After 70 years a Pulitzer committee is reexamining Walter Duranty's Stalin whitewashes in the New York Times. How bad were they? See for yourself.
1:40 PM, Jun 12, 2003 • By ARNOLD BEICHMAN
AT LONG LAST a Pulitzer Prize committee is looking into the possibility that the Pulitzer awarded to Walter Duranty, the New York Times Moscow correspondent whose dispatches covered up Stalin's infamies, might be revoked.
In order to assist in their researches, I am downloading here some of the lies contained in those dispatches, lies which the New York Times has never repudiated with the same splash as it accorded Jayson Blair's comparatively trivial lies:
"There is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be."
"Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda."
"Enemies and foreign critics can say what they please. Weaklings and despondents at home may groan under the burden, but the youth and strength of the Russian people is essentially at one with the Kremlin's program, believes it worthwhile and supports it, however hard be the sledding."
"You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs."
"There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition."
I would like to add another Duranty quote, not in his dispatches, which is reported in a memoir by Zara Witkin, a Los Angeles architect, who lived in the Soviet Union during the 1930s. ("An American Engineer in Stalin's Russia: The Memoirs of Zara Witkin, 1932-1934," University of California Press ). The memoirist describes an evening during which the Moscow correspondents were discussing how to get out the story about the Stalin-made Russian famine. To get around the censorship, the UP's Eugene Lyons was telephoning the dire news of the famine to his New York office but the was ordered to stop because it was antagonizing the Kremlin. Ralph Barnes, the New York Herald Tribune reporter, turned to Duranty and asked him what he was going to write. Duranty replied:
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. I think the entire matter is exaggerated.
And this was at a time when peasants in Ukraine were dying of starvation at the rate of 25,000 a day.
In his masterwork about Stalin's imposed famine on Ukraine, "Harvest of Sorrow," Robert Conquest has written:
As one of the best known correspondents in the world for one of the best known newspapers in the world, Mr. Duranty's denial that there was a famine was accepted as gospel. Thus Mr. Duranty gulled not only the readers of the New York Times but because of the newspaper's prestige, he influenced the thinking of countless thousands of other readers about the character of Josef Stalin and the Soviet regime. And he certainly influenced the newly-elected President Roosevelt to recognize the Soviet Union.
What is so awful about Duranty is that Times top brass suspected that Duranty was writing Stalinist propaganda, but did nothing. In her exposé "Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty, the New York Times's man in Moscow," S.J. Taylor makes it clear that Carr Van Anda, the managing editor, Frederick T. Birchall, an assistant managing editor, and Edwin L. James, the later managing editor, were troubled with Duranty's Moscow reporting but did nothing about it. Birchall recommended that Duranty be replaced but, says Taylor, "the recommendation fell by the wayside."
When Duranty of his own volition decided to become a special correspondent on a retainer basis for the New York Times, the newspaper published an editorial reassuring its readers that his reputation as "the most outstanding correspondent of an American newspaper during all the years of his faithful and brilliant work at Moscow will remain unimpaired in the slightest degree by the change now made." This about a man whom Malcolm Muggeridge, the Manchester Guardian correspondent and Duranty's contemporary, described as "the greatest liar of any journalist I have met in fifty years of journalism."
Duranty was one of a gaggle of Stalin's intellectual admirers. Muggeridge, whose centennial we celebrate this summer, wrote about them in these lapidary words:
Wise old [Bernard]Shaw, high-minded old [Henri]Barbusse, the venerable [Sidney and Beatrice] Webbs, [Andre] Gide the pure in heart and [Pablo] Picasso the impure, down to poor little teachers, crazed clergymen and millionaires, driveling dons and very special correspondents like Duranty, all resolved, come what might, to believe anything, however preposterous, to overlook nothing, however villainous, to approve anything, however obscurantist and brutally authoritarian, in order to be able to preserve intact the confident expectation that one of the most thorough-going, ruthless and bloody tyrannies ever to exist on earth could be relied on to champion human freedom, the brotherhood of man, and all the other good liberal causes to which they had dedicated their lives. ("Chronicles of Wasted Time," pages 275- 276.)
Let's all give a great encouraging cheer to the Pulitzer committee for undertaking a task 70 years late. And perhaps the Times will now a look back at the Herbert L. Matthews coverage of Cuba and the man he so admired, Fidel Castro.
Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for the Washington Times.