Perhaps the New York Times feels that it has done enough to fix its image in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal. Indeed, it has done a lot of painfully public house-cleaning, and, judging by its absence from today's headlines, that's good enough. I disagree strongly. The New York Times should not be let off the hook until it deals with a truly frightening skeleton in its closet.
In 1932, its Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty received the Pulitzer Prize for "excellence in journalism" for his dispatches from the Soviet Union describing the results of Stalin's Five Year Plan. While his dispatches may make for good reading, they were complete fiction.
Describing the situation in the Ukrainian Soviet republic in 1933, Duranty wrote, "village markets [were] flowing with eggs, fruit, poultry, vegetables, milk and butter. . . . A child can see this is not famine but abundance."
What famine is he referring to? The one described by British historian Robert Conquest, in his book The Harvest of Sorrow, as follows: "A quarter of the rural population [of Ukraine], men, women, and children, lay dead or dying, the rest in various stages of debilitation with no strength to bury their families or neighbors."
The famine, however, was not the result of natural causes. It happened as a result of deliberate policies of the Soviet Union that left Ukrainian peasants with nothing to eat.
In the effort to collectivize agriculture to finance industrialization, Stalin had set an impossibly high grain quota for Ukraine. He then authorized Soviet agents to use whatever means necessary to collect this grain, including shooting peasants who took even a handful of grain from their fields. When peasants began to starve, they attempted to flee in search of food. The authorities, however, sealed the borders of Ukraine, both dooming Ukrainian peasants and keeping international food aid out.
At the height of the famine, Ukrainians were dying at the rate of 25,000 per day. During this time, the Soviet Union exported 1.7 million tons of grain.
The fact that a huge catastrophe was taking place in the Ukrainian countryside was common knowledge among western journalists in Moscow. At one point, asked by journalists what he would write, he responded: "Nothing. What are a few million dead Russians in a situation like this? Quite unimportant. This is just an incident in the sweeping historical changes here."
Indeed, his articles made very little reference to the famine, except to deny it. What's more, he slandered journalists who honestly reported on the horrific suffering they discovered in Ukraine, claiming "any reports of famine are exaggerations of malignant propaganda."
This statement goes beyond irony into obscenity, when one considers who Duranty was working for. And I don't mean the New York Times, although, apparently, they played some role. A recently published book by Leonard Leshuk (U.S. Intelligence Perceptions of Soviet Power: 1926-1946) provides evidence that Walter Duranty "admitted to Mr. A.W. Klieforth of the U.S. Embassy in Berlin in June of 1931 that, 'in agreement between the New York Times and the Soviet authorities' his dispatches reflected the official opinion of the Soviet regime and not his own.'"
So why did Duranty sacrifice his professional morals? There are a number of guesses. Some think he was being blackmailed over his sexual preferences, which included homosexuality and necrophilia. Others blame his political leanings. Either way, they must have had some hold on him. Duranty's biographer, S. J. Taylor, notes how the Soviet regime lavished the reporter with gifts that included an apartment, a car and fresh caviar delivered daily.
Because of Duranty, the famine has barely entered into public consciousness. Needless to say, discussion of the early thirties was strictly banned and punishable by deportation right up until glasnost, although the people never forgot that horrendous time, and collections of victims' testimonies are now being published to make up for lost time.
Outside of the Soviet Union, the world simply forgot.
Though a Pulitzer Prize has never been revoked, one has been returned. In 1981, Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke admitted to having fabricated a series of stories about "Jimmy," a non-existent 8-year old heroin addict.
The New York Times, therefore, need not wait to be stripped of the award by the Pulitzer Prize Board. It can do the honorable thing and simply give it back.
British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, who traveled through Ukraine during the famine, called Duranty "the greatest liar I have ever met in fifty years of journalism." Quite a strong indictment of a man whose Pulitzer is still claimed by the New York Times. Unless the Times wants to be known as the newspaper that values prestige over integrity, it should do its best to see Duranty stripped of his decidedly undeserved prize. Seventy-one years is long enough. Maki Dobczansky is a Junior in Wharton and the College.Comments powered by Disqus
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