By Prof. James Mace, Consultant to The Day
The Day Weekly Digest, Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, July 15, 2003
On June 24 the Pulitzer Prize Committee was sent an open letter by Dr.
Margaret Siriol Colley and Nigel Linsan Colley, Bramcote, Notts, UK, too
long to be recounted here in full, but which can be read on the Internet at
lady is the niece of one Gareth Jones (1905-1935), a journalist who had had
the courage to tell the truth about the despicable things he had seen in
Ukraine in the spring of 1933. For his courage he paid with his professional
reputation and being long all but forgotten. The hatchet man in this tale
was one Walter Duranty, winner of the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for writing
stories from the Soviet Union, reportage that he had already freely
confessed "always reflected the official Soviet point of view and not his
own." And here begins a tale of one journalist being crushed for his honesty
and another rewarded for his mendacity. It is a tale that touches directly
both on the ethics of journalism and the history of Ukraine.
PROF. JAMES MACE
Photo By Mykola LAZARENKO, The Day
Journalists often like to think of themselves as fearless fighters for the
public's right to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth. To reward those who actually did so an extremely successful
Hungarian-born American journalist named Joseph Pulitzer willed that his
legacy be used in part to fund prizes in his name for outstanding
achievements in drama, letters, music, and journalism. The prizes, modest in
money but tremendous in terms of the honor they convey on their recipients,
have been awarded annually since 1917. In reality, journalists, like
everyone else, are rarely completely faithful to the ideals they profess.
And prizes, even prestigious ones like the Pulitzer, sometimes go to
scoundrels. Dr. Colley demands the revocation of the Pulitzer Prize from the
scoundrel that led a campaign for Stalin's Soviet Union from the most
prestigious newspaper in the United States, the New York Times, to discredit
her uncle for honestly trying to do what journalists are supposed to do, for
telling people the truth.
Walter Duranty, born in Liverpool (England) in 1884, was always something of
a scoundrel and openly relished in being able to get away with it. In S. J.
Taylor's excellent biography, "Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty: The New
York Times's Man in Moscow" (Oxford University Press, 1990), he is seen
even about his own family origins, claiming in his autobiography to have
been an only child orphaned at ten, neither of which was true: his mother
died in 1916 and his sister fourteen years later, a spinster; when his
father died in 1933, he left an estate of only ã430.
After finishing his university studies, he drifted to Paris, where he
dabbled in Satanism, opium, and sex on both sides of the bed-sheets. By the
time World War I broke out, he had a job as a reporter for the New York
Times and could thus avoid actual combat. Duranty seems to have known that
the key to success in journalism can often be in first determining what the
readers want and then gauging how the facts might fit in with it. His
reportage was always lively, eminently readable, and usually - but by no
means always - had some relationship to the facts. Still, he realized that
in the American free press, newspapers are made to make money for their
owners, and the reporter's job is to write something people would want to
read enough that they would go out and buy his employer's newspaper. It is
the classic relationship between labor and management in a market economy:
the more effective a worker is at helping his employer make more money, the
better chance he stands of getting higher pay, a better job, or other
attributes of worldly success.
For Duranty, this system seems to have worked quite well. After the war, he
was sent to the new independent Baltic states and in 1921 was among the
first foreign reporters allowed into the Soviet Union. This latter
achievement was a major one, for the Soviet Union was never shy about
exercising control over who could come or leave. A Western reporter in the
Soviet Union always knew that if one wrote something offensive enough to the
Soviet authorities, he would be expelled and never allowed to return.
Photo from S. J. Taylor, Angels in Stalin's Paradise
Photo from the Colley family archives
There was thus a strong professional incentive not to be that person.
Duranty understood this better than anyone else, but just in case someone
among the journalists forgot this simple truth, there was a Soviet press
officer to remind him. During the First Five Year Plan, the head of the
Soviet Press Office was Konstantin Umansky (or Oumansky: he liked it better
the French way).
