The Pulitzer Prize the NYT Should Not Have Won





A report commissioned by the [NY] Times said the work of 1932 Pulitzer Prize-winner Walter Duranty had a “serious lack of balance,” was “distorted,” and was “a disservice to American readers of the New York Times…and the peoples of the Russian and Soviet empires.”--New York Sun Oct. 22, 2003

This summer, at the request of the New York Times, Mark von Hagen, Professor of History at Columbia University, investigated the Pulitzer Prize awarded to reporter Walter Duranty in 1932. Von Hagen's report, delivered in July, became known this week. It is being published here for the first time with the permission of Professor von Hagen. In an interview with the New York Sun Professor von Hagen said that he believes the Pulitzer awarded to the Times should be rescinded. (He did not go that far in his report.) Click here to read the account of this story provided in the NYT. Click here for the NY Sun story.

Von Hagen's investigation was begun in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal. But questions have swirled around Duranty's reporting for decades. Duranty gave glowing reports of life inside the Soviet Union during the 1930s, ignoring evidence of oppression, mass murder and a vast famine in the Ukraine. The NYT has distanced itself from Duranty's reporting since the 1980s.

July 24, 2003

Re: Walter Duranty and his reporting from Moscow

I've chosen to organize my comments below by sharing the kinds of questions about Duranty's reporting that I, as a historian who has studied this period, might reasonably ask. What is the focus of his reporting? What appear to be his sources? Does he get out of Moscow (to other parts of the USSR) very often? What sources might he have tapped on his frequent trips to Berlin, Paris, and other European capitals? How strict were Soviet press censors at this point? What sort of "story" was he telling about the Soviet Union and to what end, if any? I also thought of comparing what Duranty wrote with other correspondents' work, but decided to try to appraise his work on its own merits and in the context of the historical period in which he was writing. I also tried to keep an open mind about the writing, especially after having read the two "biographies-denunciations" of Duranty by S. J. Taylor (Stalin's Apologist, Walter Duranty, the New York Times's Man in Moscow) and James Crowl (Angels in Stalin's Paradise). Both of these books appear to have been conceived as virtual character assassinations and rely heavily on innuendo, insinuation and hostile speculation by Duranty's enemies in the press corps above all, particularly Eugene Lyons (in Assignment in Utopia) and Malcolm Muggeridge (in his fictionalized memoir Winter in Moscow). The two authors' own grasp of Soviet, American and European history leaves much to be desired. Moreover, Taylor conflates material from memoirs, interviews, and fictional accounts and suggests these are all equivalent sources. Still, they provide some useful historical background and context of the Moscow reporting scene during these years.

Duranty's Reporting on the First Five-Year Plan: Themes, Sources, Biases, Constraints

The reporting that the Pulitzer Prize Committee cites in support of its nomination of Duranty was for the first five-year plan, curiously, some of his driest stories for the year 1931. Most of the reports are long discussions of Soviet production statistics, either projected ones or achieved ones. All of this material comes from official Soviet sources, either newspapers or speeches by the leadership. Duranty learned Russian well enough to read the Soviet newspapers on his own, and appeared to be invited to all important officially designated newsworthy events. Not surprisingly, most of the stories on the "economic front" have the level of interest and excitement of Pravda, Izvestiia, or Promyshlennaia and Ekonomicheskaia gazeta, his favorite sources. He frequently writes in the enthusiastically propagandistic language of his sources, again without any ironic distance or critical commentary: "rural revolution flamed like a fiery beacon across Russia (2/16/31)." In what is perhaps an extreme case of this socialist realist vision of reality, Duranty describes Soviet children as "the freest, most upstanding and intelligent children the NYT correspondent has ever met anywhere. They are clean which Russians used not be, they play games for fun and think their country is the greatest ever . . . .They do not care a rap about what Americans call comfort, but they know the job of united effort and have an opportunity to take part in national life in drives or campaigns or investigations or what-not to a degree enjoyed by no other children in the world (5/31/31)."

Even the shortcomings that Duranty highlights in the Soviet campaigns in the countryside and industrial worlds come most often from the same Soviet sources-that, for example, production was behind target at one or another plant, or that the harvest would be lower in wheat than anticipated (1/3/31, 1/6/31, 3/26/31, 5/12/31). Generally, however, the plan is being fulfilled and overfulfilled with a great degree of rational planning, according to Duranty (6/1/31). He does pose the question for his readers about the reliability of Soviet statistics, to conclude that they are generally within a margin of error of 3 to 5 percent (2/7/31). (Given the thorough purges of the Soviet statistical administration already in the mid-1920s, this seems very generous indeed.) Perhaps more remarkable is that Duranty is convinced that the new Russia finds its newspapers interesting, and "even blasé foreign correspondents find themselves unexpectedly interested (5/6/31)." As someone who has read quite a bit in the Soviet newspapers and leadership speeches of the 1920s and early 1930s, I find this taste very bizarre. And we also know from the contemporary press that they attracted regular readership only with great difficulty because of their insistence on making their "new" conform to the desired outcome of the current political or economic campaign. The only occasional additional source he cites are conversations with foreign diplomats, engineers and workers who either come through Moscow on their way into or out of the country or who work on projects in Moscow (5/27/31). There is little evidence that Duranty traveled much around the country or talked to many ordinary Russians or other Soviet citizens; all his stories have Moscow datelines (though that might not be the accurate conclusion to draw from that practice).

To Duranty's credit, however, he recognized that this period of collectivization and industrialization marked a qualitatively new stage in Soviet history, something he would call Stalinism and which, while emerging somehow logically from Lenin's achievements, made 1930 "perhaps the most critical" year "in all its checkered history." (1/1/31, 6/14/31) Moreover, he recognized some of the peculiar features of the "plan" and its role in the Soviet economy, that it was not just a set of economic targets but a mythical mobilizational tool for the population (1/2/31) Duranty does not seem to be much interested in internal political developments at the Kremlin, but focuses on the very narrowly economic side of the "war" against backwardness. He reports on the Menshevik Trial and another engineers' trial in Moscow, but virtually reproduces the charges of wrecking and sabotage brought by the prosecution without any serious scrutiny of the evidence (3/4/31).
By this time, of course, overly positive mention of Trotsky or other opposition figures would likely provoke censor reactions. Beginning in the late 1920s, foreign reporters began feeling new pressures on what they could and couldn't send out of Moscow. In 1929 a German reporter for the Berliner Tagesblatt was denied a re-entry visa after he made a home trip. Still, other reporters were getting around the country much more and appeared to have a wider range of sources they could interview and cite than Duranty. And Duranty himself acknowledges that the censorship was relatively mild, if somewhat self-defeating for the Soviet cause (6/23/31); he described the wartime censorship in France as stricter than the regime the Press Officer enforced in Moscow. "On the whole, your correspondent is inclined to regard the censorship as a help no less than a hindrance, because it takes the responsibility off a reporter's shoulders should there be subsequent complaints from any quarter." (3/1/31)

Advocate of U.S. Recognition of the U.S.S.R.

