TORONTO – The fact you’re reading this column here probably indicates you have a preference or interest in searching for the truth beyond the confines of government- and corporate-controlled media. Independent journalism, especially one of its early practitioners and his influence on many contemporary writers, is the focus of a spirited new documentary, All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone, based on a book by journalist Myra MacPherson.
This tribute to feisty, skeptical “Izzy” and his seminal project I. F. Stone’s Weekly (1953-71) starts with several obvious examples of government lies we’ve all come to know well: Nixon pleading that he’s “not a crook,” Colin Powell convincing the world about Iraq’s WMDs, and President Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin false flag that got us so much deeper into Vietnam.
Stone’s Weekly exposed government (and commercial media) lies, collusion and hypocrisy. Stone would gather his facts directly from digging into government documents, newspapers, meetings and reading between the lines in corporate media. Michael Moore described Izzy “as Toto in The Wizard of Oz when he pulled back the curtain and exposed the fake Wizard.” Much of Moore’s satiric approach is clearly based on Stone’s clever use of wit and satire in his writings.
The doc includes colorful interviews with several prominent contemporary Stoners (not the “Rolling” variety) – journalists who became filmmakers – Glenn Greenwald (Citizenfour, the Edward Snowden doc); Jeremy Scahill (Intercept website founder, and Dirty Wars, the brilliant expose on drones); and of course Michael Moore, who actually met with Izzy and styled his Flint newspaper on Stone’s work, and then went on to become the most successful documentarist in America, creating several provocative and challenging films.
The film also interviews noted scholar Noam Chomsky, activist Ralph Nader, Washington Post “Watergate” author Carl Bernstein; famed author/activist Chris Hedges; the satirical Rolling Stone blogger Matt Taibbi, Fairness and Accuracy in Media (FAIR) founder Jeff Cohen; and the ever present Amy Goodman and her Democracy Now empire.
Priceless clips are used from the preeminent talk show host Dick Cavett – who was also seen with James Baldwin in I Am Not Your Negro – where Stone is given free rein to expose his findings about American government and media lies, which got Cavett in deep water with his producers. Both these films were premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, where a special public panel discussion featured many of the subjects in the film.
For those of us struggling to put power in the hands of the working class, this film is a powerful tool. Chris Hedges bluntly states, “There are only two types of reporters – those who care and those who don’t. And most of them don’t care,” obviously referring to those who do it for money above all else. From a famed journalist who covered many war-torn countries (El Salvador, Gaza, Sarajevo), and left the New York Times because of its pro-Iraq War stance, Hedges goes on to address why Stone was marginalized in D.C.: “… if you care, then you’re immediately branded as ‘political.’ Because if you care you can’t lie to cover up oppression, atrocity and genocide. And I. F. Stone cared.”
Jeremy Scahill adds to this point, “just because you’re a journalist doesn’t mean you check your humanity at the door. You don’t somehow get a pass to not care about people.”
Scahill received the I. F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence presented annually by Harvard University, and stated, “I pledge to use this honor to educate the new generation about the incredibly important work of I. F. Stone and the legacy and challenge he has left all of us in a very dark time – to simply be journalists. Journalism isn’t a career, a profession – it’s a way of life.”
About Stone, Amy Goodman adds, “He’s really an inspiration in the role that media can be the greatest force for peace on earth. Instead it’s wielded as a weapon of war.”
Stone famously defined what journalism was all about: “to write the truth, to defend the weak against the strong, to fight for justice, to bring healing perspectives to bear on the terrible hates and fears of mankind, in the hope of someday bringing about a world in which mankind will enjoy the differences of the human garden, instead of killing each other over them.”
In America, a free press is anything but free, especially when it’s in the hands of corporations driven by money and profits. It’s on the shoulders of independent journalists, like those who work for this website, activists who care, many who have written for decades, to carry on the legacy of the great I. F. Stone. The trailer for the film can be seen here.
In 1973, just after the Weekly ended circulation, a wonderful and revealing black and white documentary was made with extensive interviews with Stone. Through the amazing wonders of the Internet, this film, I. F. Stone’s Weekly has been made available to watch here.