New biography of I.F. Stone debunks claim he worked for the USSR

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No fresh campaign of slander against I.F. Stone has been launched in quite some time. A worrisome situation: It suggests that his influence has waned, that the danger of his example has been safely contained. Following his death in 1989, Stone was, for a while, lauded as the conscience of his profession by journalists who once might have crossed the street to avoid him. Posthumously, they were suddenly on a first-name basis with "Izzy," whose four-page weekly newsletter regularly scooped correspondents wielding far more access and harvesting greater prestige.

Stone turned the close reading of government documents into a form of investigative reporting -- and did so as a tough-minded and independent left-winger who was something of a fanatic in his enthusiasm for the Bill of Rights. Such a legend must be covered with mud as often as possible, lest he become a role model. And so, by the early 1990s, members of the conservative media elite were pleased to circulate tidbits insinuating that Stone had met with a KGB operative as late as 1968, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. By that point (so the tale went), the journalist announced he would not take any more of the Kremlin's money.

Myra MacPherson's "All Governments Lie" is the first biography of Stone to appear since this "revelation." It turns out that the agent was actually part of the Soviet delegation in Washington; he later told reporters that his rendezvous with the journalist was part of that time-honored form of mutual intelligence-gathering known as "going to lunch." Stone was disgusted by the recent invasion of Czechoslovakia and would not let the Soviet pick up the check.

So much for Izzy Stone as a communist asset. The story was debunked by D.D. Guttenplan in the Nation in 1992, but it's good to have the facts between hard covers. MacPherson, the author of "Long Time Passing" and a former Washington Post journalist, also takes a much closer look at Stone's massive FBI file than did the authors of two earlier biographies. The unrelenting surveillance by J. Edgar Hoover yielded some 5,000 pages -- a detailed chronicle of the life of a bookish and monogamous man.

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