01 Oct 2006

I.F. Stone, KGB Agent of Influence

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Paul Berman, reviewer of the two new I.F. Stone releases in the Times, is, face it, a major pinko himself. But even Berman feels compelled to admit:

MacPherson reminds us that in 1992, three years after Stone’s death, a high officer of the former Soviet Union’s former spy service, the K.G.B., revealed that from time to time in the 1960’s, Stone did accept luncheon invitations, and the K.G.B. picked up the tab. The K.G.B. agent was Oleg Kalugin, and, in recalling those lunches, he left the impression that Stone might have been a Soviet operative. Stone’s enemies in the United States, in a delirium of joy, responded to Kalugin’s remarks by leveling some very serious posthumous accusations at Stone, and they have kept on doing so, as anyone could have predicted.

Eventually, however, Kalugin clarified his remarks. MacPherson has tracked him down to confirm his clarifications, and she concludes emphatically that Stone was not, in fact, a Soviet spy, nor did Kalugin ever mean to suggest otherwise. MacPherson is scathing about the accusations. The attacks, “as tawdry as they are untruthful,” she writes, have been made by those with “a vested interest in portraying Stone as a paid Kremlin stooge because he remains an icon to those who despise all that the far right espoused.” She goes on in this irate vein — which would be fair enough, except that carried away perhaps by her own polemical fury, she seems not to notice that in her ardor to rescue Stone from his enemies, she has yanked the rope a little too firmly and has accidentally hanged the man.

MacPherson informs us that Kalugin, having specified that Stone was never on the Soviet payroll, described Stone as a “fellow traveler” — meaning a friendly supporter of the Soviet cause, though not a disciplined member of any Communist organization. Kalugin explained (in words no admirer of I. F. Stone will want to read) that Stone “began his cooperation with the Soviet intelligence long before me, based entirely on his view of the world.” Stone was “willing to perform tasks.” He would “find out what the views of someone in the government were or some senator on such and such an issue.”

MacPherson beams a benign light on those remarks. She observes that, first, there is a world of difference between merely cooperating with the K.G.B. and actively serving as an espionage agent; and, second, any proper journalist would leap at the opportunity to chat with well-connected functionaries of a foreign power; and, third, many a Washington big shot has conducted back-channel conversations with foreign governments. And so forth, one exculpatory point after another, each of which seems reasonable enough, except that, when you add them up, the sundry points seem to have missed the point. Stone, after all, has been extolled as a god, or, at least, an inspiring model for the journalists of today, and while it is good to distinguish between cooperation and espionage, and excellent to learn that Stone sought out acquaintances in many a dark corner, something about his willingness “to perform tasks” as part of his longtime “cooperation with Soviet intelligence” is bound to make us wonder, What on earth was that about?

MacPherson acknowledges that sometimes a slant or bias did creep into Stone’s journalism — a “double standard,” as she describes it, which tended to favor the Soviet Union and, in later years, other left-wing dictatorships… for instance, his commentary on the death of Stalin in 1953, with its ringing homage: “Magnanimous salute was called for on such an occasion.”

Face it, lefties, Stone quacked like a duck, he walked like a duck, he defended ducks, and he was probably a duck.

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