Sunday, August 30, 2009

I.F. Stone, bloggers and getting out the truth

I.F. Stone, Isidor Feinstein Stone, is one of my heroes. Quoting Wikipedia: "He is best remembered for his self-published newsletter, I. F. Stone's Weekly. At its peak in the 1960s, the Weekly had a circulation of about 70,000, yet it was regarded as very influential."

Stone died 21 years ago in Boston in 1989, yet his influence is still being felt — there is an official I.F. Stone website. This is surprising considering that I.F. Stone's Weekly was accorded the second highest rating of any sustained print journalism effort in the last century.

I'm not going to go into great detail about Izzy Stone, that was the name he went by for much of his public life, Wikipedia covers Izzy Stone quite nicely. What I would like to share with you is an answer that Izzy gave when asked how he scooped the major media outlets when it came to reporting on the war in Vietnam. It seems Izzy got it right; the mainstream media got it wrong.

How did he do it?

It was widely reported that the war in Vietnam was being wound down. The U.S. government said it was so. But Izzy reported that the war was escalating, the U.S. involvement was being quietly ratcheted up, the number of troops stationed in Vietnam was growing not shrinking.

Izzy was asked how he knew. What were his secret sources? It was assumed he had moles buried deep within the government. Izzy smiled at the question. It seems some U.S. papers were using troop movement figures as filler, little snippets of information used to make columns fit the page.

So many troops shipped out today from San Diego, so many troops returned home today from Vietnam. Izzy simply kept track of the reported numbers. Soon, it became clear that more troops were being shipped out than were returning. The MSM was sitting on the story and didn't even know it.

If Izzy had had the Internet, I think Izzy would have been a blogger and he would have had a far greater following. His reach would have been exponentially larger. As it was, he was a giant.

Years ago I had the honour of chairing a photo seminar at which Edie Adams was the headline speaker. Adams, famous for his work in Vietnam, sat with us regaling us with stories from his many adventures. One thing Adams made very clear, early on New York news desks did not want negative stories on the war in Vietnam.

According to Adams, reports filed from the field to the Time magazine office stateside often told a sad tale of impending disaster. The stories were warnings that needed to reach the American people. Instead the negativity was edited out, General Westmoreland graced the cover and a positive spin was be put on the growing disaster in Southeast Asia.

I.F. Stone would have listened and he did. I.F. Stone was a journalist. Sadly, the same cannot be said for far too many folk working in the media.

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