EyeOnTheTimes, By Bob Kohn
WorldNetDaily Exclusive Commentary
WorldNetDaily.com, November 28, 2003
No one alive today at the New York Times should be held accountable for the
gross journalistic sins committed by one of the paper's foreign
correspondents over 70 years ago. To do so would be like holding a child
accountable for the crimes of his father.
But the refusal of the Pulitzer board to rescind the undeserved prize
awarded for those sins, and the refusal of the New York Times to return or
disavow that prize, is not only an affront to the Ukrainian people whose
ancestors suffered and died under the atrocities of Josef Stalin, but also
to the brave reporters stationed in Russia who actually reported the truth
about Stalin's regime in 1931.
That was the year Times reporter Walter Duranty wrote a series of 13
articles about Stalin's Russia that won him the Pulitzer Prize. Duranty's
work, said the Pulitzer board in 1932, showed "a profound and intimate
comprehension of conditions in Russia." Consider the following excerpts from
three of those Pulitzer Prize-winning articles:
Stalin is giving the Russian people - the Russian masses, not Westernized
landlords, industrialists, bankers and intellectuals, but Russia's
150,000,000 peasants and workers - what they really want, namely, joint
efforts, communal effort. And communal life is as acceptable to them as it
is repugnant to a Westerner.
- "Red Russia of Today Ruled by Stalinism, Not Communism" (June 14, 1931)
Although there have been cases of regional frictions and sporadic
difficulty, the system on the whole seems to work more smoothly than any
organization of a heterogeneous state yet devised by man.
- "Stalinism Solving Minorities Problem" (June 26, 1931)
[T]here is no more time for argument or discussion or even freedom in the
Western sense, for which Russia cares nothing, because, in short, a house
divided against itself cannot stand in an hour of stress.
- "Stalinism's Mark is Party Discipline" (June 27, 1931)
"The stuff he wrote in '31 was awful," Times Executive Editor Bill Keller
said recently. But there's even more to the story. While in Moscow, Duranty
became known for his "lavish hospitality." He was provided generous living
quarters, a chauffer and the use of a car equipped with a Klaxon horn used
by KGB. A woman name Katya served as his cook, secretary and mistress, and
even bore him a son.
While the editors of the New York Times were blindly publishing Duranty's
work, Duranty's contemporaries saw right through him. According to a recent
report by the Columbia Journalism Review, Eugene Lyons, a correspondent for
United Press International, suspected that Duranty was on the Soviet
payroll. Malcolm Muggeridge, a reporter for the Manchester Guardian, would
call Duranty "the greatest liar of any journalist I have met in 50 years of
journalism." Columnist Joseph Alsop, a reporter for the New York Herald
Tribune in the early 1930s, also held no punches, calling Duranty a
"fashionable prostitute" in the service of communists. Other reporters of
the period were also getting the Stalinist story right, including William
Stoneman of the Chicago Daily News and Ralph Barnes of the New York Herald
You need a final straw? According to a 1931 State Department memo written by
the American ambassador to Germany, Duranty openly admitted that, by virtue
of an agreement between the New York Times and the Soviet government, all of
his dispatches reflected the Soviet's official position.
So what's the controversy? The man should never have received the award to
begin with. In 1981, when a Pulitzer had been awarded to a reporter who made
up her story about an 8-year-old heroin addict, the Pulitzer board withdrew
the prize without controversy. What's the difference here?
Earlier this year, Times publisher Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger, in a childish
reaction to recent calls for the return of the Duranty Pulitzer, said the
Times didn't have the award, so it couldn't return it. He needed to be
reminded that, years earlier, his father offered to "give it back" if the
evidence suggested Duranty didn't deserve the prize.
As the controversy continued to brew, the Times hired Columbia University
history professor Mark von Hagen to make an independent assessment of
Duranty's award. Sulzberger must have been stunned when von Hagen
recommended last month that the prize be rescinded. "That lack of balance
and uncritical acceptance of the Soviet self-justification for its cruel and
wasteful regime," the professor wrote, "was a disservice to the American
readers of the New York Times."
Earlier, Sulzberger had written a letter to the Pulitzer board, not offering
to rescind the award, or even leaving the decision to the conscience of the
board. Sulzberger actually threatened that, if the board voted to rescind
the award, the Times would brand the action a Soviet-style "airbrush" of
figures purged from history.
Professor von Hagen responded with a scathing letter to the editor published
by the Times on Nov. 13, 2003. "Those targeted for 'airbrushing' were
already murdered," he said. "Airbrushing was intended to suppress the truth
about what was happening under Stalin. The aim of revoking Walter Duranty's
prize is the opposite: to bring greater awareness of the potential long-term
damage that his reporting did for our understanding of the Soviet Union."
Portraits of all 89 Pulitzer Prizes awarded to the paper, including that of
Walter Duranty, still hang in the long hall leading to the executive dining
room at the Times headquarters in New York. It was not only within the
Times' power to rescind or disavow the award on its own accord, it could
have encouraged the Pulitzer board to rescind it, or at very least, the
Times could have taken down the portrait.
What Sulzberger needed to do here, symbolically or otherwise, was to remove
the disgrace Duranty brought upon the Times, apologize to the Ukrainian
public (who partly blame the Times and Duranty for the suffering of their
ancestors) and, finally, and perhaps most important, commemorate the work of
the reporters stationed in Russia who were telling the world the truth about
Stalin in 1931.
If anyone was acting like Stalin, it was Pinch Sulzberger, using his
position to bully the Pulitzer board into opposing rescission - if they
refused, the "newspaper of record" was prepared to accuse the board of
engaging in one of the very behaviors for which Stalin was despised. A
spineless Pulitzer board backed down - they refused to rescind. Sulzberger
got what he wanted. Party discipline was accomplished.
Now, when Pinch gets off the elevator on the 11th floor of the New York
Times building and walks down the hall to lunch with his board of directors,
he can look up to that monument on his wall and revel in his own
self-importance. Pinch Sulzberger, like Walter Duranty, is a man whose
convictions had triumphed over the truth. This is exactly what's wrong with
today's New York Times and it is now quite clear who is responsible for it.
Bob Kohn is the author of "Journalistic Fraud: How The New York Times
Distorts the News and Why It Can No Longer Be Trusted."
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