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I.F. Stone Biographer Receives Annual Sperber Award


Myra MacPherson speaks to the audience after receiving the 2007 Ann M. Sperber Biography Award.
Photo by Ryan Brenizer

If I.F. Stone were alive, President George W. Bush might not have gotten away with so many lies, according to author and former Washington Postreporter Myra MacPherson.

That was the message MacPherson delivered Nov. 27 upon receiving the 2007 Ann M. Sperber Biography Award at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus. MacPherson received the award, given annually to the author of a biography or autobiography of a journalist or other media figure, for All Governments Lie! The Life of and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone.

“People say today, where is Izzy when we need him?” she said. “He would be at the forefront of the those decrying the invasion of Iraq, the excesses of the war on terror and this summer’s Congressional decision to give President Bush unprecedented authority to escalate warrantless spying, which prompted one bumper sticker that I love, ‘America: One Nation Under Surveillance.’”

The award was established with a gift from Liselotte Sperber, in memory of her daughter Ann M. Sperber, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-nominated biography of Edward R. Murrow, Murrow: His Life and Times.

Stone, who was the only American journalist to challenge President Lyndon Johnson’s account of the Gulf of Tonkin incident in his widely read, self-published I.F. Stone Weekly, “set his own course, navigated by his own stars and reached port under his own steam,” said Neil Hickey, award committee member and editor at large of the Columbia Journalism Review.

“We’re happy to have this remarkable new biography of one of the country’s greatest journalists, who declared that ‘All governments lie, but disasters lie in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out,’” Hickey said. “In view of that remark, could any biography be more timely?”

Jeremy Stone, one of I.F. Stone’s sons, said that MacPherson’s achievement was describing the political climate in which his father had to work, and especially how Stone’s work compared to Walter Lippman, a leading journalist at the time.

“Myra brought my father back to life again, 33 years after his weekly has ceased to appear and 17 years after he died. I never thought that anything could bring so much attention to I.F. Stone’s work as Myra has brought,” he said. “This book is I.F. Stone’s vindication, and Myra’s too, for many years of work.”

MacPherson used the occasion to urge those in attendance to learn from Stone’s tenacity and humor, saying that although he overcame horrible eyesight and bad hearing, and made his name digging through dusty, forgotten government documents, he could teach Jon Stewart a thing or two about one liners.

The Washington Post was a very exciting paper to read, he once quipped, because “you never know on which page you will find a front page story.”

She singled out students in the audience to take to heart Stone’s five rules for journalists: Don’t be fooled by flattery; distrust all government statements; read documents; find whistleblowers; and bone up on interviewing.

She also vowed to donate her $1,000 prize money to the Molly Ivins Fund for Investigative Reporting and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“For all you young people in the audience, I would like you to continue on,” she said. “As Molly says, ‘Give ’em hell,’ and as Izzy says, ‘You mustn’t be a martyr; you’ve got to enjoy it.”


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