The Ukraine crisis revives doubts over the NYT’s 1932 Pulitzer Prize : NPR

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Walter Duranty, pictured in 1936 at a luncheon given in his honor by the Affiliation of Overseas Press Correspondents on the Lodge Lombardy in New York, repeatedly defended Soviet Premier Josef Stalin.

John Rooney/AP


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John Rooney/AP


Walter Duranty, pictured in 1936 at a luncheon given in his honor by the Affiliation of Overseas Press Correspondents on the Lodge Lombardy in New York, repeatedly defended Soviet Premier Josef Stalin.

John Rooney/AP

The New York Occasions is trying so as to add to its record of 132 Pulitzer Prizes — by far essentially the most of any information group — when the 2022 recipients for journalism are introduced on Monday.

But the battle in Ukraine has renewed questions of whether or not the Occasions ought to return a Pulitzer awarded 90 years in the past for work by Walter Duranty, its charismatic chief correspondent within the Soviet Union.

“He’s the personification of evil in journalism,” says Oksana Piaseckyj, a Ukrainian-American activist who got here to the U.S. as a baby refugee in 1950. She is among the many advocates for the return of the award. “We expect he was just like the originator of pretend information.”

A brand new voice now provides himself to the trigger: former New York Occasions government editor Invoice Keller — himself a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1989 for his personal reporting for the Occasions on the Soviet Union.

Within the Nineteen Thirties, as now, an autocrat’s decrees led to mass deaths of Ukrainian civilians and relied on misinformation to attempt to cowl it up. Reporters, together with Duranty, have been censored and threatened. (A U.S. diplomat once wrote that Duranty instructed him his reviews needed to replicate “the official opinion of the Soviet regime.”) But in a time earlier than social media and the web, international journalists have been among the many solely ones who might get information out to the remainder of the world.

Duranty was The New York Occasions‘ man in Moscow, as the road went, with a comfortable condo through which to entertain expatriates and a popularity as a number one authority on the Soviet Union. Duranty had staked his title on the concept Josef Stalin was the sturdy chief the communist nation wanted. He’s usually credited with coining the time period “Stalinism.”

He wrote glowing reviews of an autocrat’s harsh plans for Ukraine

Stalin’s insurance policies led to the confiscation of meals and grain from so-called ‘kulaks’ (or wealthy peasant) households, comparable to this one within the Donetsk area. It led to widespread famine all through Ukraine.

Footage from Historical past/Common Pictures Group through Getty Pictures


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Footage from Historical past/Common Pictures Group through Getty Pictures


Stalin’s insurance policies led to the confiscation of meals and grain from so-called ‘kulaks’ (or wealthy peasant) households, comparable to this one within the Donetsk area. It led to widespread famine all through Ukraine.

Footage from Historical past/Common Pictures Group through Getty Pictures

In return, Duranty gained uncommon interviews with Stalin and wrote glowingly about Stalin and his plans. The Pulitzer board cited his “dispassionate interpretive reporting” in awarding him a prize in 1932 for a sequence of reviews the earlier 12 months. The primary was a front-page article that began with the road: “Russia at this time can’t be judged by Western requirements or interpreted in Western phrases.”

It’s value being clear on what Stalin’s plans, known as “collectivization,” led to: the deaths of tens of millions of Ukrainians and greater than one million Russians, in keeping with credible estimates.

“Activists from the Communist Occasion regionally and nationally went home to deal with in Ukrainian cities and villages, confiscating meals,” says the journalist and scholar Anne Applebaum, who has written extensively on the interval. “They took wheat, they took grain, they took greens, they took livestock. They took every little thing that individuals had.”

Applebaum’s book Red Famine chronicles the following disaster based mostly on an intensive evaluation of archives by Ukrainian historians.

“Individuals ate mice, they ate rats, they ate leaves, they ate grass,” Applebaum says. “There have been even some incidents of cannibalism.”

She says Stalin used collectivization to crush any nationalist stirrings in Ukraine and to pay for his efforts to industrialize the Soviet Union. Communist Occasion officers had doable dissidents arrested, exiled and killed, particularly professionals.

“It is thought that between 3 and 4 million individuals died” in Ukraine, she says.

By toeing the road, Duranty aided his profession

This {photograph} exhibits the primary ploughing of fields at Hryshynsokho within the Donestsk area of Ukraine after they have been taken by the state. Hardship turned a disaster within the winter of 1932-1933.