Eugene Lyons, who had known Umansky at a distance since he had been a TASS
correspondent in the United States and the latter chief of its Foreign
Bureau, probably knew this little man with black curly hair and gold teeth
as well as any of the foreign correspondents. He described the system as
more one of give- and-take with the foreign correspondents sometimes backing
the censor down through a show of professional solidarity (it would have
been, after all, too much of an embarrassment for the Soviets to expel all
the foreign correspondents), often in a spirit of give- and-take and
compromise. But the telegraph office would simply not send cables without
Umansky's permission. Moreover, convinced that the Soviet experiment was so
much superior to the all too evident evils of capitalism, a huge segment of
the West's intellectuals wanted desperately to look with hope on the Soviet
experiment, which, for all its failures, seemed to offer a beacon. And in a
world where access to newsmakers is often the only thing between having
something to print or not, access to power itself becomes a commodity. As
Lyons himself put it his memoir, "Assignment in Utopia" (1937):
"The real medium of exchange in Moscow, buying that which neither rubles nor
dollars can touch, was power. And power meant Comrade Stalin, Comrade
Umansky, the virtuoso of kombinatsya, the fellow who's uncle's best friend
has a cousin on the collegium of the G.P.U. To be invited to exclusive
social functions, to play bridge with the big-bugs, to be patted on the back
editorially by Pravda, to have the social ambitions of one's wife flattered:
such inducements are more effective in bridling a correspondent's tongue
than any threats... Whether in Moscow or Berlin, Tokyo or Rome, all the
temptations for a practicing reporter are in the direction of conformity. It
is more comfortable and in the long run more profitable to soft-pedal a
dispatch for readers thousands of miles away than to face an irate censor
and closed official doors."
Both Lyons and Duranty knew the rules of this game so well that both had
been rewarded before the Holodomor by being granted an interview with Stalin
himself, the Holy Grail of the Moscow foreign press corps. Umansky knew how
to award and punish foreigners. Perhaps this is why he would later move on
into the diplomatic "beau monde" of Washington, DC.
THIS INSERT CAN BE CUT OUT, GLUED TO A POSTCARD, AND
MAILED TO THE PULITZER PRIZE COMMITTEE
Lyons, who came to Russia as an American Communist sycophant, then becoming
a disillusioned anti-Communist, paid the price. His lady translator, it
seems, brought to his attention an item in "Molot," a newspaper from
Rostov-on-the-Don, designed to cow the local inhabitants but not for foreign
consumption, announcing the mass deportation of three Ukrainian Cossack
"stanitsas" from the Kuban. Nine months after he broke the story, he was
from the Soviet Union for good.
Into this world walked a young English socialist, Malcolm Muggeridge, who
had married the niece of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, then icons in the Soviet
Union for their work to turn the Soviet experiment into an icon for
socialist intellectuals in the West. Coming from such a background, young
Malcolm and his wife even sold their furniture, convinced that they would
remain in the Soviet Union as he reported for the "Manchester Guardian."
when he arrived, he quickly saw that the Five Year Plan was not quite all it
was cracked up to be. Perhaps the first inkling of the panoply of characters
he happened onto was at a reception at the British Embassy in Moscow in the
fall of 1932 when he found himself sitting between old Soviet apologist Anna
Louise Strong and the Great Duranty, the most famous foreign correspondent
of his day and fresh from his Pulitzer Prize. Miss Strong, he wrote in his
memoirs, "Chronicles of Wasted Time" (1972), "was an enormous woman with a
very red face, a lot of white hair, and an expression of stupidity so
overwhelming that it amounted to a strange kind of beauty," adding,
"Duranty, a little sharp-witted energetic man, was a much more controversial
person; I should say there was more talk about him in Moscow than anyone
else, certainly among foreigners. His household, where I visited him once or
twice, included a Russian woman named Katya, by whom I believe he had a son.
I always enjoyed his company; there was something vigorous, vivacious,
preposterous, about his unscrupulousness which made his persistent lying
somehow absorbing. I suppose no one - not even Louis Fischer - followed the
Party Line, every shift and change, as assiduously as he did. In Oumansky's
eyes he was perfect, and was constantly held up to the rest of us as an
example of what we should be."
"It, of course, suited his material interests thus to write everything the
Soviet authorities wanted him to - that the collectivisation of agriculture
was working well, with no famine conditions anywhere; that the purges were
justified, the confessions genuine, and the judicial procedure impeccable.
Because of these acquiescent attitudes - so ludicrously false that they were
a subject of derision among the other correspondents and even (Soviet
censor - Author) Podolsky had been known to make jokes about them - Duranty
never had any trouble getting a visa, or a house, or interviews with
whomever he wanted."
