Despite his poor eyesight, Izzy saw what others missed, even though it was often in plain sight. Partly it was a matter of perspective. Izzy was always looking for evidence of the great forces and trends that shaped our history--"the fundamental struggles, the interests, the classes, the items that become facts." And he was not merely a Marxist; he wanted to synthesize Marx and Jefferson. How many Jeffersonian Marxists, after all, had penetrated the periodical galleries of the House and Senate? Izzy, by the way, had to sue to get his press card.
But Izzy also got and made news by reading the dailies, the wire services and such, and then following up where others had not thought to tread. He once told David Halberstam that the Washington Post was an exciting paper to read "because you never know on what page you would find a page-one story."
One of his favorite scoops, he told a conference of investigative journalists in Amsterdam, of which more below, had to do with our capacity to monitor underground nuclear tests. It happened in the fall of 1957, when he spotted a "shirt tail" in the New York Times. A shirt tail, Izzy explained to the foreign journalists, is usually some wire-service information run as a little paragraph hanging down ("like a shirt tail") at the end of the main story.
The main story, about the first underground nuclear tests in Nevada, had quoted experts forecasting that they would not be detectable 200 miles away. The distance was important, because at that time test-ban negotiations between the United States and the USSR were under way, and Dr. Edward Teller, whom Izzy regarded as a Strangelovian mischief maker, was raising questions about whether a test ban could be enforced. If the tests were in the atmosphere or underground, could they really be detected? Teller asked. When he got home, Izzy noticed that the city edition of the Times had a shirt tail from Toronto saying that underground tests had been detected there. He went downtown to get the late city edition and saw more shirt tails from Rome and Tokyo saying the same thing, so he clipped them and squirreled them away in his files. By the time the Atomic Energy Commission put out its report the following spring, saying that the tests hadn't been detected more than 200 miles away, Eisenhower's disarmament negotiators had gotten the Soviet Union to agree to monitoring posts every 1,000 kilometers (620 miles). Izzy jumped into his car and drove down to the seismology branch of the Commerce Department's Coastal and Geodetic Survey, who were happy to see and cooperate with a reporter since, other than during earthquakes, the press ignored their work. There he learned that we had listening posts as far away as Fairbanks, Alaska--2,600 miles from the Nevada test site--that had picked up the tests. Why do you want this information? they asked. He told them. They called the AEC. The AEC called Izzy, and after listening to what he had to say, changed their press release.
Izzy clearly got as much pleasure telling the story of how he got the story as he did getting the story in the first place. And that's another thing to admire about him. Izzy lived a life against the grain, but he believed in having a good time, leading the good life. When we invited him to speak at Swarthmore in the 1950s, he agreed to come, but requested a club-car ticket. At the time, this seemed like an extravagance and out of keeping with my image of Izzy as radical conscience of his cohort. But as he once put it, "I have so much fun I ought to be arrested."