By Martin Sieff, UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington, D.C., Monday, June 2, 2003
WASHINGTON, June 2 (UPI) -- As the U.S. media still digests the shock and
lessons of the Jayson Blair affair at The New York Times, a far older and
far worse journalistic wrong may soon be posthumously righted. The Pulitzer
Prize board is reviewing the award it gave to New York Times Moscow
correspondent Walter Duranty more than 70 years ago for his shamefully --
and knowingly -- false coverage of the great Ukrainian famine.
"In response to an international campaign, the Pulitzer Prize board has
begun an 'appropriate and serious review' of the 1932 award given to Walter
Duranty of The New York Times," Andrew Nynka reported in the May 25
edition of the New Jersey-published Ukrainian Weekly. The campaign included
a powerful article in the May 7 edition of the conservative National Review
Sig Gissler, administrator for the Pulitzer Prize board, told the Ukrainian
Weekly that the "confidential review by the 18-member Pulitzer Prize board
is intended to seriously consider all relevant information regarding Mr.
Duranty's award," Nynka wrote.
The utter falsehood of Duranty's claims that there was no famine at all in
the Ukraine -- a whopping lie that was credulously swallowed unconditionally
by the likes of George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells and many others -- has been
documented and common knowledge for decades. But neither the Times nor the
Pulitzer board ever before steeled themselves to launch such a ponderous,
unprecedented -- and potentially immensely embarrassing -- procedure.
Indeed, Gissler told The Ukrainian Weekly that there are no written
procedures regarding prize revocation. There are no standards or precedents
for revoking the prize.
The Ukrainian famine of 1929-33, named the "Harvest of Sorrow" by historian
Robert Conquest in his classic book on the subject, was the largest single
act of genocide in European history. The death toll even exceeded the Nazi
Holocaust against the Jewish people a few years later.
In all, 10 million Ukrainians, most of them peasants, died as catastrophic,
stupid and cruel collectivization policies were imposed by Soviet dictator
Josef Stalin on the richest, most fertile, wheat-exporting breadbasket in
the world. In the decades before World War I, its annual grain exports
regularly vastly outstripped those of the American Midwest.
The enforced collectivization of land and the unbelievable death toll were
deliberately whipped up by conscious policy and malice. Stalin was
determined to crush the slightest remaining glimmer of Ukrainian national
identity and also to liquidate the "kulaks" or wealthy peasants, which in
practical terms meant any family with the expertise to raise a decent crop
on the land. Mass shootings of entire families, or so-called liquidations,
were commonplace. The production of food collapsed.
Yet the mainstream Western media was virtually blind to what was going on.
And in the United States, serious newspapers across the nation took their
lead from the then-revered and utterly trusted Duranty. As Richard Pipes, a
leading U.S. authority on Soviet history, noted, "It has been said that no
man has done more to paint in the United States a favorable image of the
Soviet Union at a time when it was suffering under the most savage tyranny
known to man."
British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, London correspondent for the
left-wing Manchester Guardian, scooped the world by fearlessly going into
the Ukraine and defying the Soviet secret police -- then known as the
OGPU -- to expose the true horrors of the famine. He also knew Duranty
well and observed him closely.
Writing 40 years later in his classic memoirs "Chronicles of Wasted Time,"
Muggeridge concluded that Duranty was a sociopath without a grain of
professional integrity or human decency to his name. He described Duranty as
"a little, sharp-witted, energetic man" who liked "to hint at aristocratic
connections and classical learning, of which, I must say, he produced little
evidence. One of his legs had been amputated after a train accident, but he
was very agile at getting about with an artificial one."
Duranty may well have been blackmailed or bribed or both by the Soviets, but
Muggeridge concluded that his real motive in lying outright about what he
knew to be true and helping the Soviets in their unprecedented,
astonishingly successful cover-up was a far simpler one: He loved and
revered Stalin precisely because he was so colossally murderous and cruel.
"He admired Stalin and the regime precisely because they were so strong and
ruthless. 'I put my money on Stalin' was one of his favorite sayings.'"
Indeed, Muggeridge related that in one conversation they had, Duranty even
admitted to him that he knew there was a catastrophic food shortage, even
famine in Ukraine and that he knew the Soviet authorities were prepared to
kill large numbers of people there to keep control.
As Muggeridge described the conversation, "But, he said, banging the sides
of the sofa, remember that you can't make omelettes without breaking eggs --
another favorite saying. They'll win, he went on; they're bound to win. If
necessary, they'll harness the peasants to the ploughs but I tell you
they'll get the harvest in and feed the people that matter. The people that
mattered were the men in the Kremlin and their underlings. ... The others
were just serfs, reserves of the proletariat, as Stalin called them. Some
would die, surely, perhaps, quite a lot, but there were enough, and to
An appalled and a fascinated Muggeridge listened to all this and later
recalled, "I had the feeling, listening to this outburst, that in thus
justifying Soviet brutality and ruthlessness, Duranty was in someway getting
his own back for being small, and losing a leg, and not having the
aristocratic lineage ... he claimed to have. ... Duranty was a little
browbeaten boy looking up admiringly at a big bully."
In his own lifetime -- he lived to the age of 73, though he died broke and
forgotten -- Duranty was never called to account. Indeed, as Muggeridge also
noted, "He came to be accepted as the great Russian expert in America, and
played a major part in shaping President Roosevelt's policies" towards the
The Pulitzer Prize board's re-evaluation of Duranty's award therefore comes
late in the day, to put it mildly, but it is still a welcome, indeed
necessary gesture towards American journalistic integrity and to the
hecatombs of dead whose cries were hushed.