Such subservience to a regime that was one of two truly evil systems of the
twentieth century, for which the term "totalitarianism" is most often
was marked by a veneer of objective analysis and certainly not without
insight - he was the first to have "put his money on Stalin," as he put it,
and is even credited with having first coined the word "Stalinism" to
the evolving System - and he was always fascinating to read, even more to
talk to. He was the most famed foreign correspondent of the time; a nice
apartment in Moscow complete with a live-in lover, by whom he did indeed
beget a son, and an oriental servant to do the cooking and cleaning; was the
social center of the life of foreigners in Moscow; and took frequent trips
abroad, as he put it, to retain his sense of what was news.
Simultaneously, there was a strange sort of honesty to his privately
admitting that he was indeed an apologist. In the 1980s during the course of
my own research on the Ukrainian Holodomor I came across a most interesting
document in the US National Archives, a memorandum from one A. W. Kliefoth
of the US Embassy in Berlin dated June 4, 1931. Duranty dropped in to renew
his passport. Mr. Kliefoth thought it might be of possible interest to the
State Department that this journalist, in whose reporting so much credence
was placed, had told him "that, 'in agreement with the "New York Times" and
the Soviet authorities,' his official dispatches always reflect the official
opinion of the Soviet government and not his own'." Note that the American
consular official thought it particularly important for his superiors that
the phrase, in agreement with the "New York Times" and the Soviet
was a direct quotation. This was precisely the sort of journalistic
integrity that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1932.
Into the world of Moscow journalism, a world where everybody had to make his
own decision on the moral dilemma Lyons' framed as "to tell or not to tell,"
came one Gareth Jones, a brilliant young man who had studied Russian and
graduated with honors from Cambridge and became an adviser on foreign policy
to former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. At the age of 25, in
1930 he went to the Soviet Union to inform his employer what was happening
there, his reports were considered so straightforward that they were then
published in the London "Times" as "An Observer's Notes." The following year
he returned and published some of the materials under his own names. Having
gained a reputation for integrity in honestly trying to get to the bottom of
things, in 1932 he wrote with foreboding about the food situation as people
asked, "Will their be soup?"
By the early spring of 1933, the fact that famine was raging in Ukraine and
the Kuban, two-thirds of the population of which happened to be Ukrainian,
was common knowledge in Moscow among foreign diplomats, foreign
correspondents, and even the man in the street. In response to Lyon's
"revelations" from the regional official Soviet press, a ban had imposed in
foreign journalists traveling to the areas in question. Upon checking with
his colleagues in Moscow what they knew - on the understanding, of course,
that their names would never be mentioned - Jones decided it was worth it to
defy the prohibition and buy a ticket at the train station to the places
affected as a private person, which was not forbidden. Once there, he
employed his simple but logical method of getting off the train and walking
for several hours until he was certain he was off the beaten track and start
talking to the local.
He spent a couple of weeks, walked about forty miles, talked to people,
slept in their huts, and was appalled at what he saw. Rushing back to Moscow
and out of the Soviet Union, Jones stopped off first in Berlin, where he
gave a press conference and fired off a score of articles about the tragedy
he had seen firsthand. "I walked alone through villages and twelve
collective farms. Everywhere was the cry, 'There is no bread; we are dying.'
..." ("Manchester Guardian," March 30, 1933).
Young Muggeridge, who would live to a ripe old age and become one of the
most revered journalists of the twentieth century, had done much the same,
sent his dispatches out through the British diplomatic pouch, and published
much the same earlier but under the anonymous byline of "An Observer's
Notes," created barely a ripple because his story was the unconfirmed report
of some unknown observer. Yet, now stood young Mr. Jones, the confidant of
prime ministers and millionaires, a young man who was able to get interviews
with Hitler and Mussolini. Here Mr. Umansky and his superiors in the Soviet
hierarchy encountered a problem that could not be ignored. But Soviet
officialdom already had a trump up its sleeve, one certain to bring into
line any recalcitrant members of the Moscow press corps infected by an
excess of integrity, at least for the duration of their stay.
A couple of weeks earlier, the GPU had arrested six British citizens and
several Russians on charges of industrial espionage. Announcement was made
that public trial was in preparation. This was news. Putting their own
people in the dock was one thing, but accusing white men, Englishmen, of
skullduggery was something else. This promised to be the trial of the
century, and every journalist working for a newspaper in the
English-speaking world knew that this was precisely the type of story that
their editors were paying them to cover. To be locked out would have been
equivalent to professional suicide. The dilemma of to tell or not to tell
was never put more brutally.
