As I drove around running errands today, I met someone I did not know before: I. F. Stone. Though he died a few years back, he was the topic of Talk of the Nation with his biographer, Myra McPherson. Though the facts of his life are interesting, what made me wish I had known him sooner was the description of his work ethic. Victor Navasky described it this way in The Nation:
But in short order, although he never attended presidential press conferences, cultivated no highly placed inside sources and declined to attend off-the-record briefings, time and again he scooped the most powerful press corps in the world.
His method: To scour and devour public documents, bury himself in The Congressional Record, study obscure Congressional committee hearings, debates and reports, all the time prospecting for news nuggets (which would appear as boxed paragraphs in his paper), contradictions in the official line, examples of bureaucratic and political mendacity, documentation of incursions on civil rights and liberties. He lived in the public domain.
I thought about Stone again when I got home and happen to see clips of Bush speaking today, ratcheting up the fear as election season begins, and actually saying Osama bin Laden’s name, which has not been part of his vocabulary for some time. As I skipped around from channel to channel, no one made mention of his tactics, or called him on the carpet for such a blatant move; they just repeated what he had said. I guess I’ll have to wait for Jon Stewart to come back to work to see someone play these words alongside of other clips to show the inconsistencies and manipulation.
I met a wonderful woman in Jackson, Mississippi a couple of years ago who had a bumper sticker on her refrigerator that said, “If you’re not appalled, you’re not paying attention.” We, as a rule, are not paying attention; we are getting what we deserve. We are allowing ourselves to be told what is going on rather than looking for the truth ourselves. Something is wrong when the best journalist I know is on a fake news show.
Though I do sport a “Bush’s Last Day” sticker on my guitar case, my point here is not that he is The Problem. Both sides of the aisle are filled with folks more consumed with power games than truth telling. When they talk about what is important to them, they talk about beating the other guys. Few of our leaders articulate anything other than what the polls show they should say or what will make their opponents look bad.
Navasky closed his article by quoting Stone’s own credo:
To write the truth as I see it; to defend the weak against the strong; to fight for justice; and to seek, as best I can, to bring healing perspectives to bear on the terrible hates and fears of mankind, in the hope of someday bringing about one world, in which men will enjoy the differences of the human garden instead of killing each other over them.
I drove home from a meeting at church tonight and heard a report saying the three gubernatorial candidates in my state each released attack ads today making sure we would be afraid of them all. Election season means those seeking office will act and speak on the assumption that we are stupid people with very little memory. They will make empty promises, speak in clichés, and keep telling us to “Be afraid; be very afraid.”
It’s worked before. We’ve given them no reason to believe it won’t work again. How I wish we would.