By Rachel Zeldin, Columbia Daily Spectator
Daily Newspaper of Columbia University
New York City, NY, Thursday, October 30, 2003
The Pulitzer Prize Board at Columbia University's Graduate School of
Journalism will begin a review next month of an award it handed out to a
reporter from The New York Times in 1932. A recent report from Columbia
professor Mark Von Hagen commissioned by the Times will be the critical
testimony that decides the prize's fate.
(Click on image to enlarge it)
The debate is whether the Pulitzer Prize Board should revoke the award given
to Times reporter William Duranty for his articles favorably describing the
Soviet Union's first Five-Year Plan, a series of economic policies
ostensibly designed to industrialize Russia that later historians would
learn resulted in millions of deaths.
Von Hagen's report concludes that Duranty was irresponsible in not reporting
the full details of what he witnessed, and he is recommending that the award
"I think that both for the integrity of the Pulitzer Prize and for the
people that might get it in the future and for The New York Times, I think
they should take it away from him," said Von Hagen.
If the Board decides to strip Duranty of the award this November--the second
time it has considered such a motion--it would be the first revocation of
journalism's most prestigious honor.
Much of the outrage about his award is specifically directed at his failure
to report the 1933 Ukrainian famine, during which an estimated five to 10
million Ukrainians perished. As one of the few Western witnesses to the
internal workings of the Soviet Union, he should have been more critical of
Soviet politics, his critics say.
The famine was not thoroughly documented by Western media until the 1990s.
Tamara Olexy, a representative for the Ukrainian Congress Committee of
America, said that her organization "felt the need to start a nationwide
campaign to revoke Duranty's Pulitzer because of his outright lies in
regards to the Ukrainian famine-genocide." The campaign was scheduled to
coincide with the famine's 70th anniversary.
Crucial to the Pulitzer Prize Board's decision will be a report authored by
Professor of History Mark Von Hagen for the New York Times. In the report,
Von Hagen analyzes the focus and depth of Duranty's writing, looking at the
variety and number of sources he used.
Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prize Board, told PBS.org in an
interview that the review "is intended to seriously consider all relevant
information regarding Mr. Duranty's award."
Of particular concern to Von Hagen was Duranty's sympathy for the Soviet
Union and his whitewashing of the Five Year Plan's effects. Despite what he
witnessed, Duranty was instrumental in getting the United States to
recognize the Soviet Union in 1933 and was present at the official
recognition ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Soviet Premier Joseph
Stalin hailed Duranty as the biggest contributor to the recognition effort.
Both Von Hagen and Olexy were troubled by evidence that Duranty blatantly
ignored the tragedy of Ukraine, citing letters from Duranty to government
officials in Great Britain and the United States.
At the end of the report, Von Hagen concludes "that lack of balance and
uncritical acceptance of the Soviet self-justification for its cruel and
wasteful regime was a disservice to the American readers of the New York
Times and the liberal values they subscribe to and to the historical
experience of the peoples of the Russian and Soviet empires and their
struggle for a better life."
Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the publisher of The New York Times, contacted Von
Hagen last July. After the Pulitzer Prize Board informed the Times about the
reexamination of Duranty's award, the Times decided "it would be appropriate
to take some actions themselves," Von Hagen said. It took Von Hagen one
month to finish his report.
The New York Times did not ask Von Hagen to make any official
recommendation to them on the subject, but he said that he believes
Duranty's Pulitzer should be revoked.
"It will mean something less to future winners," Von Hagen said, "if they
know that it was given to someone that the New York Times themselves
called one of their worst reporters ever."
While he supports revoking Duranty's Pulitzer, Von Hagen stressed that he is
not in favor of erasing history or "expunging [Duranty's] name from the
history books." Rather, he said that by recalling the prize, the Pulitzer
Prize Board would demonstrate its commitment to superior journalism.
"We'd like The New York Times to do the right thing," Olexy, the Ukranian
Congress Committee representative said, "and honor the millions of innocent
victims by apologizing to their readership, the Ukrainian-American
community, and most importantly the famine survivors by denouncing Duranty's
Columbia Daily Spectator, New York City, NY, October 30, 2003
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