This is adapted from comments made at Tuesday's inaugural ceremony of the Izzy Awards for independent media - named after legendary journalist I.F. "Izzy" Stone. Blogger Glenn Greenwald and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! shared the award presented by Ithaca College's Park Center for Independent Media.
When I first heard about an award for people who most "resembled" Izzy, I had high hopes that I might finally win a prize. Unfortunately, the selection committee appears to have been concerned with behavior.
Resembling Izzy in behavioral terms does not lead to an easy life. His capacity for thinking independently, and acting on principle, isolated him from just about everyone.
In the McCarthy era, because he spoke in defense of Jeffersonian principles, people were afraid to be seen with him. When he supported the rights of Palestinians, Jewish institutions would not invite him to speak. And when the National Press Club refused to serve his black guest lunch, he quit the club, isolating himself from his colleagues.
He said he was so happy in his work that he should be "arrested." But the consequence, for him, of speaking truth to power was loneliness.
Inevitably, the reward of such a man comes late. I.F. Stone knew this. He said: "I began as a pariah and then was treated as a gadfly. If I live long enough, I will become an institution." And indeed in his lifetime, he moved on to become an icon.
Last year, Harvard's Nieman Foundation for Journalism began awarding an annual I.F Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence with a follow-on panel on strengthening this independence. So two decades after his death, he became a fulcrum for journalistic independence.
Now, following the I.F. Stone Medal of 2008, comes the Izzy Award of 2009 with different criteria but a common goal. Rest assured that I.F. Stone is rotating in his grave with pleasure over these annual awards.
Today's Izzy Award winners do have points of resemblance to I.F. Stone. Glenn Greenwald is a close reader of official documents and a principled critic of the tendency of the Executive Branch to exceed its rightful powers. He has been a fearless critic of government officials and complacent reporters. He has shown a willingness to challenge conventional pieties, including unthinking support for Israeli hardliners.
Amy Goodman career also has similarities. She speaks up for the disenfranchised and gives her audience facts they don't hear from the traditional media. She is an investigative journalist and writes often about human rights. Like I. F. Stone and his weekly, she founded a vehicle, "Democracy Now!", that takes no advertising or money from corporations or government. She confronts authority no matter how high. And she has repeatedly shown physical courage, something that I.F. Stone showed in accompanying Jewish refugees of World War II in their illegal and dangerous travel from Europe to Palestine.
I.F. Stone once said: "If the Government makes a mistake, the newspapers will find out and the problem may then be fixed. But if freedom of the press were lost, the country would soon go to pieces."
What will this crucial freedom of the press amount to in coming years in the face of so much technological change? And how to protect it? The Park Center for Independent Media's answer is to indentify role models by giving them Izzy Awards. It has made a good beginning.
In conclusion, I.F. Stone once said that he resembled nothing more than a "great Jewish bullfrog." With this in mind, I congratulate the awardees on two grounds: their prize-winning resemblance to I.F. Stone in behavioral terms and their abysmal failure to resemble him in person.