OPINION article by Maki Dobczansky
The Daily Pennsylvanian, DailyPennsylvanian.com
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Thursday, July 31, 2003
Perhaps the New York Times feels that it has done enough to fix its image in
the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal. Indeed, it has done a lot of painfully
public house-cleaning, and, judging by its absence from today's headlines,
that's good enough. I disagree strongly. The New York Times should not be
let off the hook until it deals with a truly frightening skeleton in its
In 1932, its Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty received the Pulitzer
Prize for "excellence in journalism" for his dispatches from the Soviet
describing the results of Stalin's Five Year Plan. While his dispatches may
make for good reading, they were complete fiction.
"Sign-Up For Collective Farm" Painting by Nina Marchenko
(Click on image to enlarge it)
Describing the situation in the Ukrainian Soviet republic in 1933, Duranty
wrote, "village markets [were] flowing with eggs, fruit, poultry,
vegetables, milk and butter. . . . A child can see this is not famine but
What famine is he referring to? The one described by British historian
Robert Conquest, in his book The Harvest of Sorrow, as follows: "A quarter
of the rural population [of Ukraine], men, women, and children, lay dead or
dying, the rest in various stages of debilitation with no strength to bury
their families or neighbors."
The famine, however, was not the result of natural causes. It happened as
a result of deliberate policies of the Soviet Union that left Ukrainian
peasants with nothing to eat.
In the effort to collectivize agriculture to finance industrialization,
Stalin had set an impossibly high grain quota for Ukraine. He then
authorized Soviet agents to use whatever means necessary to collect this
grain, including shooting peasants who took even a handful of grain from
their fields. When peasants began to starve, they attempted to flee in
search of food. The authorities, however, sealed the borders of Ukraine,
both dooming Ukrainian peasants and keeping international food aid out.
At the height of the famine, Ukrainians were dying at the rate of 25,000 per
day. During this time, the Soviet Union exported 1.7 million tons of grain.
The fact that a huge catastrophe was taking place in the Ukrainian
countryside was common knowledge among western journalists in Moscow.
At one point, asked by journalists what he would write, he responded:
"Nothing. What are a few million dead Russians in a situation like this?
Quite unimportant. This is just an incident in the sweeping historical
Indeed, his articles made very little reference to the famine, except to
deny it. What's more, he slandered journalists who honestly reported on the
horrific suffering they discovered in Ukraine, claiming "any reports of
famine are exaggerations of malignant propaganda."
This statement goes beyond irony into obscenity, when one considers who
Duranty was working for. And I don't mean the New York Times, although,
apparently, they played some role. A recently published book by Leonard
Leshuk (U.S. Intelligence Perceptions of Soviet Power: 1926-1946) provides
evidence that Walter Duranty "admitted to Mr. A.W. Klieforth of the U.S.
Embassy in Berlin in June of 1931 that, 'in agreement between the New York
Times and the Soviet authorities' his dispatches reflected the official
opinion of the Soviet regime and not his own.'"
So why did Duranty sacrifice his professional morals? There are a number of
guesses. Some think he was being blackmailed over his sexual preferences,
which included homosexuality and necrophilia. Others blame his political
leanings. Either way, they must have had some hold on him. Duranty's
biographer, S. J. Taylor, notes how the Soviet regime lavished the reporter
with gifts that included an apartment, a car and fresh caviar delivered
Because of Duranty, the famine has barely entered into public consciousness.
Needless to say, discussion of the early thirties was strictly banned and
punishable by deportation right up until glasnost, although the people never
forgot that horrendous time, and collections of victims' testimonies are now
being published to make up for lost time.
Outside of the Soviet Union, the world simply forgot.
Though a Pulitzer Prize has never been revoked, one has been returned. In
1981, Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke admitted to having fabricated a
series of stories about "Jimmy," a non-existent 8-year old heroin addict.
The New York Times, therefore, need not wait to be stripped of the award by
the Pulitzer Prize Board. It can do the honorable thing and simply give it
British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, who traveled through Ukraine during
the famine, called Duranty "the greatest liar I have ever met in fifty years
of journalism." Quite a strong indictment of a man whose Pulitzer is still
claimed by the New York Times. Unless the Times wants to be known as the
newspaper that values prestige over integrity, it should do its best to see
Duranty stripped of his decidedly undeserved prize. Seventy-one years is
Maki Dobczansky is a Junior in Wharton and the College.
OPINION by Maki Dobczansky, The Daily Pennsylvanian
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 31, 2003
http://www.dailypennsylvanian.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2003/07/31/3f28af454061a; FOR PERSONAL AND ACADEMIC USE ONLY