PETER O. ZIERLEIN*
To the Meet the Press audience on December 12, 1949, there was nothing special about the confrontation between I.F. Stone and Dr. Morris Fishbein. As editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Fishbein was a well-known foe of what the AMA called “socialized medicine” in any form; Stone, a sometime member of the Meet the Press panel since 1946, could be relied on for provocative and persistent questioning. The country’s most influential physician had already denounced national health insurance as “the kind of regimentation that led to totalitarianism in Germany.” When Fishbein also condemned compulsory coverage as “socialistic,” Stone demonstrated why the show’s producers considered him “a good needler”: “Dr. Fishbein, let’s get nice and rough. In view of his advocacy of compulsory health insurance, do you regard Mr. Harry Truman as a card-bearing communist, or just a deluded fellow traveler?”
The arguments over national healthcare may not have advanced much over the next sixty years, but for I.F. Stone that broadcast marked a kind of limit. It would be nearly two decades before Stone, who rose to prominence as a correspondent for this magazine and a columnist for the legendary New York tabloid PM, would next appear on national television. He would never be invited back on Meet the Press. When, three years later, he found himself in effect blacklisted–not even The Nation would give him a job–he started I.F. Stone’s Weekly, the one-man newspaper that is an inspiration and a challenge to the current generation of bloggers.
To think for yourself is the hardest thing for a journalist to do. I.F. Stone managed to do it, day after day and week after week, for fifty years. He may have been shocked into independent thought–in his case by the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which marked the end of Stone’s hopes for a Popular Front embracing communists, Trotskyists, liberals and unaffiliated radicals–but however he began, he retained his independence.
Unlike many of those who would later oppose him from the right, Stone never succumbed to the romance of American communism. But he was terrified by fascism, and he welcomed any ally in the fight against Hitler–even, when Stalin changed sides again, the Soviet Union.
He defied conventional wisdom in urging the left to support Dwight Eisenhower’s efforts to extricate the United States from the war in Korea and to avoid entanglement in China and Vietnam, while he despised Richard Nixon, whom he labeled a “slick kind of Arrow-collar-ad” fascist. Yet when President Nixon made his historic opening to China in 1972, Stone–remarking that “there is nothing that a good newspaperman, like any Hegelian or Marxist historian, cannot foresee as inevitable once it has happened”–confessed that he found it “exhilarating to be reminded again how unpredictable human behavior can be.” The “Peking-Washington rapprochement,” he declared, “is the most startling event of its kind since the Nazi-Soviet Pact.”