It was, then, part of Izzy's charm that he never accepted the idea that in order to be a heretic, a maverick, a solo practitioner, it was necessary to be a martyr or a monk. As Peter Osnos, who had worked briefly for Izzy at the start of his own distinguished journalistic and publishing career, pointed out, it was not only on The Nation's ticket that he danced his way across the Atlantic. He and Esther used to go out dancing twice a week. More significantly, his insistence on his perks had less to do with hedonism than a sense of dignity, of self-confidence, of earned entitlement. He wasn't about to allow a priggish journalistic establishment to marginalize him. He once said, "You may just think I am a red Jew son-of-a-bitch, but I'm keeping Thomas Jefferson alive." He embodied the romantic idea of one man pitted against the system.
Who else but a romantic college dropout would have thought to teach himself ancient Greek in his 60s in order to write a history of human freedom, "because Athens was where it all began"? His quirky revisionist history of Socrates became an unlikely bestseller, but his commitment to freedom of thought remained his constant companion. Once when The Nation ran an editorial condemning some act of speech suppression by the Sandinistas, Izzy called to cheer us on, as if to say he had learned the hard way not to treat socialist sins more sympathetically than capitalist ones. He was calling to give us his blessing but also his legitimacy.
One night in the mid-1980s, after dinner in New York, I was walking Izzy back to his hotel, the Tudor, where he liked to stay when in town.
Izzy said he had an idea he thought might be appropriate to his energy level.
He would write a weekly paragraph, maybe 150 words, under the heading "Izzy Says." He said every week he had at least one thing to say. We contacted the great caricaturist David Levine, who provided the perfect logo: Izzy holding a life-size pen the way a medieval warrior might carry his spear.
And sure enough, the next week Izzy sent in a 150-word item on the Reagan Defense Department. A few hours later, though, he called again. It seemed the story was bigger than he thought. He had gone down to the press building and read the wire reports. He had another 200 words.
Our production person remade the page, and here we were on press day when Izzy called again. "I think we have something of a scoop," he chirped, and proceeded to dictate his "final" adds.
Over the next few weeks Nation readers were treated to a number of "Izzy Says" items, at least one "Stonegram" and a few "I.F. Stone Reports." And the young staff, increasingly impatient with Izzy's cheerful but deadline-oblivious modus operandi, looked skeptical when told how grateful they would be in some distant future for having had the privilege of working with this legendary maverick.
And then one day Izzy called apologetically to say he had better stop. "I'm an old war horse," he said, "and once I get started I can't stop. I have to go downtown and read the wires. I have to follow up. Let's go back to the old system, and I'll just do occasional pieces as they occur." And he did.