MacPherson’s Biography of I.F. Stone

Steve Weinberg reviews Myra MacPherson’s “All Governments Lie”: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone, in In These Times.

MacPherson’s book is remarkable for its hybrid nature. It is a biography, sure, meant both as an examination of his life and as a document to defend Stone from what MacPherson calls “posthumous lies perpetuated by today’s right-wing media.” But it offers an unusually rich context that provides, in MacPherson’s words, “a historical treatise on the press” and “Stone’s running commentary on twentieth-century America.”

Stone got his start as a newspaper reporter and editorialist in the ’20s, a teenaged prodigy. MacPherson quotes Stone at age 14, observing debates about evolution at the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee: “There still seem to be many worthy gentlemen … who wish to anchor the world in a sea of narrow minds (including their own) and hold it there, lest it move forward. … They are utterly out of place in this age of rationalism.”

MacPherson explores the factors leading to Stone’s indifference to being branded a troublemaking outcast, including his frail build, impaired eyesight and homely looks, as well as his good fortune in finding a patron who helped launch his journalism career at age 13. That unconcern yielded powerful enemies: Stone’s FBI file was at least 5,000 pages thick, in part because the journalist never stopped opening the curtain on J. Edgar Hoover, who he considered a “glorified Dick Tracy” and a “sacred cow” within government. While undeniably true, few journalists dared to publish such characterizations while Hoover lived.