The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)

Expert Retained by Times Itself Concludes Prize Wasn't Deserved

By Eric Wolff, Special to the Sun
The New York Sun, New York, New York
October 22, 2003; Section: Front page; Page:1

The tarnish is thickening on the New York Times's most controversial Pulitzer Prize.

A report commissioned by the Times said the work of 1932 Pulitzer Prize-winner Walter Duranty had a "serious lack of balance," was "distorted," and was "a disservice to American readers of the New York Times.and the peoples of the Russian and Soviet empires."

According to the writer of the report, a Columbia University history professor, Mark von Hagen, a committee of Times senior staff that included publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. read it and then forwarded it to the Pulitzer board, along with a recommendation from Mr. Sulzberger.

The nature of that recommendation is unknown.

Duranty's award is under review by a subcommittee of the Pulitzer board, as reported by The New York Sun in June.

The study, commissioned less than a month after the resignation of the executive editor, Howell Raines, over the Jayson Blair plagiarism and fraud scandal, marks a change in position at the Times.

In June, the paper issued a prepared statement that said,"The Times has not seen merit in trying to undo history."

A Times spokeswoman said she had no comment on the apparently new policy. The administrator of the Pulitzer board, Sigvard Gissler, would not comment, saying, "This is an internal matter."

In an interview with the Sun, Mr. von Hagen said, "I was really kind of disappointed having to read that stuff, and know that the New York Times would publish this guy for so long."

Mr. von Hagen's paper said Duranty's 1931 pieces were "very effective renditions of the Stalinist leadership's style of self-understanding of their murderous and progressive project."

He said Duranty's reporting was "neither unique among reporters" nor "particularly unusual, let alone profound." He noted Duranty's failure to use the diverse sources available to him, and the way Duranty "ignored the history of 20th century Russia."

Duranty reported that Soviet citizens celebrated their "freedom" from religion by increasing factory production on religious holidays.

"One waits in vain for some signal of ever so slight tongue-in-cheek," wrote Mr. von Hagen.

Duranty's work has been reviewed before, in 1990, prompted by Sally Taylor's biography, "Stalin's Apologist." The biography suggested that Duranty was not ideological Communist, but rather a greedy man who had made a comfortable life for himself in Moscow.

Mr. von Hagen believes Duranty's misdirection may have come from a vested interest in seeing the Soviet Union recognized by the United States. When Franklin Roosevelt was elected in 1933, he invited Duranty to dinner to discuss the matter.

At the banquet at the same, in which the U.S.S.R. was formally recognized, the biggest applause, according to Malcolm Muggeridge, was given to Duranty.

Though Duranty has achieved lasting posthumous fame for covering up the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 in which as many as 10 million people died, the Pulitzer was awarded for his writing in 1931.

In an effort to divest Duranty of his prize, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America organized a postcard campaign that ultimately led to the formation of the subcommittee for review.

A spokeswoman for the UCCA said she found the Times's actions "very encouraging" considering Duranty's "betrayal of the most fundamental aspects of journalism."

In November, they will be launching a campaign to get the Times to voluntarily return the prize, a sentiment that sits well with Mr. von Hagen.

"I wish they didn't give Duranty the prize in the first place," he said. "But I think it should be rescinded now, for the honor of the New York Times, if for nothing else."

The New York Sun, New York, New York, October 22, 2003