Within the general range of this reporting, Duranty pursued a couple of "missions," if that's not too strong a characterization of his tone and line of argument. One was US recognition of the USSR. Accordingly, he made a determined effort to "explain" to his readers the injustice of the charges made by many, including in America, of Soviet dumping and forced labor (1/12/31). "To use the words `conscription' or `drafting' of labor gives an unfair picture of what is happening," he writes (2/1/31, 2/13/31) and proceeds to compare the Soviet first five-year plan mobilizations to the United States after it entered the Great War. Duranty offered this sort of explanation repeatedly in the context of the debate in the United States over recognition of the USSR, an issue that was also part of presidential campaign politics. (A separate story in the NYT, not written by Duranty, reports that Representative Fish of New York sought means to prevent convict-made good from Russian from entering the United States and asked the Treasury Department to have agents go into Russia to see if their lumber and pulpwood exports were produced by forced labor. 2/3/31) Most often, Duranty concludes his explanation with insisting that the charges are not serious obstacles to good relations with the USSR and that Soviet practice, given the historical circumstances and great historical tasks that the Stalinist leadership has undertaken, are little different than the behavior of any number of Great Powers during the recent World War I. In a story about tens of thousands of forced laborers, Duranty wrote,"The great majority of exiles are not convicts, or even prisoners," but can be compared to Cromwell's colonization of Virginian and the West Indies (2/3/31). But the main moral of all these stories is to lay to rest any talk about a "Red trade menace" (4/8/31).

He reminds his readers that the Soviet market is a large and unsatisfied one and that the potential is there for a great economic success story in the not too distant future. He also insisted that despite a certain Soviet Schadenfreude about the Great Depression and their general expectation of new world war breaking out over the "contradictions" of global capitalism (4/22/31, 5/18/31, 10/24/31), they were relatively self-absorbed and had abandoned their plans for global conquest, if, as he puts it, they ever had such plans. The Stalinist leadership and the society at large was overwhelmed by the tasks of building socialism, consolidating the collective and state farm sectors in agriculture and building the foundations for modern industry. Their interests were in peace with their neighbors and trading partners for their primary commodities (4/12/31, 6/18/31, 11/29/31). The Red Army existed entirely for the purpose of defense and was no menace to peace (6/25/31), he wrote, repeating War Commissar Voroshilov. After all, the capitalist powers did also continue to entertain fantasies of overthrowing the one, proletarian dictatorship to have seized power, so such defensive precautions were only necessary (11/25/31, 11/29/31). Again, many, if not most, of these stories read as translated press conferences with the Soviet Foreign Minister or Foreign Trade Minister with minimal or no commentary or analysis. In several pieces, Duranty makes a special effort to refute or explain away reports coming from "White Russian émigré circles" in Riga and elsewhere as clearly out of touch and so hostile as to have no credibility whatsoever (2/1/31, 2/3/31). Finally, in his apparent effort to win US recognition for the USSR, Duranty wrote occasional stories about how other countries, notably Germany, Austria, even England, might beat the US to the vast Soviet markets (2/23/31, 2/24/31, 3/11/31, 3/24/31, 4/4/31, 6/19/31, 9/28/31).

It is not clear to me what precise role Duranty played in the politics of recognition (US recognized USSR in 1933 after Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president; Duranty was received by the president after the recognition ceremony and returned to Moscow with the newly appointed US ambassador; in Moscow he was feted by Stalin for his role in the recognition campaign) but I can't help feeling it wasn't insignificant. What this raises, then, is his complicity in the diplomacy of the US-Soviet relationship. And, though these are separate issues, the Ukrainian famine denial is inextricably part of this moral responsibility and part of a broader problem outlined below. Might not the US been able to insist on different recognition terms, including, possibly, the admission of famine relief workers to the afflicted regions? Or, in the rush to recognition, was the business and political elite eager to overlook any evidence of troubling behavior on the part of the Soviet Union at this time?

Duranty's "Theories" about Russia and the Soviet Union

When he wasn't reporting straight economic news or discussing international trade issues, Duranty indulged in his theories about Russia, which are a bit more disturbing from the viewpoint of objectivity, a balanced picture, and the tremendous influence of the NYT. Throughout 1931 Duranty proclaimed that Stalin was a progressive historical figure on the order of Oliver Cromwell (2/3/31, 2/15/31) or Napoleon (1/18/31), who was fighting a war against his own Slavic people's Asiatic backwardness. (In the 1/18/31 long feature on Stalin, Duranty opens with comparisons to Chinese emperors and then proceeds to Mohammed.) That Asiatic backwardness he characterized alternately as passivity, fatalism, collectivism, proclivity to mass behavior (as opposed to the individualism of the liberal west), fanatic religiosity and superstition, antheap morality (5/4/31, 5/10/31, 7/5/31, 11/22/31, 12/20/31) Somehow Stalin was able to escape this Slavic fatalism because he was a Caucasian "who can hold fast to the thread of his own free will in the labyrinth where Slavs are lost."[! 1/81/31] (How Caucasians are less Asian than Slavs Duranty doesn't muse about.) Incidentally, Duranty was by no means unique in holding these views; one can cite the very influential biography of Stalin by Isaac Deutscher, an ostensible follower of Trotsky, as perhaps the most well-known purveyor of a version of this Orientalist interpretation. And "softer" versions of this "explanation" are widespread among the historians and other social scientists who wrote under the influence of modernization theory as well. The conclusion we are meant to draw from this "analysis," however, is that Russians need and deserve this kind of harsh, autocratic regime because that's the way they are; they might even unconsciously long for autocracy (6/14/31).

Of course, this preferred narrative of Russians as backward Asiatics was one that the Stalinist dictatorship favored itself as justification for its brutal regime (as so many Asian dictatorships have offered in recent times under the guise of "Asian values"), although it would never have put it in so many words. I suppose it's this near identity of Duranty's "analysis" with the official Soviet version of events that is most disturbing for me as a historian. His near total reliance on official Soviet sources went hand in hand with this "understanding" of Soviet politics and Russian history. When this myth of Slavic backwardness is repeated often enough as "news," especially when no challenge to it is ever offered from another point of view, it takes on the character of a natural truth, when it is clearly an ideological construction that is playing a nefarious role inside the country, but, in Duranty's translation, also in international affairs. I shall devote most of the rest of this review of Duranty's work to this one-sided presentation of the Stalinist project; I have also tried to suggest some of the contexts that allowed Duranty to be able to see the Soviet world in such blatantly positive light. Above all, these contexts are the Great Depression in the West and Duranty's own experience of World War I in France and on other fronts.