Umansky read the situation perfectly, and Lyon's summed up what happened in
a way that needs no retelling:
"On emerging from Russia, Jones made a statement which, startling though it
sounded, was little more than a summary of what the correspondents and
foreign diplomats had told him. To protect us, and perhaps with some idea of
heightening the authenticity of his reports, he emphasized his Ukrainian
foray rather than our conversation as the chief source of his information...
"Throwing down Jones was as unpleasant a chore as fell to any of us in the
years of juggling facts in order to please dictatorial regimes-but throw him
down we did, unanimously and in almost identical formulas of equivocation.
Poor Gareth Jones must have been the most surprised human being alive when
the facts he so painstakingly garnered from our mouths were snowed under by
"The scene in which the American press corps combined to repudiate Jones is
fresh in my mind. It was in the evening and Constantine Umansky, the soul of
graciousness consented to meet us in the hotel room of a correspondent. He
knew that he had a strategic advantage over us because of the Metro-Vickers
story. He could afford to be gracious. Forced by competitive journalism to
jockey for the inside track with officials, it would have been professional
suicide to make an issue of the famine at that time. There was much
bargaining in the spirit of gentlemanly give-and-take, under the effluence
of Umansky's gilded smile, before a formula of denial was worked out.
"We admitted enough to sooth our consciences, but in round- about phrases
that damned Jones as a liar. The filthy business having been disposed of,
someone ordered vodka and zakuski, Umansky joined the celebration, and the
party did not break up until the early morning hours. The head censor was in
a mellower mood than I had ever seen before or since. He had done a big bit
for Bolshevik firmness that night."
Duranty took the point position in the campaign against Jones. On March 31,
1933, "The New York Times" carried on page 13 an article that might well be
studied in schools of journalism as an example of how to walk the tightrope
between truth and lie so masterfully that the two seem to exchange places
under the acrobat's feet. It is called "Russians Hungry, But Not Starving"
and begins by placing Jones' revelations in a context that seems to make
everything quite clear:
"In the middle of the diplomatic duel between Great Britain and the Soviet
Union over the accused British engineers, there appears from a British
source a big scare story in the American press about famine in the Soviet
Union, With 'thousands already dead and millions menaced by death from
Of course, this put everything in its proper place, at least enough for the
United States to extend diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union in
November of that year. So much so that when a dinner was given in honor of
Soviet Foreign Minister Maksim Litvinov in New York's posh Waldorf-Astoria
Hotel, when it came time to pay tribute to Duranty, the cheers were so
thunderous that American critic and bon-vivant Alexander Woolcott wrote,
"Indeed, one quite got the impression that America, in a spasm of
discernment, was recognizing both Russia and Walter Duranty."
At the same time that Duranty was so actively denying the existence of the
famine in public, he was quite open in admitting it in private. On September
26, 1933 in a private conversation with William Strang of the British
Embassy in Moscow, he stated, "it is quite possible that as many as ten
million people may have died directly or indirectly from lack of food in the
Soviet Union during the past year." The little Englishman indeed seemed to
have gotten away with it. But his further career was a gradual sinking into
obscurity and penury, his Katia in Moscow berating him for taking no
interest in the education of their son and asking that he send more money,
that is, of course, when he could. He married on his deathbed in late
September 1957. A week later, on October 3, he died from an internal
hemorrhage complicated by pulmonary emphysema at the age of seventy-three.
Nothing further of his son is known.
Jones had attempted to defend himself in a letter to the "New York Times"
Malcolm Muggeridge, once out of the Soviet Union declined to write a letter
in support of Jones, although Jones had publicly commended Muggeridge's
unsigned articles in the Manchester Guardian. Various organizations, mostly
on the Right, took up the cause of the telling the world about the Great
Famine of 1932-1933, but within two or three years the issue faded into the
background and was largely forgotten.
Gareth Jones was himself nonplussed. In a letter to a friend who intended to
visit the Soviet Union, Gareth wrote:
"Alas! You will be very amused to hear that the inoffensive little 'Joneski'
has achieved the dignity of being a marked man on the black list of the
O.G.P.U. and is barred from entering the Soviet Union. I hear that there is
a long list of crimes which I have committed under my name in the secret
police file in Moscow and funnily enough espionage is said to be among them.
