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Leftist Victor Navasky Awarded For Communist Sympathies — and Defending Putin?

Victor Navasky, the former editor-in-chief and publisher of The Nation, is having a good year. Nearing his 85th birthday this coming July and still very active in journalism, he is racking up awards. Harvard University’s Nieman Center, a journalism institution whose mission is “to promote and elevate the standards of journalism,” has given Navasky its appropriately named “I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence.”

The award, as I detailed in these pages some time ago, is more accurately the championing of overtly biased, often incorrect articles written by prominent left-wing journalists. I.F. Stone was for many years a columnist for two small New York City left-wing, fellow-traveler newspapers, PM and later The Daily Compass. When the latter folded in 1953, Stone started his own newsletter, which he called I.F. Stone’s Weekly (later renamed the Bi-Weekly).

Starting with a very small number of subscribers, when he finally closed it down he had 70,000 subscribers and was writing for mainstream papers and magazines, especially The New York Review of Books. Their editors bought his sub list and made him a contributing editor.

But his much-heralded independence and integrity had big holes in it. His most famous story (which started out as articles in the Compass and then expanded into a book, The Hidden History of the Korean War) saw him unsuccessfully try to prove that the U.S. started the Korean War, not North Korea with Stalin’s blessing. His most well-known story turned out to be conspiracy theory -- or, as we might call it today, “fake news.”

During the Vietnam War in March of 1965, Stone incorrectly analyzed a famous State Department white paper to try to prove that the South Vietnam Communist NLF was independent of North Vietnamese control. Once again, Stone was wrong.

Stone's sycophancy is now known to have been so blatant that even a reviewer, film critic John Powers, wrote in The Nation (October 23, 1965) that "Stone's true failing was his tardiness in grasping the full monstrosity of actually existing Communism, 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."

From 1936 to 1939, Stone signed up with Soviet intelligence in the name of "anti-fascism." (You can find the details in Max Holland’s article “I.F. Stone: Encounters with Soviet Intelligence.” You can also find a complete lengthy evaluation of Stone by me here.)

So, one might say that the Nieman award fits Victor Navasky. “To paraphrase Orwell,” Holland wrote, “Stone’s sin was being anti-fascist without being, for too long, anti-totalitarian.” One could also use these words to describe Navasky.