Whatever the causes for Duranty's so thoroughly identifying with the Stalinist position, the consequences are perhaps most apparent in his treatment of--or rather downpedaling of--resistance to collectivization and industrialization. During 1931 the official Stalinist view of society was one of harmony and conciliation in line with the remarkable successes on the economic front (8/31/31). Similar to the regime's own self-understanding, Duranty downplayed the significance of the widespread and violent resistance to collectivization that had taken place across the Soviet Union during 1929-30 and again 1930-31, in fact a virtual civil war in the countryside which would have been hard for Duranty to remain ignorant of. He does mention kulak friction or opposition as much diminished over the previous year and apparently a thing of the past (4/22/31, 11/19/31) and, importantly, a sign of peasant backwardness. For Duranty to attribute the difficulties of collectivization to peasant backwardness is particularly distorting; in fact, collectivization wrought the greatest damage in those regions where the peasants had the most modern skills, had the longest history of voluntary rural cooperation, and were most productive, namely Ukraine, the Kuban, the areas cultivated by the Volga Germans. To pronounce the destruction of that independent peasantry and its replacement by what the peasants themselves referred to as the "second serfdom" as progressive and a triumph over Slavic fatalism and backwardness lends weight to the Stalinist dictatorship's own justification for its violent and murderous assault on its own countryside.

Similarly, Duranty dismissed the political opposition to aspects of collectivization and industrialization policy within the ruling Bolshevik party, an opposition that unleashed a series of purges and expulsions (5/20/31). Because these acts of resistance and opposition had been crushed by a ruthless Stalinist state, it was now "the Russian condition" to be eternally fatalistic, passive, inclined to backward anarchistic outbursts in infantile, monolithic fashion. There were constant show trials since 1928 at least which featured Soviet or foreign engineers or professors charged with some sort of sabotage, wrecking, or other "crimes" against the revolution. If Duranty wasn't aware of this powerful opposition from sources inside the Soviet Union, something that is frankly hard to imagine, he would have had plenty of opportunity to learn more about this when he made his regular trips out of Moscow to Berlin, Paris, Warsaw, and Prague. In all four capitals there were very politically engaged and well-informed Russian émigré organizations and institutions that met regularly and clandestinely even at this late date with visiting Soviet bureaucrats, diplomats, and other "agents" and developed rather sophisticated understanding of the political life of the USSR. Among the best informed were the Mensheviks abroad, who published Sostialisticheskii vestnik. In Prague during the interwar years, there were whole universities of émigré Russian and Ukrainian liberals and some conservatives who would also have offered alternate "narratives" of modern and more ancient Russian history. In Warsaw, too, there were several very good scholars and specialized institutes that made it their business to understand the history and contemporary affairs of the Soviet Union (and Duranty did make occasional trips to Poland).

When he wrote another characteristic piece about why the communists only allowed voting for communist party candidates, Duranty condescendingly explained that Russians were so uneducated in self-government that they needed to be taught this fundamental truth by the all-wise party (1/26/31), again ignoring the history of early twentieth-century Russia and well into the civil war years when political parties and public organizations mobilized millions of voters in a series of doomed democratic and revolutionary governments. To say that Russians had no and especially no recent memory of a more genuine electoral politics is extremely distorting. For someone who was an adult--as was Duranty--during the Russian revolution and a correspondent in France during the First World War, there is another story about the Russian people that he ought to have known, that the subjects of the Russian Empire were among the most oppositionist and revolutionary and even anarchistic people on the earth's surface for several years running until they had the will to fight killed in them by so many invading armies, famines, and a few other natural and man-made disasters. This is not to argue, by contrast, that Russia had become a model European parliamentary democracy during the early twentieth century or even that its "genuine" workers' revolution had been betrayed by the Bolshevik dictatorship. But to insist on the power of eternal Slavic fatalism, as Duranty so frequently invokes, is to ignore the tremendous transformations that had occurred in the early decades of the twentieth century. It is very present-bound and short-sighted and, more importantly, it conveys precisely the anti-democratic justification for the creation of a dictatorship that was mastered by the Stalinist propaganda apparatus.

In another characteristic vein, Duranty devotes several pieces to the decline in religious services at Easter and Christmas (12/26/31), and above all the razing of the Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer, again as signs of progress and triumph over traditional Russian religious obscurantism (8/3/31, 12/26/31) There is little hint here of the concerted antireligious campaigns, including outright repression and not just the League of the Militant Godless anti-Christmas and anti-Easter demonstrations. Instead, he describes how Soviet citizens are joyously celebrating their new Soviet holidays through increasing output and other achievements (18/8/31). One waits in vain for some signal of ever so slight tongue in cheek.

Duranty warned his American readers again and again not to try to judge Soviet life by their own comfortable standards. Besides Cromwell, Napoleon, Ivan the Terrible and other more distant historical parallels, another device he frequently deployed to "explain" for his American readers how the Soviet regime could be so apparently indifferent to the comfort and freedoms of its citizens was to appeal to his own World War I experience. Knowing what we know about the traumatic impact that the Great War had on so many intellectuals and ordinary combatants and appreciating the proximity of the shared experience he could appeal to, he tries again and again to contextualize the Soviet hardships against the backdrop of that suicidal European civil war. Certainly in its own self-image, the Soviet leadership was engaged in a war to defeat its own backwardness. But Duranty never seems to question the logic of a country putatively at peace waging war against its own population and erecting the entire panoply of internal enemies and enemy aliens that seem to come straight out of a more strictly military experience; he never questions the "normalcy" of a militarizing society and the tremendous assaults on what fragile liberties Soviet citizens still enjoyed during the NEP years. He, I think, therefore misleadingly, compares Stalin occasionally to Marshall Foch of the French (1/8/31). One additional comparison he frequently makes for American audiences is Tammany Hall and Charles Murphy, suggesting Stalin is to be understood in the context of American machine politics of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Again, by 1931 Stalin had certainly transcended the scale of American machine politics by any stretch of the imagination. By 1931 the Stalinist dictatorship had murdered hundreds of thousands of its own peasant citizens as they refused to submit to Moscow's dictates to collectivize. The Tammany Hall parallel is, once again, distorting because of its relativizing and familiarizing effects, suggesting that Stalin is really not much worse or more threatening than a New York City boss.

