Q: How did you meet your wife?
A: There used to be a very cheap seat Saturday night for the Philadelphia Orchestra. You stood in line to get an upper balcony seat for 50 cents. I was standing in line one Saturday and a friend of mine came up and said, "Izzy, do you want to go out on a blind date?" I said sure. So I made a date to go out Sunday night, and I borrowed a buck from a friend of mine which I later repaid and met my wife -- I was 19 and she was 18 -- and we got married in '29 in July. My wife was a flapper and did the Charleston in those days. I was a kind of a shy wallflower but . . . .
Q: Did she teach you to dance?
A: I never got taught to dance, I just naturally danced. And you know rock and roll is wonderful because you improvise. It's like a replay of the Dionysian frenzies in ancient Greece.
Q: Do you still go out dancing?
A: Not so much lately, darn it. Our favorite disco place closed down a couple of years ago. It was the one down near the canal. When we go to Europe on the Queen Elizabeth we always join the disco dancing there.
Q: You also mentioned you had a certain interest in Marilyn Monroe and her life. What about those interest you?
A: Marilyn Monroe sent me a contribution for the Weekly. It was very nice of her -- $100 to give free subscriptions to libraries.
Q: How did she even find out about The Weekly?
A: I don't know. But her lawyer didn't want me to publicize it in any way. He sent me the check.
Q: Was there something about growing up as a Jew in America that contributed to your being an outsider or championing the underdog?
A: It's a help to be born a Jew because you have an extra perspective as an outsider, but I had a wonderful time growing up in America and in a WASP town. I didn't feel persecuted or discriminated against. It was a little bit funny to be named Isidor in a WASP town and to be a little Jewish boy in glasses and admire 6-foot WASP blonds.
Q: What caused you to change your name (from Feinstein) to Stone?
A: Well, I don't know. I don't know. My boss kept bugging me to change my name. I finally hit on a pen name of Stone and just before our third child was born -- it was '37, a bad year -- I thought, well, maybe this one will have a neutral sounding name and birth certificate. Maybe someday it might save him from all I could see coming. So I adopted the pen name of I.F. Stone and made it legal in '38. Still feel uncomfortable about that.
Q: How did you decide you wanted to be a newspaperman?
A: A lot of people in the newspaper business felt drawn to it very early and I'm just one of that variety.
Q: Was there anything in particular that fascinated you about newspapers?
A: For me, a newspaperman was a cross between Randolph Hearst and Galahad. Galahad, because you're always going and rescuing maidens in distress. And I wanted to fight for the disadvantaged. I wasn't poor, we were just a middle-class family. My father had a country store, but I remember having a dream about the poor people living in Philadelphia on the waterfront. The first recollection I have of awareness of disadvantaged people. So I was a young radical.
Q: How old were you when you had the dream?
A: I was 14. And Hearst because (he) was pretty progressive before the First World War. In those days he was a marvelous all round newspaperman. He came to a bad end, so to speak, but he really was a great publisher and a great newspaperman.
Q: A constant theme through your life is the interest in freedom of thought, of speech, of expression. What drew you to that issue?
A: I don't know and it's hard to explain. My introduction to radical literature was Jack London. I think (English poet John Milton's) "Areopagitica" is the greatest defense of freedom of speech ever written. I was an American history buff very early and of course Jefferson is one of my heroes.
Q: Were you a good student?
A: I was a rebellious student. I got very bad marks. I kept feeling that school was interfering with my reading.
Q: When did you first come to Washington?
A: In September 1940 as (an) editor of The Nation.
Q: You've been here ever since?
A: Yeah. It's hard to cure myself of the habit. I remember my first visit to Washington as a young radical. It was in 1924 with my high school graduating class. In those days presidents didn't have much to do, or as much, and Calvin Coolidge was president. I still remember his handshake. It was very limp, like a fish. A dead fish.
Q: Did the beliefs keep you going, or is there a fascination being a reporter?
A: Both. They couldn't be separated. It's a lot of fun to cover a story and the more you do on a story the more you learn. I was never a clock- watcher. My boss once said to me, "There's no story that can't be put on page one if you've got the imagination, the ingenuity and the zeal to really dig deep enough to make a page one story." I believe that. It's a slight exaggeration, but only slight. The key is understanding, not expos,es for their own sake, but understanding. We can't be swept away by personal animus.
Q: Would you be more inclined to write an expos,e about Ronald Reagan than Franklin Roosevelt?
A: I revered -- I thought Roosevelt was wonderful. In his field he was a great man. But we were annoyed as hell at him. During the '32 campaign, he sounded too much like Herbert Hoover. He was full of duplicity and could be a terrible liar and tricky. But one thing about Roosevelt -- you just knew he was a great man. He just had it. Churchill had it. DeGaulle. It's unmistakable.
(Reporting) is like being a painter. You want to bring out the personality, the character of the man you're portraying. You're not trying to defame or deface him. That's an irrelevant caricature, something else again. You want to bring out what he is. So a good reporter wouldn't pull his punches on Roosevelt.
We criticized Roosevelt straight through all the time. It's important to look at every possible fact. A reporter who starts out thinking he knows it all is just no goddamn good.
Q: Is there a difference between time constraints on a reporter when he's doing a daily deadline pressure as opposed to a scholar?
A: As a reporter it's very frustrating. You never get a chance to really complete a story. But if you're dealing with something very important, by God, you've got to give it all the time it needs. You can't slough it. You can't be sloppy.
(The British novelist and playwright John) Galsworthy has an essay on description. He says the secret of a good description is the significant trifle. Freud built his system of psychoanalysis on the significant trifle. It's the significant trifle in a hearing -- a slip up by a witness -- why didn't he just say yes or no? Why did it put it that way? That's a tipoff for a story for an historian or the reporter. And it means having the patience to reexamineevery bit of evidence for yourself before (you) jump to your conclusions and write your final story. A reporter has an obligation to the truth. It's a kind of religion.
Q: You study Greek. What are you reading now?
A: I'm in love with the ancient Greeks and the tragic poets. I've just finished reading my 11th play in Greek. "Clouds." The first play I read was "Prometheus Bound." It's been one of the happiest periods of my life, the last 10 years, to have the leisure to tackle something so difficult and to read some of these works in the original and enjoy their beauty and relevance. Thucydides is the greatest historian that ever lived. All the choreography and power politics are there in miniature. It's not out of this world at all, it's just yesterday.
Q: If you had to come back again, would you come back as a historian or a newspaperman?
A: I would do exactly the same thing. I had a wonderful time being a newspaperman and very often I miss not having an outlet. Like a firehorse, I read the papers pretty thoroughly and I keep running downtown and picking up documents as though I were really running The Weekly.
Q: Beginning in high school you wanted to set your own speed. You'd rather read history than be a good student. When you're covering political events, you'd rather talk to the guys down in the trenches than the people close to the president.
A: I'm just a natural rebel and nonconformist. But I have no complaints. Nothing happened to me. My father made a decent living and I grew up in a wonderful small town. I was born in Philadelphia, I went to kindergarten in Richmond, Ind., and then we moved back East so I went to school and high school in Haddonfield (New Jersey). I enjoyed my childhood. I think once I got called a "Christ killer." But I didn't let it upset me. I didn't suffer any wounds of being a Jew. Or a radical. Or a rebel.
Q: If Franklin Roosevelt had said to you, "Mr. Stone, I want yo to come and work for me, be part of my cabinet, be my press secretary," would you have considered it?
A: No, I wouldn't have done it. I'm an anarchist. I don't believe in governments. I don't like organizations. As soon as you get into an organization, you're caught in sham and compromise.
Q: I gather that for a large period of your life you were hard of hearing or deaf. Was that a problem in being a reporter?
A: I discovered I was growing deaf in 1938 and I felt as if the bottom fell out of me. But part of the secret of life is to capitalize on your disability like Demosthenes capitalized on his stuttering to become a great orator. I discovered that at an important hearing, for example, nobody ever heard it perfectly and if you didn't hear it very well at all, you could go back the next day and look at the transcript. You often found things that others had overlooked. (Later) I had an operation that restored my hearing.
Q: How was it, putting out The Weekly, doing a variety of things, at the same time you were married to the same woman for 50 years and you have three children who all appear to be successful?
A: I was very lucky. I don't know; I just fell in love. We were a couple of kids. We just naturally took to each other. Politically we were very different. She lived in West Philadelphia. I call her West Philadelphia Republican.
Q: Was she from an upper socioeconomic background?
A: No. Her father was a middle- class businessman who went broke like my father did in the Depression. My wife is a wonderful wife and mother. She's got a green thumb. And even though she didn't understand a lot of what I was doing or even really sympathize with it, she was remarkably sensitive. She never interfered at all.
When we got married, the first thing I made her do was quit her job. She wasn't feeling very well, and I got a one-room apartment in Atlantic City and put her up there for the summer and commuted every day to my job in Camden. She never worked again until the Weekly. As the children grew up and left the home, it was wonderful to have a new life in common, working together at the paper.
Q: In a story I read, your wife was quoted as saying about you: "Some people need complete attention, complete devotion, a complete feeling of being a creative person. I thought his talents were so much better than I had. His life so fascinated me. It is as though I was hypnotized." Would you agree with that?
A: That's what Esther said. It's the way she feels.
Q: Do you think that the women's liberation movement would have (had) an effect on your marriage?
A: I don't know. I do know that it's very lonesome being single. Women have the same rights as men have -- they can do whatever they want to do, but women who like to be a wife and mother like my wife should be allowed.
I was a rather absent father, I must say. When I went to cover the Arab-Jewish war in 1948, it was a dangerous assignment. I remember telling the kids at dinner, "Well, I don't know what might happen. I don't mind if I get shot by the Arabs, but I'd hate like hell to be shot by the Jews."
Q: Was there ever a point through all the years that we were together that your wife turned to you and said, "Izzy, why don't you get a regular job with regular hours?"
A: No. Never. We were having too much fun. Look, to have a little paper, to be free to say exactly what you think, to help people (who) can't get help anywhere else and give them some comfort, fight for what you believe in. That's apple pie. It's not suffering. Sure, you might not have a fancy automobile. But we had a nice little three-bedroom house, the kids had enough to eat. What do you want? I'm grateful we live in a country where you can be free if you want to take the risks and give up having the Cadillac. Who wants a Cadillac anyway?