stalin's regime had adopted the tactics of "Fascist thugs and racketeers." As Stalin's show trials proceeded in the mid-1930s, Stone attacked those trials as heralding a new "Thermidor," which was the time of terror in the French Revolution of the 1790s. Stone was also critical of both Lenin and Trotsky for their "cruel and bloody ruthlessness" in deposing the czars of Russia, and later scolded Trotskyists in America for believing that Trotsky would have been any different than Stalin in terms of repressing those who opposed him. Stone also bitterly denounced the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, both publicly and in private.