Any Conclusions?

Duranty was neither unique among reporters nor even many scholars of the time in sharing these unbalanced and, ultimately, condescending, views of Russian history and the Soviet people. Moreover, several foreign correspondents fell under Stalin's spell to a certain extent, as Duranty clearly did, especially if they had been granted the privilege of an interview with the great man. And, after all, he certainly did turn out to be one of the most important political leaders of the twentieth century. Unfortunately, however, such views do not make his reporting distinguished or particularly unusual, let alone profound; I would not judge that his reporting has stood an even minimal test of time given the criteria I tried to outline in my critique of his "theories."

After reading through a good portion of Duranty's reporting for 1931, I was disappointed and disturbed by the overall picture he painted of the Soviet Union for that period. Much of the "factual" material is dull and largely uncritical recitation of Soviet sources, whereas his efforts at "analysis" are very effective renditions of the Stalinist leadership's self-understanding of their murderous and progressive project to defeat the backwardness of Slavic, Asiatic peasant Russia. That hundreds, if not thousands, of well-intentioned and intelligent European and American leftist intellectuals shared much of this Stalinist understanding of might making for right and a sort of Hegelian acceptance of historical outcomes, especially against the backdrop of the Great Depression in the West, does not make his writing any more profound or original. But after reading so much Duranty in 1931 it is far less surprising to me that he would deny in print the famine of 1932-33 and later defend the prosecutors' charges during the show trials of 1937.

I believe there is room in international reporting for an effort to convey the "Soviet" point of view, meaning the official one, without leaving it, however at that; instead, he would seem to have some obligation to take the analysis to a different level by suggesting alternate plausible explanations and motivations for events and actions. In other words, there is a serious lack of balance in his writing. Instead, Duranty is very insistent by this time in his own authority and understanding of the reality of Stalinist Russia. He prided himself on his "independent" judgments that went at odds with the conventional wisdom in Moscow. He even acknowledged earlier "misunderstandings" of Soviet political culture to reinforce his hard won expertise and current level of understanding (10/11/31). It is a clever rhetorical device but adds nothing to the overall analysis.

That lack of balance and uncritical acceptance of the Soviet self-justification for its cruel and wasteful regime was a disservice to the American readers of the NYT and the liberal values they subscribe to and to the historical experience of the peoples of the Russian and Soviet empires and their struggle for a better life.


comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


Ralph E. Luker - 10/28/2003

Mr. Dyke, If your point is that decisions about awards are political decisions, conceded. I know of no decisions that are not in some sense political ones. Still, the political weight should fall on the side of merit and von Hagen has plenty of evidence that Duranty's work was not meritorious. If what he wrote merely reflected the Party line because he could not have remained in the Soviet Union otherwise, his work is not particularly meritorious for the necessity. His reports ignored the deaths of millions of people. That alone, I think, deserves revocation of the award.


Richard Dyke - 10/28/2003

Mr. Luker, I have read Mark von Hagen's report again, and I do not think it is a sufficient argument--and not a very strong case at all--for taking away Mr. Duranty's Pulitzer Prize. I suspect some of Duranty's contemporaries hated him because he got it, and with it, a lot of recognition that they thought that they, not him, deserved. Von Hagen is careful not to get too carried away by his own analysis. He shows that Duranty did indeed (more or less) adopt the Soviet party line and use mainly "official sources" much of the time, but this has to be viewed in terms of the consequences of not doing so. Had Duranty been the eager-beaver reporter out among the people to find out what was "really happening," he probably would not have lasted long. (Who's kidding who here?! The Soviets would not have tolerated it.) The old maxim seems to apply here: "To get along, you have to go along." And it does appear that Duranty did go along with official pronouncements and did not check many things out for himself. It is also helpful to remember that Duranty was not overly proud of the American and European "achievements" of the period, namely, the Great Depression and World War I, as von Hagen notes. The USSR probably looked to him somewhat better when viewed against the American and European backdrops, and it was easier to go along. That Duranty's reportage was unbalanced seems clear enough from von Hagen's analysis, but von Hagen notes that Duranty had plenty of company among reporters of the time, and Duranty's own viewpoints that the Russian peasants were "backward" (which explained their resistance to collectivization) or that Russians had no experience in electoral politics (as the justification for single-candidate [communist] elections) demonstrate the limits of his education and training, as much as anything else. (One does not have to be a genius to win a Pulitzer.)

I see almost nothing in von Hagen's article to suggest that Duranty's Pulitzer should be pulled. That Duranty had limited perspective on some issues (based on his own assumptions, training, and experience) is unconvincing, and in the context of the Soviet state, one can see clearly why he did not "go out among the people to find the truth" and accepted official pronouncements. (Roosevelt knew Stalin was a butcher. Did HE say so? No, he called Stalin "Uncle Joe." Should we expect more from Duranty?)

Von Hagen probably realizes that he has stumbled on the real truth--that has little to do with Duranty's writing. Duranty appears (in politics, appearance is everything) to have had some kind of role in achieving recognition of the Soviet Union by the United States. FDR received him, as von Hagen notes, Duranty accompanied the new ambassador back to Moscow, as von Hagen also notes, and Stalin praised Duranty for his role in this diplomatic achievement, also noted by von Hagen. Both governments could have not been more pleased with him, which seems to me to have probably been pivotal in gaining recognition for himself, too, in the form of a Pulitzer Prize. Such prizes, as I have already been told by you, Mr. Luker, are or "should be" for journalistic merit, talent, etc. When viewed in the context of his time, however, by reviewers impressed with his role in the recognition achievement, Duranty probably looked pretty good to the award committee. As we have seen with the Bancroft committee in the Bellisiles case, committees don't often do the research they should before they announce their choice. They are sometimes susceptible to marketing and the influence of other "outside" factors, including the important political issue of Soviet recognition at the time. Having announced Duranty, the Pulitzer committee probably aggravated some very capable reporters who felt the honor should have gone to them, and in truth, perhaps it should have. Yet awards are voted by human committees that are NOT all-seeing and all-knowing (and ARE usually politically sensitive(. However, it does not appear that any fraud or other deliberate misdeed was perpetrated by anyone; von Hagen has not suggested this. Von Hagen, for all his good work, just has not made a good case for pulling Duranty's Pulitzer. Indeed, von Hagen's work suggests that we need to go far beyond the Pulitzer Prize winner's own body of work in considering the factors that figure in the selection of an "outstanding" journalist or author. If Duranty's Pulitzer IS pulled, to me it will be evidence that politics is again at work, as it was with his selection in the first place.


