By Tim Ruttin: Regarding Media
The Los Angeles Times, LATimes.com
Los Angeles, California, Saturday, June 14, 2003
Among all the unforeseeable permutations of the Jayson Blair affair, none is
more unexpected -- or more problematic -- than its role in reviving the
13-year-old campaign to strip the New York Times' Walter Duranty of the
Pulitzer Prize he won in 1932.
American journalism has thrown up more than its share of vile characters;
Duranty certainly was among the worst. As the Times' Moscow correspondent
in the 1920s and '30s, he was an active agent of Soviet propaganda and
disinformation -- probably paid, certainly blackmailed, altogether willing.
For years, Duranty lied, distorted and suppressed information to please
Josef Stalin. One of his reportorial reputation's cornerstones, in fact, was
the exclusive interview the Soviet dictator granted him in 1929.
Three years later, Duranty was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for correspondence
"for his series of dispatches on Russia, especially the working out of the
Five Year Plan." In its citation, the Pulitzer Board praised Duranty's work
for its "scholarship, profundity, impartiality, sound judgment and
Duranty's acceptance statement described his "respect [for] the Soviet
leaders, especially Stalin," whom he called "a really great statesman."
In 1933, Stalin's savage campaign to collectivize agriculture in the Ukraine
created a man-made famine in which somewhere between 6 million and 11
million people died. Duranty's reports did not simply ignore the famine.
They denied its existence.
Duranty's deceit was amply documented 13 years ago, when historian S.J.
Taylor published "Stalin's Apologist," her devastating account of his
career. That book was fully and favorably reviewed in the New York Times,
and a Times editorial denounced Duranty's work "as some of the worst
reporting to appear in this newspaper."
To this day, the Times' official listing of its Pulitzer Prizes carries this
notation next to Duranty's name: "Other writers in the Times and elsewhere
have discredited this coverage."
When Taylor's book was published in 1990, according to a statement released
this week by Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, "the board
gave extensive consideration to requests for revocation of the prize to Mr.
Duranty -- which would have been unprecedented -- and decided unanimously
against withdrawing a prize awarded in a different era and under different
This year, however, when the board of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of
America (UCCA) met to discuss commemoration of the famine's 70th
anniversary, it decided "a campaign to revoke Walter Duranty's 1932 Pulitzer
Prize" would be an "integral component" of that effort. Their initiative
quickly was joined by Canadian and British Ukrainian émigré associations,
which set up Internet Web sites through which visitors could e-mail the
Pulitzer Board and the New York Times.
"We been working on this for many years," said Tamara Gallo, the committee's
executive director. "We decided to renew the campaign as part of our
commemoration of the famine not only because it's important for the world to
know what happened in 1932-33, but also to expose Duranty as a disgrace to
journalism.... We are in contact with the Pulitzer Board, and this week
we've asked for a meeting with [Times Publisher] Arthur Sulzberger Jr. With
everything that's happened at the New York Times recently, they need to set
the record straight. Jayson Blair wasn't the first Times journalist to lie."
But he was, according to Gallo, "the best thing that's happened to our
Since the Blair scandal broke upon the Times, its ideological critics in the
U.S. press have been weighing in, one after another, on the Duranty
question. The National Review's influential online edition has published a
pair of cutting commentaries. Thursday, the Weekly Standard joined the fray
with a piece by the Hoover Institution's Arnold Beichman. He argues that
when the Pulitzer Board finishes with the Duranty case, it ought to "look
back at the [New York Times'] Herbert L. Matthews coverage of Cuba and
the man he so admired, Fidel Castro."
The 1930s were, as W.H. Auden described them, "a low, dishonest decade,"
filled with apologists for tyrannies left and right, among whom Duranty was
a bottom-feeder. But the Times has forthrightly confronted its institutional
complicity, most recently in the 150th anniversary issue it published two
years ago. In that same issue, former Times Executive Editor Max Frankel
commented at length and with equal candor on what he called "the century's
bitterest journalistic failure" -- the Times' refusal to print what it knew
about the Holocaust that consumed 6 million European Jews a decade after
the Ukrainian famine.
Curiously, the same organizations and commentators who are pressing the
issue of Duranty's prize have been resolutely silent about one of the
Holocaust's darkest chapters -- the collaboration by tens of thousands of
Ukrainians with the Nazi murderers of Eastern European Jewry. The Waffen SS
raised an entire brigade from among the Galician Ukrainians. Ukrainian POWs
volunteered to serve as guards in the German death camps. Followers of the
Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera enthusiastically joined the Nazis in
carrying out massacres of Jews throughout the Ukraine and adjoining regions.
According to Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los
Angeles, "there is no doubt at all of their participation in genocide."
There is a clear moral claim to be made on behalf of those who died in the
Ukrainian famine. So, too, for those Ukrainian Jews who died at the hands of
the Nazis and their own countrymen. This week, the Los Angeles Times asked
officials of the leading U.S. and Canadian Ukrainian émigré organizations
whether they ever had censured or condemned the Galician Brigade or
Bandera's followers for their participation in genocide.
"It depends on what you mean by genocide," said the UCCA's Gallo. "To my
knowledge, well, I'm not really sure. We may have sent out statements in the
past on these things, but I would have to look for them and get back to
you." As of Friday's deadline, she had not.
John Gregorovich, chairman of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Assn.,
said, "No, these are controversial things, and there is no evidence of war
crimes by the Galician Division or Bandera's Organization of Ukrainian
Nationalists. They were not motivated by anti-Semitism. Those who charge
they were are mainly Jewish correspondents and scholars, who fail to
differentiate between anti-Semitism and Ukrainian nationalism."
And so it goes.
Meanwhile, a special subcommittee of the Pulitzer board is once again
reviewing Duranty's prize. Whatever it decides, it is hard not to agree with
at least one thing Gregorovich said: "When it comes to genocide, every
crime forgotten or denied is a victory for its perpetrators."
Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, Saturday, June 14, 2003
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