By Bob Garfield, ON THE MEDIA, National Public Radio (NPR)
Interview with Bert Patenaude, historian at Stanford University
Washington, D.C., Friday, June 13, 2003
BOB GARFIELD: Jayson Blair was a nightmare of a journalist, but his sins
probably didn't significantly alter the course of world history. Another New
York Times correspondent in a different time, in a difference place may
have. This is the story of a scandal that has been hidden in plain view for
70 years, re-emerging to bedevil the staggered New York Times.
Pulitzer Prize winner Walter Duranty, the Times Moscow correspondent in the
late 1920s and early '30s accused then and now of suppressing the story of
millions of Ukrainians dying from famine may now have his Pulitzer
posthumously revoked in response to an international campaign.
Bert Patenaude wrote about Duranty in his new book The Big Show in Bololand.
He joins me now on the phone from his home in California. Bert, welcome to
On the Media!
BERT PATENAUDE: Good to be here!
BOB GARFIELD: Gossip about the integrity of Duranty's reporting swirled
seven decades ago. Why did he get the Pulitzer in the first place and why is
the Pulitzer board now considering revoking the prize?
BERT PATENAUDE: Well he got the Pulitzer in 1932 primarily for his reporting
on Stalin's crash industrialization of the first five year plan. Well, what
started to happen in 1932 was that you had a major famine breakout in
Ukraine. Now reporting the famine, if Duranty had done it faithfully, would
actually have made not just the Soviet Union look bad but Duranty look bad,
because this great narrative about the great Soviet achievement would have
BOB GARFIELD: So actually he was being boosterish about Stalin's
BERT PATENAUDE: Very much so, to the point where in 1932, on September
16, he published a long, shall we call it a poem -- it's an ode to Red
Square --and in there he says -- this is 1932 -- this is before the famine
begins -- he says "Russians may be hungry and short of clothes and comfort,
but you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs."
Now that phrase happened to be the way Stalin justified the number of
deaths that accompanied the great industrialization drive, but here is
repeating it and praising it in the New York Times!
BOB GARFIELD: We're talking about millions of deaths and what has been
described by some historians as Stalin's genocide against his own people --
an intentional famine, in other words.
BERT PATENAUDE: Right.
BOB GARFIELD: And some of that was reported contemporaneously! Duranty
wasn't the only Western reporter stationed in the Soviet Union. What of the
other reporters on the scene at the time? Didn't they talk about the famine?
BERT PATENAUDE: Well they began to talk about it in 1933. There was always
the issue of whether you would be kicked out if you told the actual story!
But some of them did. One of them was Malcolm Muggeridge, British
correspondent, and he actually after he came out -- shortly after writing
articles about the famine -- condemned Duranty for covering it up. Now it's
not as if Duranty never spoke about a problem, but he never used the word
BOB GARFIELD: Muggeridge was not shy about criticizing Duranty. He called
him a "sociopath." Those are strong words. Why in the intervening seven
decades has this extraordinary sin of omission at a minimum not gotten the
attention of the Pulitzer board? Why did it take the current difficulties at
the New York Times to bring this issue to the surface?
BERT PATENAUDE: I mean the Times has done enough on this, it seems to
me. The newsroom has the equivalent of an asterisk by Duranty's Pulitzer. I
mean it seems to me that's as far as they can go. Now the issue is whether
Pulitzer board will feel the pressure, and it comes from a couple of
sources -- one is, as you say, the Times is very vulnerable at this moment.
This is a moment when the box is open, so to speak.
But I would say that look, the Ukrainians who have been pushing for this for
a long time, are in a much better position now because since the end of the
Cold War and in particular recently people are openly comparing the Soviet
Union to Nazi Germany!
And I think the moment has been reached now when it's no longer taboo to
make those comparisons -- not to say that they were the same, but at least
to make the comparisons. I think that has created the atmosphere that's
to cause some trouble for the Pulitzer board.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, Bert, thank you very much.
BERT PATENAUDE: Thanks, Bob. My pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD: Bert Patenaude is a historian at Stanford University and
author of The Big Show in Bololand -- a history of American relief of the
first Soviet famine. [MUSIC]
By Bob Garfield, ON THE MEDIA, National Public Radio (NPR),
Washington, D.C., Friday, June 13, 2003, For Personal and Academic Use Only