THE BLOG
08/06/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Dangerous: Michael Jackson and I.F. Stone

Because mud sticks, I was going to kick off here by examining the so-called evidence for the charge that I.F. Stone, the legendary radical journalist, did "covert work on behalf of the Soviet Union in the 1930s." (This particular iteration comes from Plank, TNR's aptly named-- as in "thick as a..." -- staff blog.) But one of the benefits of beginning a book just after the birth of your first child, and then taking 18 years to finish it, is that you have an in-house media strategist. That KGB stuff is so 20th century, sez number one son. What people need to know about right now is the incredible connection between a much-persecuted public figure who managed the difficult feat of crossing over from his own culture to the mainstream -- and Michael Jackson.

Like for instance?, I prompted him. Well, for example the fact that, despite photographs showing them to have white skin, both men claimed to be black. Gratified as I was by the realization that the boy had actually read the book, I realized he also had a point. In American Radical, my new biography of Stone, I tell the story of how this Jewish son of Russian immigrants gradually became passionately committed to the cause of Civil Rights. When Stone first moved his family to Washington in 1940, he raised no objection to the restrictive covenant on the deed preventing the family house from "being sold to, or occupied by... negroes, or persons of negro blood, commonly called colored persons." Yet three years later, Stone resigned from the National Press Club after being denied service because his guest at lunch, William H. Hastie, a former federal judge, was a black man. By the 1950s, when his youngest son Christopher -- now a law professor at USC -- was a teenager, Stone sometimes sat in the "colored section" of Washington's still segregated movie theatres, and habitually refused to move to the "whites only" carriage on trains, telling the conductor, "No, I'm black." By the 1980s a profile in People mentioned Stone's admiration for Jesse Jackson.

Are there other parallels? Well, both men did have three children -- a fact which, in Stone's case, was once enough to convince the FBI he might be the Soviet source (or agent, depending on your credulity) known as BLIN. And both men spent portions of their childhood in Indiana: Jackson was born in Gary, while Stone first attended kindergarten in Richmond. Stone changed his name -- born Isidore Feinstein in Philadelphia in 1907 he became I.F. Stone in 1937 in a move that made him more acceptable (and less obviously Jewish) to mainstream America. Yet like Jackson, whose repeated surgical reincarnations also seemed designed to make him more palatable to the public, but who always derived strength and inspiration from his African-American identity, Stone's public persona was always proudly Jewish. In the 1950s, at the height of the McCarthy hysteria, Stone was attacked by the Herald Tribune for his opposition to the Smith Act prosecution of American communists. "I have heard of more sensational exposes," Stone replied, noting that he had made a dozen public speeches against the Smith Act, and "they were not advertised as violin recitals... I did not claim to be a card-carrying Republican.... Except for a few jokes in Yiddish, they were carried on in the English language."

How much more of this is there? More than you might think. Though there is absolutely no evidence that I.F. Stone ever moonwalked, he did like to dance -- not just, as the Los Angeles Times noted on Sunday, ballroom dancing, but also, according to his nephew Peter whatever they were dancing at a San Francisco disco called "Dance Your Ass Off." Both Stone and Jackson were one-time pariahs who, judging by the outpouring of emotion this week, survived to become national institutions. And though I wouldn't have guessed it, both men were apparently close, at least physically, to my colleague Eric Alterman.

You might object that this whole exercise is a stretch, and that the attempt to connect I.F. Stone and Michael Jackson is nothing more than desperate bid for publicity, fabricated out of thin air and a few coincidences. And I might well agree with you. But if you feel that way, just wait until you see what Stone's attackers do to try to connect him with the KGB...Talk about a stretch!