Footage from Historical past/Common Pictures Group through Getty Pictures


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Footage from Historical past/Common Pictures Group through Getty Pictures

Regardless of lingering suspicions over Duranty’s motivations, Applebaum says she discovered no proof the reporter was bribed or blackmailed by Russian brokers. She additionally says he didn’t look like swayed by communism, although he was reportedly threatened towards reflecting unwelcome truths.

As a substitute, Appelbaum says, Duranty merely toed the road as a result of it was good for his profession — excusing and rejecting the deadliness of Stalin’s rule nicely previous any second of doable denial.

In 1933, the Welsh author Gareth Jones reported and spoke publicly concerning the famine after interviewing ordinary Ukrainians whereas he wandered by foot for 40 miles. Jones, a former aide to former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, had beforehand scored an interview with Adolf Hitler.

In March 1933, Duranty wrote in a Times story on web page 13 that Jones possessed a “eager and energetic thoughts,” however that the Welsh author’s interviews with individuals close to Kharkiv represented “a fairly insufficient cross-section of a giant nation.” Duranty added he had sought to persuade Jones in any other case however that “nothing might shake his conviction of impending doom.” (Jones was killed beneath murky circumstances in Mongolia in 1935. His conflict with Duranty impressed the 2019 film Mr. Jones.)

“Duranty got down to tear him down,” Applebaum says. “And, in fact, on the time, he succeeded as a result of he was the well-known Walter Duranty.”

Duranty remained unwavering in his protection of Stalin and his insurance policies, even because the famine unfolded. He used authorised euphemisms like “malnutrition” as an alternative of “famine.” And in that March 1933 story, Duranty appeared to justify Stalin’s use of power.

“To place it brutally,” Duranty wrote, “you may’t make an omelet with out breaking eggs.”

In August 1933, Duranty began another front-page story with these phrases: “The wonderful harvest about to be gathered exhibits that any report of a famine in Russia is at this time an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.”

He acknowledged the shortages affecting Ukraine and different agricultural areas however added, “there will probably be greater than ample [food] to cowl the nation’s meals provide for the approaching 12 months and to justify the Kremlin’s coverage of collectivization.”

Privately, a British diplomat recorded in September 1933 that Duranty had acknowledged to him that “as many as 10 million individuals might have died straight or not directly from lack of meals prior to now 12 months.” Such an evaluation by no means appeared in public.

A long time later, students began to drill down on Duranty’s function

Soviet officers confiscate grain from a peasant family in Ukraine, 1932-1933. The Occasions‘ Duranty remained unwavering in his protection of Stalin and his insurance policies, even because the famine unfolded.

Footage from Historical past/Common Pictures Group through Getty Pictures


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Footage from Historical past/Common Pictures Group through Getty Pictures

Duranty died in 1957. Because the Soviet Union cracked aside a long time later, historians pried unfastened the total nature of the Ukrainian famine from censored archives. Students drilled down too on Duranty’s function in deflecting consideration from the humanitarian disaster and blame from Stalin.

“He was not solely the best liar among the many journalists in Moscow, however he was the best liar of any journalist that I ever met in 50 years of journalism,” mentioned the late Malcolm Muggeridge in 1982 for a documentary produced by two Ukrainian-Canadian teams.

Muggeridge had reported concerning the famine in 1933 from Ukraine for the Manchester Guardian, his byline withheld to guard his identification from Soviet authorities. “Anyone who you have been speaking to knew that there was a horrible famine occurring,” Muggeridge told his interviewer. “Certainly in Moscow itself, there was a determined meals scarcity.”

The New York Occasions started to evaluate Duranty’s work in more and more caustic phrases, beginning in 1986 and 1990.

In 2003, public strain led the Occasions and the Pulitzer Prize Board to conduct parallel critiques of Duranty’s work and the prize. The board discovered no “clear and convincing proof of deliberate deception.” It decided against withdrawing his award. (The Pulitzer Prize administrator on the time, Sig Gissler, declined to remark for this story.)

Then-Occasions Writer Arthur Sulzberger Jr. mentioned he had concluded stripping Duranty’s work of the award would be like airbrushing history — in essence, a “Stalinist” method. (A historian employed by the Occasions as a advisor in evaluating Duranty’s work would publicly denounce that conclusion shortly after.) The newspaper publicly posted an essay representing its institutional place, calling his work discredited and explaining why.

