Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Last month, Dan Froomkin penned - or I guess I should say keyboarded - a great tribute to the outstandingly independent journalist I. F. "Izzy" Stone.
The best blogger ever died in 1989 at the age of 81.

That's the conclusion I reached reading Myra MacPherson's wonderful biography of the great rebel journalist, I.F. Stone. The title of her book, "All Governments Lie!," is both a fitting summary of Stone's core philosophy and the organizing principle of many of the finest political bloggers on the Internet.
Froomkin calls "I.F. Stone's Weekly," which ran from 1953 until advancing age forced Stone to shut it down in 1971 (by which time it had become an appropriately-renamed bi-weekly), as "a blog before its time," noting that
MacPherson's book shows us a man who ... "rejected the idea of the reporter as a robot with no political passion or insight. 'Without forgoing accuracy and documentation,' Stone argued, reporters did not need to be 'neutral.' ... 'A newspaperman ought to use his power on behalf of those who were getting the dirty end of the deal.... And when he has something to say, he ought not to be afraid to raise his voice above a decorous mumble, and to use forty-eight-point bold.'"
When Lotus was a print journal, a 4-page monthly, it was consciously based on the Weekly - or, to be precise, the Bi-Weekly, which is what it was when I discovered it. I. F. Stone was and remains one of my personal heroes and one of my personal highs was when I was once introduced as "the best claimant to the title 'the next I. F. Stone.'" Of course, it didn't work out that way for me, but I still can recall how flattered I was at the time. One spiritual connection is that, like Stone, I delight in (in his case, uncovering; in mine, usually merely noticing) the telling detail that others have missed.

One of Stone's methods was to look at what he called "the shirt-tail" of a story, the last few paragraphs where, he said, the really interesting stuff was often buried. A perfect example of this came just today in a Los Angeles Times story about the oh-so-important report that Gen. David Petraeus is supposed to give to Congress in September:
Despite Bush's repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it would actually be written by the White House, with inputs from officials throughout the government.

And though Petraeus and Crocker will present their recommendations on Capitol Hill, legislation passed by Congress leaves it to the president to decide how to interpret the report's data.
This, of course, undermines the entire project. It's not even going to be Petraeus's report - which would be unrevealing enough (Did anyone ever actually expect him to say "The surge that I designed, endorsed, advocated, and oversaw is a huge bust and I'm a big fat loser?") - it's going to be the Bushites' report. Petraeus may present it to Congress but he'll have no actual control over what's in it. What's more, it doesn't matter what it says because George "Signing Statement" Bush can say it means whatever he damn well wants it to.

Now, this bit was not missed; it was mentioned on at least three well-trafficked blogs of which I know. But the point here is that these were the 28th and 29th paragraphs in a 34-paragraph story! An excellent example of a shirt-tail, one that, it appears, a bunch of people caught. Izzy would be proud.

Footnote One: I had my own shirt-tail moment a couple of years ago, in a post in November 2003, just 10 days after I started this thing, pointing to an LA Times story from the preceding July. These were the final paragraphs of that story, ones about which I had seen no comment:
Looking back from the third floor of the Pentagon, Feith dismissed such criticism [of prewar planning for post-war Iraq] as "simplistic." Despite initial problems, he said, progress is being made, with order returning to most of the country and a new Iraqi governing council in place.

Still, he and other Pentagon officials said, they are studying the lessons of Iraq closely - to ensure that the next U.S. takeover of a foreign country goes more smoothly.

"We're going to get better over time,' promised Lawrence Di Rita, a special assistant to Rumsfeld. "We've always thought of post-hostilities as a phase' distinct from combat," he said. "The future of war is that these things are going to be much more of a continuum."

"This is the future for the world we're in at the moment," he said. "We'll get better as we do it more often."
Which is part of the reason the talk about Iran doesn't surprise me in the least.

Footnote Two: Another shirt-tail demo from the very same article about the September report. These are the very last two paragraphs:
The Defense official skeptical of the troop buildup said he expected Petraeus to emphasize military accomplishments, including improving security in Baghdad neighborhoods and a slight reduction in the number of suicide bomb attacks. But the official said he did not believe such security improvements would translate into political progress or improvements in the daily lives of most Iraqis.

"Who cares how many neighborhoods of Baghdad are secured?" the official said. "Let's talk about the rest of the country: How come they have electricity twice a day, how come there is no running water?"
How come the substantial, effects-on-the-ground objections are buried at the bottom of the story? I suspect that question is a lot easier to answer than his.

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