There are plenty of journalism awards- the most prestigious, of course- being the Pulitzer Prize. It seems that almost every major institution feels the need to have its own, as if there are not enough already to honor journalists employed by the MSM.
The latest, however, is a new one announced by the Neiman Foundation at Harvard University. The Foundation announced its award last July, but I only became aware of it when the VOA News Blog featured it on its website on Oct.23rd. Its first recipient is John Walcott, Bureau Chief of the McClatchy Company, John Walcott, whose reporters for this news company produced, as the VOA site put it, “dozens of stories that, virtually alone among news organizations, challenged Bush administration claims about the threat posed by Baghdad.” Or as the Nieman Watchdog site explained, Walcott and his team “refuted the Bush administration’s claims about the need for war and exposed the serious reservations many intelligence, Foreign Service and military officers had about the rush to invade Iraq.”
Put aside what many commentators have noted, most recently Robert Kagan, that not only U.S. but British and French intelligence, as well as the stance of Saddam Hussein himself, convinced the world that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction ready to use, and that sanctions by the UN were not working. Also put aside that the consensus among Democrats, including the outgoing President Bill Clinton, was that Iraq was a serious threat, and that his removal was a dire necessity. Remember that the major case for invasion was made by the Clinton administration advisor Ken Pollock, who spelled out the case in the strongest terms in his 2002 book, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.
The name of the award: The I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence. Those of the new generation who might never have heard of Stone should realize that in the late Stone’s heyday, he was a virtual pariah; a left-wing journalist looked on askance by a then patriotic Cold War media. As time passed, and a new generation responded with horror to the Vietnam War, Stone’s star began to shine. Before the era came to an end, Stone had become an icon, a symbol of journalistic integrity who most observers now believed had always been prescient and right. Thus the Nieman Foundation calls the award as much a tribute to “the spirit of I.F.Stone,” who showed in his own day- the 1940’s to 1971- “independence, integrity and courage.”
The now accepted view of Stone, as The New York Times put it, was that he used his newsletter, I.F. Stone’s Weekly, “to oppose McCarthyism, racism, the nuclear arms race, American military involvement in Vietnam and other issues he regarded as stains on democracy.” Stone, in other words, has become the no.1 journalist hero of the American Left.
The only problem is that this judgment about Stone is totally false. There is much to learn from Stone’s work, but it is not what his avid supporters think it is. His most well known “accomplishment” is his own exploration of the Korean War. In 1951, in a book that if one reads now he will have the reaction of cringing, was titled The Hidden History of the Korean War. Therein he argued that Sygman Rhee, South Korea’s authoritarian ruler, “deliberately provoked” an attack by Communist North Korea, with “secret support from Chiang kai-shek and some elements of the U.S. Government.” That war was, to Stone, an American aggression against an indigenous revolutionary government. His book was a conspiracy theory argument par excellence, on accord with those today about American causation of the 9/11 attack.
His greatest weakness, however, was his longstanding support and whitewashing of Stalin’s tyrannical regime in the Soviet Union. Ignoring reports in the 1930’s about the existence of a secret gulag as well as how Stalin framed up those in the great purge trials that began in those years, Stone believed the accurate facts about Stalin’s regime were fabrications meant to forestall the socialist future. In August 1939, Stone signed a letter to the Nation accusing the anti-Communist socialist Sidney Hook of maligning the Soviet Union when Hook had compared Stalin and Hitler. A week later, the world learned of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which united the two totalitarian leaders and revealed the accuracy of Sidney Hook’s judgment.
Stone’s sycophancy is now known to have been so blatant that even a reviewer in our own day’s Nation, film critic John Powers, wrote that “Stone’s true failing was his tardiness ing rasping the full monstrosity of actually existing Commuism, especially Stalinism.” Stone’s “tiger eyes,” Powers wrote, “that could spot the threat to liberty in the footnotes of a Congressional report couldn’t clearly see the meaning of show trials, slave labor, and class-based mass murder.” Powers correctly concluded that Stone, “faced with one of the most tyrannical political regimes of his lifetime, got things so badly wrong that another man might have died questioning his own judgment.”
Yes, this is the journalist in whose name the Nieman Foundation is now going to present an annual award. And there is much more. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence, corroborated by Venona decrypts and KGB files,that using the code name “Blin,” or pancake, that Stone at one time had actually been in the pay of the KGB in 1935, and had been reapproached by the Soviet secret police to work for them again in 1944.
Stone, in other words, had been at least a Soviet dupe for a large portion of his career. It was not until 1956, and the Soviet invasion of Hungary, that he had begun to have second thoughts. Then he wrote, shocking many of his pro-Soviet readers, that the USSR was “not a good society and it is not led by honest men.” If it was a worker’s paradise, it was only “for a rather stupid type of Communist Party member.” By then, his fellow-traveling days were over. Yet, he continued to believe that American democratic capitalism was doomed and that socialism was the only future for his own country.
And while he was critical of the Soviets, he maintained a belief in the moral equivalence of the two super-powers. The Soviet empire in Eastern Europe was to him the same as the American interest in Latin America. He opposed the war in Vietnam, but foolishly called Ho Chi Minh “a very human man” and a leader who wanted a “democratic state.” Even then, he must have known how Ho had slaughtered thousands of dissident Marxist followers of Trotsky in his own country. He knew that conservatives called those with illusions about the socialist states “dupes.” But, he reasoned, “events have also shown that in the long run the dupes proved less misleading than the dopes.”
Of course they had not, and his own explanation reveals the constancy of Stone’s own illusions. The last regime he thought would fulfill his hopes was none other than Castro’s Cuba.
One might well conclude, upon evaluating I.F.Stone’s entire record, that his journalism should hardly serve as a guide for what journalists should aspire to today. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the Nieman Foundation would give the reward named after Stone to a journalistic team whose reports were meant to turn the public against the Bush administration’s foreign policy.
At least, the public should know the truth about Stone, and look with a slightly jaundiced eye about the worthiness of those who follow in his footsteps and receive this award.