Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#12 - JRL 7224
Moscow Times
June 16, 2003
One Pulitzer That Should Shake the World
By Matt Bivens

WASHINGTON -- America's most coveted journalism award is the Pulitzer Prize, and The New York Times has collected 89 of them. But now one of those Pulitzers is being challenged because the honored reporter was a fraud.

Is this about Jayson Blair, the whiz kid whose faked articles have deeply embarrassed his paper? Yes and no.

The prize in question was won in 1932 by Walter Duranty for "excellence in reporting" out of the Soviet Union. That same year, the Stalin regime sealed the borders of Ukraine, ordered the confiscation of grain, and engineered a mass famine -- one so neatly political that it stopped precisely at the Ukrainian-Russian internal border.

The Soviets called it "collectivization," the forcing of millions of people into collective farms. Ukrainians in America refer to it as the Holodomor -- roughly, the Famine-Genocide -- and they consciously use a capital "H" in imitation of the Holocaust.

The Holocaust -- the killing of about 6 million Jews, along with some 3 million Soviet POWs and thousands of Gypsies -- is woven into the textbooks, the consciousness and the monuments of nations everywhere.

And the Holodomor? It claimed some 7 million innocents. At its height, while the Soviets exported thousands of tons of grain to the West, Ukrainians were dying at a rate of 25,000 per day. Yet no one has heard of it. Every November, the U.S. president sends a short letter to Ukrainians marking the tragedy. Other than that, it passes virtually unmentioned.

To understand how the Holodomor slipped down the memory hole, one has to look back to the 1930s. The Great Depression was on, and in the West communism was admired or feared. That, plus the Soviet practice of deporting critics, soon filled the Moscow foreign press corps with apologists for Stalin.

Duranty was not alone. (Another apologist, Eugene Lyons of UPI, repented and wrote one of my favorite books, "Assignment in Utopia." Check out chapter XV, "The Press Corps Conceals a Famine," at www.colley.co.uk/garethjones/soviet_articles/assignment_in_utopia.htm)

But Duranty was unusually cynical. He would talk about millions of famine deaths, and then add, "But they're only Russians," and, "you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs." And incredibly, he won the Pulitzer for reporting in 1931 on Stalin's Five-Year Plans.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Holodomor, and in January the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America launched a campaign to have Duranty's Pulitzer rescinded. The Pulitzer board is formally studying that. But in the past, the board has split hairs, arguing that Duranty's Pulitzer was for reporting that predated the famine and had nothing to do with it, while The New York Times has taken the position that its own pages have since denounced and debunked Duranty's work, and his Pulitzer is displayed with an asterisk to that effect at Times' headquarters. And that's apparently good enough.

So, a cub reporter publishes a string of articles that plagiarize or embellish upon some pretty minor realities -- and this provokes a monster mea culpa on the front page detailing the paper's sins, followed by the resignations of its editors. Meanwhile, another reporter is known to have been a serial liar, someone who actively worked over many years to cover up the equivalent of the Holocaust -- and The New York Times admits as much, yet feels OK holding on to his Pulitzer.

Doesn't that tarnish the other 88?

Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, writes the Daily Outrage for The Nation magazine. [www.thenation.com]

Top   Next