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Amy and Izzy Make Waves

Donald Paneth Sep 22

Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and People Who Fight Back
By Amy Goodman and David Goodman
Hyperion Books, 2006

All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone
By Myra MacPherson
Simon & Schuster, 2006

Maverick journalists are uncommon in U.S. history. By 1950, most had become domesticated, falling into line as publicists for official policy and the corporate mass media. They traded in what may have remained of their independence for pay raises, benefits, and social status.

Precedents for protest have always been too few. There were the muckrakers (Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stannard Baker) in McClure’s, Everybody’s, and other publications from about 1902 to 1912. Muckraking was continued in small liberal magazines – The New Republic and The Nation – and in George Seldes’ newsletter, In Fact. It experienced a major revival during the Vietnam War. I.F. Stone’s Weekly, Ramparts, the Texas Observer and the Village Voice muckraked. Seymour M. Hersh exposed the My Lai massacre; the New York Times printed the Pentagon Papers.

Today the dissenters are dispersed – Hersh, Amy Goodman, Alexander Cockburn, the Independent Media Center movement, commondreams.org, alternet among a myriad of other websites and blogs.

Two new, iconoclastic books are of interest and importance with regard to the problems of protest and honest reporting in America. They are Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and the People Who Fight Back by Amy Goodman and David Goodman and All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone by Myra MacPherson.

Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, a daily one-hour radio and television show broadcast on more than 400 stations across the country, is a valiant journalist; David, an investigative reporter, is her brother. They previously authored a best-seller, The Exception to the Rulers.

In Static, they document the horrors, the atrocities, the deceptions of the George W. Bush era – presidential lies, torture incorporated, news reports funded and falsified (they quote Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister, “The truth is the greatest enemy of the State”). Their research is extensive, and their findings are shocking.

They go on to recount the travail of Iraq War critics – Cindy Sheehan; Iraq Veterans Against the War; the Denver Three, who upstaged Bush at a speech before his supporters – and conclude with expressions of encouragement and hope from authors Alice Walker, Robert Fisk, Eduardo Galeano, Arundhati Roy and Amira Hass.

I.F. “Izzy” Stone started out as a newspaperman and was a reporter and editor at the then-liberal New York Post, The Nation and P.M., a left-leaning New York daily that expired in 1948. When he couldn’t get a job at the height of the Red Scare in the early 1950s, he founded I.F. Stone’s Weekly. With the assistance of his beloved wife Esther, he ran it from 1953 to 1971. “You may just think I am a red Jew son-of-abitch,” MacPherson quotes him as telling wary colleagues, “but I’m keeping Thomas Jefferson alive.”

A four-page newsletter, I.F. Stone’s Weekly built a circulation of more than 70,000. It challenged orthodox politics in America, the Vietnam War, the military establishment, conventional reporting.

Stone was a unique and exceedingly imaginative reporter. He didn’t develop his scoops from anonymous sources but out of government records, transcripts and agency reports, all of which were publicly available but seldom consulted.

One of the exquisite ironies of Stone’s life is his journey from pariah to acclaimed oracle whose curmudgeonly genius is eventually embraced by the journalistic establishment that once shunned him.

MacPherson does an excellent job – she brings Stone and his times and his work and his views to the front. Anybody can learn a great deal about history and the practice of journalism from her book.

Donald Paneth is the author of The Encyclopedia of American Journalism. He began his career as a journalist with the New York Times in 1944.