Richard Dyke - 10/28/2003

Mr. Luker, I have read Mark von Hagen's report again, and I do not think it is a sufficient argument--and not a very strong case at all--for taking away Mr. Duranty's Pulitzer Prize. I suspect some of Duranty's contemporaries hated him because he got it, and with it, a lot of recognition that they thought that they, not him, deserved. Von Hagen is careful not to get too carried away by his own analysis. He shows that Duranty did indeed (more or less) adopt the Soviet party line and use mainly "official sources" much of the time, but this has to be viewed in terms of the consequences of not doing so. Had Duranty been the eager-beaver reporter out among the people to find out what was "really happening," he probably would not have lasted long. (Who's kidding who here?! The Soviets would not have tolerated it.) The old maxim seems to apply here: "To get along, you have to go along." And it does appear that Duranty did go along with official pronouncements and did not check many things out for himself. It is also helpful to remember that Duranty was not overly proud of the American and European "achievements" of the period, namely, the Great Depression and World War I, as von Hagen notes. The USSR probably looked to him somewhat better when viewed against the American and European backdrops, and it was easier to go along. That Duranty's reportage was unbalanced seems clear enough from von Hagen's analysis, but von Hagen notes that Duranty had plenty of company among reporters of the time, and Duranty's own viewpoints that the Russian peasants were "backward" (which explained their resistance to collectivization) or that Russians had no experience in electoral politics (as the justification for single-candidate [communist] elections) demonstrate the limits of his education and training, as much as anything else. (One does not have to be a genius to win a Pulitzer.)

I see almost nothing in von Hagen's article to suggest that Duranty's Pulitzer should be pulled. That Duranty had limited perspective on some issues (based on his own assumptions, training, and experience) is unconvincing, and in the context of the Soviet state, one can see clearly why he did not "go out among the people to find the truth" and accepted official pronouncements. (Roosevelt knew Stalin was a butcher. Did HE say so? No, he called Stalin "Uncle Joe." Should we expect more from Duranty?)

Von Hagen probably realizes that he has stumbled on the real truth--that has little to do with Duranty's writing. Duranty appears (in politics, appearance is everything) to have had some kind of role in achieving recognition of the Soviet Union by the United States. FDR received him, as von Hagen notes, Duranty accompanied the new ambassador back to Moscow, as von Hagen also notes, and Stalin praised Duranty for his role in this diplomatic achievement, also noted by von Hagen. Both governments could have not been more pleased with him, which seems to me to have probably been pivotal in gaining recognition for himself, too, in the form of a Pulitzer Prize. Such prizes, as I have already been told by you, Mr. Luker, are or "should be" for journalistic merit, talent, etc. When viewed in the context of his time, however, by reviewers impressed with his role in the recognition achievement, Duranty probably looked pretty good to the award committee. As we have seen with the Bancroft committee in the Bellisiles case, committees don't often do the research they should before they announce their choice. They are sometimes susceptible to marketing and the influence of other "outside" factors, including the important political issue of Soviet recognition at the time. Having announced Duranty, the Pulitzer committee probably aggravated some very capable reporters who felt the honor should have gone to them, and in truth, perhaps it should have. Yet awards are voted by human committees that are NOT all-seeing and all-knowing (and ARE usually politically sensitive(. However, it does not appear that any fraud or other deliberate misdeed was perpetrated by anyone; von Hagen has not suggested this. Von Hagen, for all his good work, just has not made a good case for pulling Duranty's Pulitzer. Indeed, von Hagen's work suggests that we need to go far beyond the Pulitzer Prize winner's own body of work in considering the factors that figure in the selection of an "outstanding" journalist or author. If Duranty's Pulitzer IS pulled, to me it will be evidence that politics is again at work, as it was with his selection in the first place.


Richard Dyke - 10/28/2003

Thanks for your comments, Mr. Luker. My experiences in both the political arena and life in general is that "should" does not usually win the day. It appears to me that Mr. Duranty's Pulitzer "is what it is." While it perhaps "should" have been based on quality of reportage, that is probably not what it was based upon, and further, an assessment now of that reportage may be weighted with this period's prejudices and viewpoints, and not reflect the opinions and world views of the original decision makers. In any event, the printed record does not tell the whole story.

It is one thing to remove a Bancroft soon after award, as in the Bellisiles case, due to the failure of the award committee to review the book and its sources thoroughly. It is quite another to un-do a decision made over 70 years ago in another milieu, when the decision makers are no longer with us to defend themselves (although they might need some defending). There is also the issue of journalistic art to consider. What makes one reporter's (or one historian's) work "better" than another's? It is a question of interpretation, and again, politics. Is Hemingway, Faulkner, Scott Fitzgerald, Thornton Wilder, or whoever the greatest writer of the 1920s? These kinds of questions are ultimately controversial and unanswerable. And who shall we replace Duranty with, as the person unjustly denied their rightful place in history, save for the Duranty shenanigans? Far better to leave Mr. Duranty in the grave with his prize. He is currently unreachable, anyway, for any chastising that might be in order! Or shall we chastise the award committee? They are gone, too, and some of the "secrets" of their decision are gone, too.


Richard Henry Morgan - 10/28/2003

On the other hand the Baathist movement is a transnational socialist movement. You're not telling me that the progressive forces of the socialist USSR were underwriting national socialism in the Middle East, are you? Then again, there was the Hitler-Stalin Pact ... it must be confusing to be socialist, n'est-ce pas?


Josh Greenland - 10/28/2003

We're shaking and quaking.


Ralph E. Luker - 10/27/2003

Richard,
You managed to ignore the admiration of these middle eastern traditions for "national socialism." That, I recall, is a rightest totalitarianism.


Richard Henry Morgan - 10/27/2003

Iraq had a Baathist regime, which is generally viewed as the Middle Eastern branch of socialism. Last time I looked, socialists weren't usually grouped with the right. One can argue whether Saddam departed from socialism, just as people will say, with each new failure of socialism, that (fill in the blank) Castro, Stalin, etc., departed from true socialism, and that the promised land of true socialism is just barely visible on the horizon, and if we all just put our shoulders to the wheel ...


Ralph E. Luker - 10/27/2003

Mr. Dyke, If you read Professor von Hagen's report, you know that he had been hired by the _Times_ to do exactly what you say should be done. The Prize is supposed to be given for the quality of reportage, not external political conditioning. If it is withdrawn, I suspect that it will be withdrawn precisely for the quality of the reportage.


