The timing is right, in this election year, for a close examination of the role of the press in our democracy.
Canadian documentarian Fred Peabody’s All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone features an American exemplar of independent reporting. Investigative reporter Isidor Feinstein Stone’s career stretched from the 1930s to the 1980s. He worked for the New York Post, PM, and as The Nation’s Washington bureau chief. But he is best known for his self-published newsletter I. F. Stone’s Weekly. After being blacklisted during the McCarthy era, in January 1953 the left-leaning Stone launched the Weekly for the low subscription price of $5 per year. Original subscribers included Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe. Before ceasing publication in 1971, the Weekly had a circulation of 70,000.
I interviewed media critic Jeff Cohen, who appears in, and was co-executive producer on the film, and who has dubbed Stone the “patron saint of bloggers.” Cohen co-founded Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, he is the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, a former Fox News contributor, and wrote Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media. At the Park Center, he judges the annual Stone-inspired “Izzy Award,” presented for “special achievement in independent media.” Cohen elaborated on why he was drawn to Stone’s story:
“I.F. Stone was a heroic figure in independent journalism and media. . . . Because he had no corporate ownership, no one telling him what he could or could not write, he challenged the McCarthyite anti-communist witch-hunts and racism. When the Vietnam War was expanding, week after week he was debunking the myths coming out of the Lyndon Johnson Administration and later Nixon’s White House and the Pentagon. When mainstream media were cheering on that war—The New York Times, The Washington Post, Walter Cronkite . . . you had this solo journalist exposing the Gulf of Tonkin hoax, where the U.S. government claimed there were two unprovoked attacks on U.S. warships in the Gulf of Tonkin off of North Vietnam. There was one journalist blowing the whistle on it, while the front pages of the Times and Post completely accepted this tale.”
Filmmaker Michael Moore, who also appears in the documentary and was an avid reader of the Weekly, cites Stone’s motto:
“All governments are run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.”
All Governments Lie shows how Stone, because he refused to swallow the establishment version of events, was excluded from press events and denied access to official sources. It gave him an outsider’s perspective as he doggedly sought the truth. The film is presented by another truth teller, Oliver Stone, one of the film's four executive producers.
“His exile from the press corps and mainstream media rituals . . . he considered a blessing,” says Cohen. “He wasn’t wasting time hearing all of the lies and sitting through the official spin. So he got in the habit of just combing through documents and the Congressional record. . . . He was able to debunk official fictions by looking through government documents themselves.”
The film cuts back and forth from archival footage of Stone to contemporary clips of his spiritual heirs including Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!), Glenn Greenwald (The Intercept), Jeremy Scahill (Dirty Wars/The Intercept), Matt Taibbi (Rolling Stone), David Corn (Mother Jones), The Young Turks founder and host Cenk Uygur, former New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges, Carl Bernstein (the left wing parents of the Washington Post reporter who helped topple Richard Nixon subscribed to I. F. Stone’s Weekly), dissident thinker Noam Chomsky, and consumer advocate Ralph Nader.
Along with the usual lefty media suspects are lesser-known investigative reporters, including John Carlos Frey, who has uncovered mass killings on the U.S./Mexico border and who, like other journalists featured in the film, is supported by The Nation Institute.
Cohen describes the current moment as “a boon time for independent media.”
“It’s stronger than what was happening in the late sixties, early seventies,” he says. “You’d have to go back 100 years, to the pre-World War I period, when there were socialist weeklies in cities across the country and nationwide socialist newspapers like The Appeal to Reason, to find independent progressive media arguably as strong as what we have today.”
Media maverick I.F. Stone, who died in 1989, remains the godfather of muckrakers and independent journalists everywhere.
All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone opens in New York and Los Angeles on November 4. Jeff Cohen, Matt Taibbi, Cenk Uygur and other journalists featured in the film will take part in talkbacks. For more information check out the website: https://www.allgovernmentslie.com/.
Ed Rampell is The Progressive’s “man in Hollywood” and the only journalist in America named after Edward R. Murrow, the broadcasting legend who exposed Senator Joe McCarthy.
Former CBS News president Fred Friendly called Ed Rampell “the only journalist in America named after Edward R. Murrow,” the broadcasting legend who exposed Sen. Joe McCarthy on TV.