By Sara Kugler, Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press, New York, NY, October 22, 2003
NEW YORK -- A 1932 Pulitzer Prize awarded to The New York Times
should be revoked, according to a historian hired by the newspaper to
review the winning work, which has been questioned for years.
A subcommittee of the Pulitzer Board has been reviewing the prize won by
writer Walter Duranty for his series on Russia. The review was sparked by
complaints that Duranty deliberately ignored in later coverage the forced
famine in the Ukraine that killed millions of people.
Mark von Hagen, a Columbia University history professor, wrote that
Duranty in his prize-winning series "frequently writes in the
enthusiastically propagandistic language of his sources," and that "there
is a serious lack of balance in his writing."
"For the sake of The New York Times' honor, they should take the prize
away," von Hagen said in an interview with The Associated Press. The New
York Sun first reported the professor's recommendation on Wednesday.
The Times has reviewed von Hagen's report and forwarded it to the Pulitzer
Board with a recommendation from Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who
declined on Wednesday to describe the interaction.
"It was between me and the Pulitzer Board," he said, adding that the next
step "is a decision for the Pulitzer committee."
Von Hagen said the Times asked him in July to review Duranty's work. He
submitted a report to the newspaper about a month later.
Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, also declined to comment
on von Hagen's report and its effect on the review of the 1932 prize. No
Pulitzer has been revoked since the prizes were first awarded in 1917.
"This is a matter under internal review," Gissler said.
Gissler could not say when the subcommittee would end its probe, which was
launched in April, but said the ultimate decision would have to come from
the entire board. The Pulitzer Board meets twice a year, in November and
Members of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America joined Ukrainians
worldwide this year in urging the withdrawal of Duranty's award, a campaign
that included more than 15,000 postcards and thousands more letters and
e-mails sent to the Pulitzer Board.
The effort was timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the 1932-33
famine, which claimed as many as 7 million Ukrainian lives. Josef Stalin's
regime created the famine to force Ukrainian peasants into surrendering
This was not the first time the Pulitzer Board has reconsidered its award to
Duranty, who died in 1957. A similar probe in 1990 ended with a decision to
let the Pulitzer stand.
Duranty covered the Soviet Union for the Times from 1922 to 1941, earning
acclaim for an exclusive 1929 interview with Stalin.
But Duranty was eventually exposed for reporting the Communist line rather
than the facts. According to the 1990 book "Stalin's Apologist," by Sally J.
Taylor, Duranty knew of the famine but ignored the atrocities to preserve
his access to Stalin. The famine came in 1933, a year after Duranty won his
Von Hagen's report said Duranty, as a reporter, "fell under Stalin's spell."
"Much of the 'factual' material is dull and largely uncritical recitation of
Soviet sources, whereas his efforts at 'analysis' are very effective
renditions of the Stalinist leadership's self-understanding of their
murderous and progressive project to defeat the backwardness of Slavic,
Asiatic peasant Russia," von Hagen writes.
The Times has also distanced itself from Duranty's work. The reporter's
1932 Pulitzer is displayed with this caveat: "Other writers in the Times and
elsewhere have discredited this coverage."
The Pulitzer has never been revoked, but it was once returned. Washington
Post reporter Janet Cooke surrendered her prize in 1981, after admitting she
had fabricated stories.