Ralph E. Luker - 10/27/2003

Give it a break, Stephen. You wouldn't know tough if it hit you in the face.


Richard Dyke - 10/27/2003

I hate to take a dump (if you will excuse the imagery) on this party of self-annointed disciples of the right thing to do, but reading all of these posts has tired me out and made me cranky. First, what has all of this got to do with Walter Duranty? Second, what nerve to consider pulling the Pulitzer on Duranty or anyone else! The decisions to give him the prize were political (they often are) and probably weren't based on his writing anyway. His connections that were mentioned, such as his relationship with FDR, his role in achieving diplomatic recognition for the USSR, and his accompaniment of the new ambassador back to Moscow are probably what swayed the decision makers, not his lack-luster assessments of Soviet agricultural production. It seems inappropriate for recission to be taken, based on an analysis of his writings alone. As historians, we need to dig further and get the history of the whole decision, including those elements "extraneous" to the writing itself.


Stephen Thomas - 10/27/2003

Yes, Mr. Luker, I am. You haven't met as active or original a mind in a long time.

The best thing to do is to attempt to keep up. Or you can go back to the cliches that dominate this board.

Didn't say I was trying to kind and gentle. That doesn't cut through the lies that now dominate political discussion. In particular, it doesn't cut through the intimdation tactics of a left that tries to stymie all discussion with absurd charges of "racism, sexism and homophobia." (In fact, those charges are made with such frequency that I think an aerosol spray gun should be developed that simply burps out the accusation, thus saving the brain dead accusers the labor of repetition.)

The index of the originality of what I have to say is the anger and irritation it causes you. It's time to think again, Mr. Luker. The verities of the past aren't working any more.


Ralph E. Luker - 10/27/2003

Sorry to bore you Bill. I neither misunderstood nor misinterpreted either you or Stephen, but you have my permission to ignore all my posts henceforth. Wouldn't want you to be bored.


Ralph E. Luker - 10/27/2003

Stephen, I understood you quite clearly and how could anyone be angry with a kind and gentle guy like you. You misread me entirely. I rather enjoyed your pot shots because they were so off-target.


Bill Heuisler - 10/27/2003

Ralph,
On another post you accused me of not absorbing information I disagreed with. Perhaps you need a better mirror. Let me explain:
Ethel committed a crime by not reporting a crime she obviously knew about at Los Alamos. She did not plea-bargain when given the opportunity. She was found guilty of a crime she refused to defend herself against. You respond by misstating reality and my argument and snidely calling me brilliant. Mr. Thomas proposes rethinking responsibilities of citizens. You respond by misstating his argument and then accuse him of denying rights. In other words, you refuse to engage us by playing with words.

You've accused Mr. Thomas of denying rights and me of wanting to convict the innocent. Both accusations are obviously false. Do you accuse for effect? Are you making faux debating points by reducing rather complex arguments to the absurd? Or can't you absorb information you don't agree with?

Which ever it is, the quality of your dialectic has slipped to the point of making further dialogue pointless...and boring.
Bill


Stephen Thomas - 10/27/2003

Nothing in my post suggested the deliberate denial of any individual citizen's rights.

You've rather deliberately misread and misstated my statements. This is almost the expected in this forum. Sometimes, I am amazed at how many people are either incapable of reading or unwilling to actually confront what they read. It's a form of intellectual dishonesty.

I said that the era for encouraging every citizen to have his or her own foreign policy should end. I didn't say it should be ended forcibly by any governmental agency. In contrast to my leftist opponents on this board, I believe in persuasion.

You are pretty angry with me for telling you that it's time to take off that hair shirt you wear. Don't blame you for being angry, but I'm right. It feels as though I'm stripping you of the identity you are comfortable with, and there's probably some truth to that. You want to continue to live in a era that has passed.

Now, do you want to respond to what I actually said? If you don't understand it, I can rephrase it and try again, but I think that in reality what I said is quite clear.


Ralph E. Luker - 10/27/2003

I don't have a foreign policy. You are entitled to an opinion about the foreign policy of the United States. Denying that entitlement is a denial of democratic liberty. You have an anonymous supporter who is afraid of democratic liberty.


NYGuy - 10/27/2003

Stephen,

A true breath of free air. If one just looks at what is happening to Iran and North Korea and their nuclear programs under the UN and under GW's leadership we see that new thining is absolutely necessary if we are to have a peaceful world.


Stephen Thomas - 10/27/2003

Mr. Luker, a thought that occurs to me frequently these days is that the individual citizen may not need to have a foreign policy.

The hot button insistence that every individual should have his or her own foreign policy is an artifact of the Cold War era and the aftermath of the Holocaust. Throughout just about all intellectual and artistic circles of the post-WWII era, an obsessive belief that humanity faced imminent self-destruction fueled an equally obsessive belief that every citizen should have direct moral input into foreign policy. The "We can't let this happen again," syndrome has dominated all foreign policy conversation since.

I'm going to propose a rather radical idea. It's time for this era to end.

First, the syndrome is incorrect. Nuclear weapons, it turns out, aren't much different than other weapons. They just make a bigger boom and kill more people in a quicker time. Humanity survives. Cities get rebuilt. I'm not expressing approval of this process, mind you, I'm just saying that the visions of doom proved to be misplaced.

You'll notice I seldom speak about foreign policy. Here's my radical theory. It's best left up to the president. And, I'm returning to a very traditional method of viewing the construction of a society. Foreign policy isn't really a moral issue... it's an issue of national self-interest best served by a society of citizens who stand behind their leader no matter what they think of the policy.

And as a veteran of the Vietnam anti-war movement, I see the implications for this clearly. Men would have been better served by simply doing their duty. The loss of respect for men in U.S. society is the direct result of a generation of men refusing to do their duty. We would have been better off to have honored our fathers and done as we were told.

Everything has its limits, including individualism. And, I think that the era in which it is important for every citizen to have his or her own foreign policy is an antique of the Cold War era that needs to be disposed of.


NYGuy - 10/27/2003

Ralph,

I suppose the Taliban's Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein's Iraq are that last rightest regimes the United States conspired to overthrow. My question now is: Why is George Bush so hard on rightest regimes? I can't think of a single conservative thing about this administration.

NYGuy

You are not clear with your clever little wordsmithing. You are saying that a dictatorship is a rightest regimes.

What does the next sentence mean, if anything:

“I can't think of a single conservative thing about this administration.”

Is protecting the people of this country a liberal or conservative idea? I just get confused when I hear the cut and run foreign policy of the liberals.


