Wednesday, October 18, 2006


My brother called me this morning to tell me that I'd been dissed in the Los Angeles Times. In a review of the recent I.F. Stone bio, media critic Tim Rutten wrote:

As a young editor, I had the privilege of working with three authentic heroes of American journalism: One was Phil Kerby, a champion of civil liberties who won a Pulitzer Prize for his editorials against government secrecy and judicial censorship; another was Carey McWilliams, the radical journalist and historian who edited the Nation for so many years; the third was I.F. Stone. Of the three, his contribution was the widest and most consequential. McWilliams and Kerby still await the biographies they deserve, but Myra MacPherson's All Governments Lie! The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone is a work equal to its subject — carefully and thoroughly reported, keenly thought out, by turns judicious and appropriately sympathetic (emphasis added).

Ouch! Had he missed my McWilliams bio, or had he decided that McWilliams deserved a better one? (This despite a positive review in his paper's Sunday book review a few months ago?) Not good either way, but I offered to send him a copy of American Prophet if he hadn't already made that judgment.

By the way, I wonder about the claim that Stone's contribution was "the widest and most consequential" of the three men he mentions. I'm especially dubious about the "widest" part. Stone was a famous and first-class muckraker, but he wasn't as versatile as McWilliams. McWilliams served in state government, drafted Supreme Court briefs, critiqued modern literature, and edited a major journal of opinion. His bibliography is comparable to Stone's, despite the fact that he released only one book in the last 30 years of his life. McWilliams's work is still highly regarded in academic circles in a wide variety of disciplines, including labor history, city planning, California studies, Chicano studies, etc., and he inspired the screenplay for what may be the finest Hollywood movie of its generation, namely, Chinatown. Need I go on? I didn't think so.

But comparisons are odious. Stone reviewed McWilliams's Factories in the Field favorably when it appeared in 1939, and I suspect that their relationship was based on mutual admiration and shared politics. And so it goes.



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