In Praise of Izzy
November 18, 2008
The great independent journalist I.F. Stone, remembered and celebrated by a proud grandchild. Not only was Izzy, in her words, a proto-blogger, but he was forever cutting against the grain of people’s expectations:
He was a true force of nature, and no brief discussion of his works and days could begin to capture his many wonders. But Jack Beatty’s talk came close. Jack’s book on Curley and the Democratic Machine, The Rascal King, is simply the greatest biography of a man and big city machine politics ever written. He and his wife were old, old, friends of Izzy and Esther and accompanied them to everything from parties to movies. Early in the proceedings he leaped to the podium and his booming, genial voice simply filled the space and cleared out any clutter left by more timid, reverential, hagiographic approaches to Izzy. Look, he said, (more or less and forgive me, Jack, for any misquotes) Izzy was increasingly both blind and deaf. And he was always and eternally himself. He never let the audiences expectations govern his behavior. He spoke at a dinner celebrating Walter Lippman and instead of complimenting the great man launched into a tirade against him, leaving my poor grandmother, who could actually see the faces in the celebrity audience, to face the brunt of the audience’s rage and horror as Izzy ceremonially stomped Lippman’s legend into the dust. Picture Izzy doing the same thing at a film about the wonders of communism when, as an imagined “man of the left” the audience turns to him for approbation and gets a fifty minute disquisition on the horrors of communism and the glories of the red, white and blue.
Izzy was also a man who could be an uncomfortable dinner guest — at least, if the host was a pious clod like Morton Kondracke:
My favorite of Jack’s stories–man, he crammed a lot in–was his technicolor rendering of a Thanksgiving Dinner with Morton Kondracke and Kondracke’s family of young children. In high mid-twentieth style the great men assembled for dinner are asked, ceremoniously, to speak on the wonders of g-d and when they came ’round to Izzy he said forthrightly (and oh, how Jewishly) something on the order of “G-d? that *&^%$ criminal? If there is a g-d he’s responsible for more war, pestilence, and murder of children than any single human in history. He’s got a lot to answer for. I’d rather believe in no g-d than have to impeach the bastard with his crimes.” (that’s a paraphrase, but thinking back on my own thanksgivings with Izzy probably not by much). Jack left us with the image of the young Kondrackes pleading with their mother and father “but…but…isn’t there a g-d?”
There’s a good deal more about indepedent journalism and whether Stone would have been comfortable with the back-and-forth commentary of the Internets. I tend to think he would have had a ball with this technology.