My name is Truth.


Ralph E. Luker - 10/27/2003

I didn't "miss the point." I _missed_ getting your name. The point is that the Afghan and Iraqi regimes were probably rightist totalitarian ones. You have an argument with that? Or is your determination to defend GWB _no matter what_ so fixed that you can't recognize a point?


NYGuy - 10/27/2003

NYGuy

You miss the point. GW provided the necessary leadership in putting the terrorist issue on the table for all to see. This has now focused the world on this topic and they are serioudly taking actions to stop it. This can only lead to peace. As for the UN was it usual impotent self leaving a void in the world leadership. GW was the only world leader that could fill this void.

As we saw in the latest evaluation of the UN it is unable to do even simple things correctly.

Recent Report of UN Organization in Iraq:

“Like the U.N. system itself, Ahtisaari said security was scattered among semi-independent U.N. relief agencies and political staff. There was little accountability, no clear chain of command, a stifling bureaucracy, too little money, and too few professional staff to evaluate intelligence.

NYGuy

You may have noticed the leadership GW provide in the Asian talks, how his leadership has resulted in the worldwide support and cooperation to stop terrorism. And it is bringing the North Korea and Iranian nuclear operations under control. No doubt all the rich professors have to applaud his bringing us out of the Clinton recession and providing a booming stock market.

What a guy.

PS: Did they have political parties in Afganistan and Iraq. In the old days we used to call them dictatorships.


Josh Greenland - 10/27/2003

How would Derek know?


Ralph E. Luker - 10/27/2003

Actually, Richard, now that you make me think about it, I suppose the Taliban's Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein's Iraq are that last rightest regimes the United States conspired to overthrow. My question now is: Why is George Bush so hard on rightest regimes? I can't think of a single conservative thing about this administration.


Ralph E. Luker - 10/27/2003

Bill, You don't know that Ethel Rosenberg betrayed the United States then; you do know that David Greenglass did. You choose to accept his word then; you choose not to accept his word now. Brilliant.


Richard Henry Morgan - 10/27/2003

Actually, I was thinking of the right-wing military junta that took over after the Duvaliers had split for the splendid isolation of France, that bastion of universal justice. If the left wishes to claim the Duvaliers I'll certainly not stand in the way either. Perhaps no wing will rush to claim them.


Bill Heuisler - 10/27/2003

Right, Ralph,
The United States is a country of freedom and justice. The Rosenbergs betrayed the United States (or only typed nuclear weapon information at Los Alamos) for the USSR. The USSR allowed neither freedom nor justice for anyone and slaughtered millions for economic reasons. Where is your sense of proportion?

And now you impose time-travel requirements on our courts?
We shouldn't convict a woman who typed notes at our Atomic Energy Lab, and who refuses to defend herself, because a witness might change his testimony in fifty years?

Thank your lucky stars the Rosenberg's betrayal didn't result in the deaths of millions under a mushroom cloud in Europe or here in the United States. The Cuban Missile Crisis was as close as I ever want to come to nuclear war and Ethel could've prevented the possibility of Russian nukes with one phone call to the FBI. Like I said, don't waste your sympathy.
Bill




Ralph E. Luker - 10/27/2003

Bill, 50 years after his sister's death, David Greenglass admits that he lied and allowed his sister to be executed in order to save his own life. You seem not bothered by the fact that we probably executed a woman who we could not prove guilty except by accepting the word of someone who was guilty -- and he lives to tell it. Thank your lucky stars that you live in a country in which everyone, even those accused of treason, is supposed to get a fair trial, even if they do not always get one.


Bill Heuisler - 10/26/2003

Ralph,
Liberals were excluded because they have trouble distinguishing reality from optimism - paint with cold light and hot shade - and don't know they're being foolish and self-destructive. Your comments illustrate the matter well. Inability to distinguish between the worth of an Ethel Rosenberg and an Ann Coulter is symptomatic of a dogmatic mind. Ann accuses people of being traitors; Ethel probably was one. But you misjudge glibly to make a paper point or a passionate declaration. Why bother?

You say Ethel wasn't guilty. How do you know? How could anyone have known? There was no evidence presented in her defense and she pled the Fifth. Were Government prosecutors supposed to read her mind and decide she was surrounded for years by traitors, but simply served doughnuts and latkes? What kind of family whelped a traitor who snitched on his sister and allowed Ethel to marry a traitor who hung around with other traitors? Talk about family values. And most of the main characters were first or second-generation Eastern Eupopean Jews whose relatives had suffered under Statist tyranny and should've known better.

Evidence? From Fuchs to Gold to Sobell and Greenglass.
David Greenglass, the younger brother of Ethel Rosenberg was convicted of spying while he worked at Los Alamos. At the Rosenberg trial in 1951, he said his sister typed up notes containing US nuclear secrets that were later turned over to the KGB. The notes - typed on a portable Remington typewriter - apparently contained little that was new to the Soviets, but for the prosecution the notes, the brother's testimony and Sobell's agreement clinched the case against Ethel Rosenberg.

Feeling sorry for someone, or sympathetic to their cause, does not supplant facts and omissions...except maybe to a Liberal.
Bill


Ralph E. Luker - 10/26/2003

Good lord, Bill, you've got me. It was a different winger, F. H. Thomas, who said it here:http://hnn.us/comments/21298.html. So many righties here that they blur. If I fail to make distinctions, it's like the failure to make distinctions on the left. You forgot to include "liberals" on your list of meaningless distinctions there. And what's your problem with Ethel Rosenberg? Do you reserve justice only for people who agree with you? We killed the woman; she wasn't guilty. I haven't sentenced Ann Coulter to a similar fate. And, by the way, Derek tells me they are scrawny.


Bill Heuisler - 10/26/2003

Ralph,
You've lost me on the Commie quote. Never said it. Maybe you're confusing me with my idol, Anne Coulter. As you've guessed, my day begins and ends with passages from Slander or Treason read aloud to my extended family and neighbors. On weekends we even have services where we burn incense to a blond idol with large breasts. Thank God Coulter wrote her books or my family would have nothing at all to read...or to do. Your scorn for Coulter and transferral to me is quite close to religious persecution.

La Rosenberg was surrounded by traitors. Her silence was guilty like my failing to report a witnessed rape or murder would be guilty. They were a swarm of vipers betraying the country that had given their families safe haven from the poverty and pogroms of Europe. Her death sentence and her brother's (uncle's?) jail term was perhaps a misapplication of justice, but the damage they all did by giving Stalin his atomic trump card was far worse even than Duranty's crime.

