Sunday, 9 October 2016

Journalistic Hall-of-Shame: Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer for Hiding Stalin’s Crimes

Walter Duranty; Starved peasants in Kharkiv, 1933
Walter Duranty moved to the Soviet Union in 1921 and till 1934 he was The New York Times correspondent in Moscow. An ardent communist, he used to gush like a schoolgirl over the most prolific murderer in recent history—Josef Stalin.

He became one of the leading journalists of his day after Stalin gave him an exclusive interview in 1929. In his articles for The New York Times, Duranty claimed that Stalin was the “greatest living statesman.” The entire focus of his journalism was on concealing Stalin’s crimes and painting a rosy picture of life in the Soviet Union.

The work that Duranty did in the Soviet Union was endorsed by Stalin himself. Stalin told Duranty "You have done a good job in your reporting of the USSR.”

Duranty misled an entire generation by killing all reports of the Stalin-engineered famine in Ukraine in which millions died. In his articles he claimed that the Ukrainians were “healthier and more cheerful” and that the markets were overflowing with food—at a time when a massive campaign of purges and genocide was being orchestrated in the Soviet Union.

In the early 1930s, it was well known that Stalin was intent to destroy millions of kulaks (relatively rich farmers) in Ukraine because he felt that they were opposed to the Soviet collectivization of agriculture. On the communist plan, Duranty had this to say: “Must all of them and their families be physically abolished? Of course not – they must be ‘liquidated’ or melted in the hot fire of exile and labor into the proletarian mass.” (The New York Times, 1931)

In many articles Duranty expressed the view that the Soviet citizens who were being sent to Stalin’s brutal gulags (concentration camps) were given the choice between rejoining Soviet society or becoming underprivileged outsiders. But he had no qualms about accepting that death is the final fate of those who do not accept the Soviet system.

Duranty tried to defend Stalin’s infamous Five Year Plans with these words: “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 effort, communal effort.” (The New York Times,1931)

"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." (The New York Times, 1932)

Duranty attacked the journalists who were insisting that there was a famine in Ukraine and claimed that “there is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation.” He claimed that “the food shortage as a whole is less grave than was believed – or, if not, at least distribution has greatly improved, which comes to the same thing for practical purposes.” (The New York Times, 1933)

He did his best to deny that there was a famine in Ukraine. “Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda. The food shortage, however, which has affected the whole population in the last year and particularly in the grain-producing provinces—the Ukraine, North Caucasus [i.e. Kuban Region], and the Lower Volga—has, however, caused heavy loss of life.”  (The New York Times, 1933)

Despite his dishonest reporting, despite the fact that he was nothing more than Stalin’s useful idiot, Duranty was enshrined with the Pulitzer Prize for his “dispassionate, interpretive reporting of the news from Russia.” It took The New York Times many decades to admit that Duranty’s work “was some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper.”

No comments: