The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)


The Ukrainian Weekly
The Ukrainian National Association
Parsippany, New Jersey, USA
No. 45, Vol. LXX, Page 6
November 10, 2002


We've written before in this space about the ignominious reporting of Walter Duranty, Moscow correspondent of The New York Times during the period of the Great Famine of 1932-1933, and the ignoble response decades later by the newspaper's publishers and editors to revelations that their correspondent's reporting was, in effect, part of the Soviet cover-up of this genocide. (We refer readers especially to "The Famine and the Times," November 25, 2001.)

What brings us do to again? A recently released book titled, "Written into History." Just released in paperback, the book contains Pulitzer Prize reporting of the 20th century from The New York Times. Certainly we had to take a look at how the volume deals with Duranty, who won the Pulitzer in 1932 for his "dispassionate interpretive reporting" from the USSR, filing news reports that denied the Famine, while privately telling British intelligence that he believed over 10 million had died.

First we turned to the listing of the Pulitzer winners of The New York Times. Sure enough, Duranty was still there, but with the parenthetical notation: "Other writers in The Times and elsewhere have discredited this coverage." It is the same notation that appears after an asterisk under the photograph of Duranty that is among the photos of Pulitzer winners which line the corridor at The Times.

Next we looked at the chapter called "Around the Globe," which notes that the first individual foreign correspondent from The Times to win the Pulitzer was Duranty and that his prize "has come under a cloud." Duranty's reporting, the book explains, "ignored the reality of Stalin's mass murder"; it goes on to cite a memorandum written in 1932 by George F. Kennan, then a U.S. foreign service officer in Riga, Latvia, which says that in the USSR "15 to 20 million people have been killed in military operations, exiled to prison camps, forced (to) emigrate or deprived of all civic rights for political reasons...." Amazingly, there is not a word about the Famine-Genocide.

In the introduction to the book, Anthony Lewis, himself a two-time winner of the Pulitzer, writes the following: "In the process run by human beings, there are always going to be decisions that in hindsight look likes mistakes. The worst in Pulitzer history was the award of a prize in 1981 to Janet Cooke of the Washington Post for stories on how a small boy in the inner city of Washington, D.C. was caught up in the drug trade. Not long after the prize announcement the story unraveled; Ms. Cooke admitted that she had invented the small boy. She disappeared from the Post and journalism, and the prize was returned. The Times, too, has a blot on its Pulitzer record. In 1932 its Moscow correspondent, Walter Duranty, won for international reporting. But his word increasingly came to be seen as slanted toward the Soviet regime."

Mr. Lewis presents an excellent parallel. But, Ms. Cooke's prize was returned. Why not Duranty's? In 1986 Times Publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger had said in response to pressure to give up the Pulitzer: " is not a prize The Times can take back." But the Times can do the honorable thing and relinquish Duranty's ill-gotten award. The deaths of millions deserves more than an asterisk in The New York Times pantheon of Pulitzer winners.

NOTE: The editorial above (November 10, 2002) mentions the following editorial. The editorial above is a follow-up to the editorial below which appeared in The Ukrainian Weekly on November 25, 2001.



The Ukrainian Weekly
Parsippany, New Jersey
The Ukrainian National Association
November 25, 2001, No. 47, Vol. LXIX


This month Ukrainians around the world are observing the solemn anniversary of the Great Famine-Genocide of 1932-1933. We needn't remind our readers, we are sure, that the Famine was a deliberate campaign that killed up to 10 million people or that it was indeed genocide.

But perhaps we do need to remind our readers that one of the world's leading newspapers, The New York Times, has yet to acknowledge its mistake in how it covered - or more precisely covered up - the famine.

At the time famine was raging in the Ukrainian countryside, The Times' Moscow correspondent, Walter Duranty, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his "dispassionate interpretive reporting" from the USSR, filed news reports that denied the famine's existence, while privately telling British intelligence that he believed over 10 million people had died.

There have been numerous attempts to get The Times to set the record straight.

In 1986 a Times shareholder and radio talk show host, Les Kinsolving, asked Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger if the newspaper would return the Pulitzer Prize awarded in the 1930s to Duranty, in the light of his documented cover-up. Mr. Sulzberger replied that, "what we report has to stand, for better or worse, as our best contemporary effort." While noting that "perhaps he [Duranty] was too trusting of Soviet sources," the publisher said, "That contemporary Pulitzer jurors thought him worthy of a prize for the things he did write from Moscow is a judgment I am neither equipped nor entitled to second-guess at this date. In any event, it is not a prize The Times can take back."

In 1987 it was learned that, "in agreement with The New York Times and the Soviet authorities," the dispatches of Duranty always "reflect(ed) the official opinion of the Soviet regime and not his own." That information, uncovered in a declassified State Department document - a memorandum written by a U.S. Embassy staffer in Berlin based on a conversation with Duranty, was reported by Dr. James Mace at a conference on "Recognition and Denial of Genocide and Mass Killing in the 20th Century" held by the Institute for the Study of Genocide. After being sent a photocopy of the memorandum plus Dr. Mace's paper, Times Executive Editor Max Frankel relayed a response to this newspaper: Dr. Mace's revelation "doesn't seem to qualify as news. It's really history, and belongs in history books."

The Times revisited the issue of the famine in June 1990 via an item in "The Editorial Notebook" titled "Trenchcoats, Then and Now: The Correspondent Who Liked Stalin." Duranty was "fascinated, almost mesmerized by the harsh system he described," wrote Karl E. Meyer. "The result was some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper." The item also noted that the Times correspondent's "lapses" were detailed in the newly released book "Stalin's Apologist" by S.J. Taylor, who documented "his indifference to the catastrophic famine ... when millions perished in Ukraine on the heels of forced collectivization."

"The Editorial Notebook" item may have been a step in the right direction, but the Times has yet to tell the whole truth. It had an opportunity to set the record straight in the recently released supplement dedicated to its 150th anniversary. Executive Editor Howell Raines explained in a note to readers that though the paper's slogan is "All the News That's Fit to Print," it is "patently flawed. ... important news slips by because our coverage reflects blind spots that we recognize only in retrospect ... (see Max Frankel's article on page 10 about our blinkered coverage of the Holocaust). ...we have not covered every major event with perfect prescience." Mr. Raines continued: "We know we make mistakes, and we hate them, but we do not fear them to the point of timidity, as long as they are made in the course of intellectually honest work and are promptly corrected."

What then, we ask, is preventing The New York Times from acknowledging its most grievous mistake from the 1930s and from being intellectually honest enough to return the Pulitzer that Walter Duranty should never have received?

The Ukrainian Weekly, Roma Hadzewycz, Editor-in-chief, an English- language newspaper published by the Ukrainian National Association.
P. O. Box 280, Parsippany, NJ 07054
Tel: 973 292 9800; Fax 973 644 9510
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Check out the large archive of material about the Great Famine of 1932-1933 located on this site.