By Albert Scardino, The Guardian, London, UK, 11/25/2003
The late Walter Duranty can keep his Pulitzer prize after all, even though
just about everyone who ever came across his work is baffled how he won it
in the first place. Duranty covered the Soviet Union for the New York Times
for 12 years during Stalin's manufactured famine in Ukraine that killed
perhaps 10 million people, but he never saw anyone starving. Malcolm
Muggeridge, the Guardian's Stalin-era reporter in Moscow, called him "the
greatest liar I have ever met in 50 years of journalism".
The Pulitzer board reviewed the Duranty case twice after being bombarded
with complaints in a letter-writing campaign by Ukrainians marking the 70th
anniversary of the peak of the famine. So did his employer, who hired
Columbia University historian Mark van Hagen to recommend what to do.
According to an unflattering 1990 biography, Stalin's Apologist, Duranty had
an opium habit and a robust bisexual life in Paris before he became a Moscow
correspondent. He may, the book suggests, have been blackmailed by the
Kremlin to write flattering pieces about Stalin. Professor van Hagen
recommended that the board take the prize away, because "his work was a
The paper acknowledges the flaws in the 70-year-old material, but says that
to airbrush him from history would be Stalinist in itself. Besides,
Duranty's Pulitzer submission included articles about the Soviet economy,
not the Ukrainian famine. The Pulitzer board said the prize would stand.
So how did he win? Though journalists may submit their own work for
consideration in the Pulitzers, they have historically been sponsored by
their newspaper. Editors from the 1,500 dailies and 8,000 weeklies in the
US - there were more in Duranty's day - spend weeks sifting through the work
of their staff each year to decide which to submit in which category. Juries
of editors review the entries and recommend three finalists in each category
to the board, including their choice. The board may accept the jury's
recommendation or ignore it.
So, if Duranty's work was recommended by his own paper, selected by a jury
of his peers and chosen by the board, itself a group of the most senior
editorial executives in the US, who was it who missed the story?
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