As a matter of fact Litvinoff [Soviet Foreign Minister] sent a special cable
from Moscow to the Soviet Embassy in London to tell them to make the
strongest of complaints to Mr. Lloyd George about me."
Jones and those who sided with him were snowed under a blanket of denials.
When one by one the American journalists left the Soviet Union, they wrote
books about what they had seen. Muggeridge wrote a thinly disguised novel,
"Winter in Moscow" (1934), in which the names were changed, but it was clear
who everybody was. Only Jones, it seems, was really concealed in the fact
that the character of such integrity, given the name of Pye by the author,
was older, a smoker, a drinker, none of which the real Jones was. In his
memoirs, Muggeridge seems to have forgotten altogether the man who actually
broke the story of the Ukrainian Holodomor Famine-Genocide under his own
name. Perhaps he felt a little guilty that his courage in this situation was
not quite as great as the Welshman who had the bad luck to have been
murdered in China in 1935, probably to prevent him from telling the world
that the new state of Manchukuo was not nearly as nice a place as its
Japanese sponsors wanted the world to believe.
There is perhaps something of a parallel to the story of Gareth Jones. There
was also in 1981 another young man, then twenty- nine years old and a newly
minted Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, hired by the Harvard Ukrainian
Research Institute to study the Holodomor. After nearly a decade, when the
Commission on the Ukraine Famine was wrapping up, he was informed that the
fellowship he had been offered for an academic year had been cut back to a
semester. Having nowhere else to turn, he settled for that. "We expected
refuse, but he accepted," a colleague was told. The next year he was
invited for a yearlong fellowship to the University of Illinois. A fund of
well-meaning Ukrainian- Americans was ready to donate a million dollars to
endow a chair for this man. Those who taught Russian and East European
history led him to understand, however, that, while they would be quite
happy to take the money, whoever might get the chair, it would certainly not
It is unknown who exactly played the role of Umansky in this particular tale
or whether vodka was served afterward, but the carrot and stick are fairly
obvious: access to scholarly resources in Moscow vs. the veto of any
research projects. In a world where a number of scholars slanted their
journal articles and monographs as adroitly as Duranty did his press
coverage, I am tempted to someday venture my own counterpart to Winter in
Moscow, based on the published works that make the players all too easy to
discern. For I was that once young man. But in contrast to Jones, I have
found a place to live, married the woman I love, teach, and have and a forum
from which I can from time to time be heard.
Despite Duranty's prophesies, the Ukrainians did not forget what had
happened to them in 1933, and seventy years later the Ukrainian- Canadian
Civil Liberties Association and the Ukrainian World Congress, with support
from a number of other leading Ukrainian diaspora organizations, have
organized a campaign to reopen the issue of Walter Duranty's 1932 Pulitzer
Prize with a view to stripping him of it. They have sent thousands of
postcards and letters to the Pulitzer Prizes Committee at Columbia
University, 709 Journalism Building, 2950 Broadway, New York, NY, USA 10027.
We invite our readers who might have any thoughts on the matter to join them
in so doing, in English, of course. Meanwhile, as a professional courtesy,
the editors have already sent an e-mail of this article to all the members
of the Pulitzer Prizes Committee in the hope that it might help them in
their deliberations on this issue.
The whole story of denying the crimes of a regime that cost millions of
lives is one of the saddest in the history of the American free press, just
as the Holodomor is certainly the saddest page in the history of a nation,
whose appearance on the world state was so unexpected that there is, in
fact, a quite successful book in English, "The Ukrainians: Unexpected
Still, it would be only appropriate if that nation, which was for so long so
safe to ignore and then appeared so unexpectedly, expressed itself on the
fate of a man who also was victimized so unexpectedly, simply for trying
honestly to find out and then tell the truth. Ukrainians abroad want justice
done by stripping that young man's chief victimizer of a Pulitzer Prize that
makes a mockery of any conceivable ideals of journalism. They have been
joined by a host of respected journalists in the West. Is it not only right
that the people most affected by the events in which the struggle between
truth and falsehood, idealism and cynicism, were so blatant that it reads
almost like a melodrama, also make its collective voice heard? By asserting
justice in the past, we help attain it for ourselves.
The Day Weekly Digest, Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, July 15, 2003
FOR PERSONAL AND ACADEMIC USE ONLY