Invoice Keller had simply turn into The Occasions’ government editor that summer time. He tells NPR he appears to be like again with some remorse that he didn’t push tougher for the award to be returned. He now says the Pulitzer board ought to rescind it.

“I imply, I can articulate a case for not revoking the prize and saying this can be a teachable second. Maintain the prize on the market, however encompass it with the disgrace it deserves,” Keller says, describing what the paper selected to do.

But he continues, “However I believed the Pulitzer board’s reasoning in not taking away the prize was fairly lame. A Pulitzer Prize isn’t just an accolade for an remoted piece of labor. It no less than implies an accolade for the reporter’s efficiency, and Duranty’s efficiency was shameful.”

In 2003, the Occasions confronted a number of challenges to its credibility

Looking back, Keller says the local weather through which the newspaper was working in fall 2003 should have affected the choice it reached.

A pair of high-profile scandals had upended the Occasions simply months earlier than. Star reporter Judith Miller’s scoops about Saddam Hussein’s caches of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq proved groundless. And a rising star, Jayson Blair, turned out to have fabricated and plagiarized in dozens of articles. Keller’s predecessor, Howell Raines, was compelled out as government editor; Keller was named to a job for which he had been handed over just a few years earlier.

The Occasions‘ credibility had been known as into query in two actually essential instances,” Keller says. “I can think about it made it tougher to acknowledge even one thing that was [70] years outdated. …It was one other blow to the Occasions’ credibility.”

The Occasions nonetheless lists Duranty amongst its Pulitzer winners. Even so, as Keller says, the newspaper has distanced itself from what Duranty wrote in its pages.

Sulzberger, now retired, declined to remark via a Occasions spokeswoman. The spokeswoman, Danielle Rhoades Ha, wrote in an announcement that “by publishing Duranty’s discredited protection,” the paper fell in need of its journalistic mission. However, she added, the paper “has comprehensively detailed its lapses to make sure they don’t seem to be repeated.”

The Occasions maintains that the choice on Duranty’s honor rests with the Pulitzer board, which is overseen by Columbia College.

However it took a extra energetic method within the latest previous relating to a separate controversy.

In late 2020, it requested the Pulitzer board to take again finalist honors given to Caliphate, a podcast series that proved to be largely based on a hoax. The board did. The paper additionally returned a Peabody Award for a similar sequence.

The NYT is in “a really totally different time and place” now, the newsroom’s new chief says

The Occasions’ subsequent high information government says Duranty does not come near assembly the Occasions‘ requirements.

“It was a really totally different time and place,” says Joseph Kahn, who’s about to rise from managing editor to government editor on the paper. “The notion that you’ve got a single correspondent on his or her personal defining a tackle a serious story does not really feel just like the world we dwell in at this time.”

Kahn, a former international correspondent and high worldwide editor for the paper, says the Occasions has 40 journalists in Ukraine proper now. He says what the Occasions is doing now could be in some methods making up for the paper’s previous shortcomings. The paper has shone a light-weight on potential Russian war crimes and Russian propaganda efforts.

The brand new administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, Marjorie Miller, says the board’s new chairpersons haven’t modified the group’s stance on Duranty.

She says many award-winning reviews and plenty of award-winning reporters can be seen otherwise within the years after they have been acknowledged.

“The board has by no means revoked a prize,” Miller says. “The Occasions might actually withdraw its assist [for Duranty’s work].”

In 1981, the Pulitzer board withdrew a prize from a Washington Submit reporter after she confessed to her editors to having fabricated the topic of her award-winning story, a purported 8-year-old hooked on heroin.

Anne Applebaum joined the Pulitzer board this spring. She stays withering on Duranty. However she says she’s reserving judgment, no less than for now, on the query of whether or not his award ought to be taken again. It may be fraught, she says, to begin reassessing previous judgments via the lens of the current.

Disclosure: This story was reported by NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik and edited by Media & Tech Editor Emily Kopp, Chief Enterprise Editor Pallavi Gogoi and Senior Enterprise Editor Uri Berliner. As NPR Senior Vice President for Information and Editorial Director Nancy Barnes serves on the Pulitzer Prize board, neither Barnes nor some other senior information government at NPR reviewed this story earlier than it was posted publicly.

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