The whole bunch disgust me and I wonder why you waste perfectly good sympathy on a woman who watched her husband betray her country. Could this manifest religion-ala-Luker - similar to my worship of the blond goddess? I don't want to embarrass you, but Ethel did not believe in religion. An apostate apostle perhaps?

Distinctions among Socialist, Labor, Communist, Trotskyite and Stalinist have always seemed smarmy degrees of tyranny insisted on by pseudo intellects. All believe in the ascendency of the State over the individual and that has shown to be a disaster. You'd think Leftists would learn from all the blood and failure. Another religion, perhaps? Maybe I'll go buy a third book.
Bill


Ralph E. Luker - 10/26/2003

Touche, Richard. If the right wishes to claim the Duvaliers, I think it should be allowed to have them.


Richard Henry Morgan - 10/26/2003

I think the answer to Ralph's question is Haiti.


Ralph E. Luker - 10/26/2003

Bill, Apologies for the misspelling. I should know better by now. You didn't put "commie" in quotation marks and I hadn't memorized the thread. As I've told you before, Mrs. Rosenberg was not guilty -- at least there wasn't sufficient evidence to have convicted her -- and you keep referring to the case as if she were a traitor. You don't absorb much information that you don't want to absorb.
A "working class English socialist" simply would not have "always voted the Liberal ticket." He would have voted Labor or had a very good reason for not doing so. It won't mean much to you, but there are very important distinctions on any spectrum that runs from Liberal to Socialist to Communist. They, at least, know them to be important ones, but if you keep reading Ann Coulter enough, you'll forget that they exist.
I'm glad we're in agreement that the Pulitzer should be revoked.


Bill Heuisler - 10/26/2003

Ralph,
Not only did you misspell my name but you misquoted me. Someone else in this stream called Duranty a Commie. In my book, he was worse than a committed Communist, he was a fellow traveler with few morals and fewer loyalties who betrayed the countries and systems that had nurtured him and given him success. Compared to Duranty, the Rosenbergs were almost admirable; at least they believed in a defective dream and, finally, in each other.

Duranty was a working-class English Socialist. William Mandel, a Leftist who testified before the HUAC and co-wrote a book with Duranty said his collaborator was "neither Communist or Marxist, but, as an English citizen, always voted Liberal Party ticket."
Of course, Mandel was probably blind to reality like most Leftists seem to be.
Bill


Charles V. Mutschler - 10/26/2003

Mr. Luker raises an interesting question. Why call Duranty a "commie?" I suspect that it is for the same reason that some self-identified "progressives" of the present call G. W. Bush, or Richard Cheney "fascist." Rather than making a solidly documented case against the views of people one doesn't like, some folks find it easier to engage in ad homenim attacks. By calling someone a "commie,' or a "fascist,' it is a neat rhetorical shorthand for saying the person is beyond the pale in the speaker's estimation. That way a lazy speaker can avoid demonstrating _why_ Duranty, or Bush is / or was wrong.

I think it is reasonably safe to say that Duranty was remarkably unobservant as a reporter if he overlooked what was going on in Stalin's USSR. Proving that he was a communist is going to be harder. However, it might be safe to say that he was one of those folks Lenin catagorized as "useful idiots." In any case, I think the retraction of the Pulitzer is appropriate. Duranty's reporting on the USSR was shoddy at best, deceitful at worst.

The _New York Times_ has a tin ear if they cannot see the difference between correcting a case of very poor reporting, and trying to retouch history. Pulling the Pulitzer is akin to running a correction notice. Even Knopf can understand that point, and they don't claim to be a paper of record.

Charles V. Mutschler


Ralph E. Luker - 10/25/2003

Well, hardly. The United States has seemed to tolerate dictatorships of the right and left elsewhere with only mixed attention. When was the last time we conspired to topple a rightest regime? If Mr. Heisler's calling Duranty a commie (with no substantiating evidence) has no sting, why the bother? Wouldn't the old McCarthyite chestnut "com-symp" be more appropriate?


Elia Markell - 10/25/2003

It would be great if the Duranty Pulitzer were finally pulled. It has been a disgrace for a very long time.

However, what I would hope for is that the case of Duranty would be seen in the larger context of the VERY widespread tendency then, and in different ways now, to excuse or at least flatten out emotionally our responses to left-wing totalitarianism as compared with the right-wing variants. My own view is that Francois Furet ("The Passing of an Illusion") has come to closest to getting at the asymetrical responses, seeing the ongoing left-wing whitewash as a result of Communism's ability to appropriate universalist themes derived from the Enlightenment and the French Revolution (liberty, equality, etc.) whereas Nazism and other forms of fascism were more openly (and in a sense, honestly, since Communism was also) in revolt against the Enlightenment and its Democratic Revolutionary traditions.

Hence, today, we have a steady almost institutionalized pattern of pejorative directed at the right (Bush as Hitler), whereas calling someone a Commie has lost the sting it never really had in quite the same way. Durany was one of a great many who contributed to a corruption of our basic view of political options and ideas, a corruption still with us.


Bill Heuisler - 10/25/2003

Ralph,
My point was more directed to the unique mission of a free press and your seeming excusal of reporters trading truth for access. Bad information is far worse than none in combat, because with none you prepare for the worst rather than the wrong scenario. This must also be true in geopolitics. Consider: Public opinion would've been against US recognition of USSR one year after the forced starvation of millions by Stalin. Without our recognition the non-aggression pacts with neighbors and 1934 membership in the League of Nations would have been doubtful. And trade?

Have you considered the possibility that Hitler hated and feared the "Slavic hordes" more than the Allies. He might not have felt the need for anything more after Anschluss as long as Stalin was either isolated by world opinion or dead. Or maybe Barbarossa would've happened five years sooner with no world objections.

The terrible tragedy is that we'll never know whether one man's cynical deception may have helped birth fifty years of Cold War and all the attendant horrors brought on by Comintern mischief.

A question, Ralph. Why were most Americans so eager to believe Duranty and ignore Muggeridge? Did we just want to believe the dream? Just want to believe the angel in Stalin's Paradise?
Socialism always lives in the future, doesn't it?
Bill


Ralph E. Luker - 10/25/2003

Bill, I suspect you overplay the world historical significance of Duranty's impact. The West's limited intervention in the Soviet Union after the revolution had failed. Non-interventionist forces were very powerful here and abroad in the 1920s and 1930s. I don't think there is the slightest chance that western powers would have intervened in the Soviet Union even if we had been told the enormity of its crimes. We might have forced Germany and the Soviet Union to consolidate the alliance they preliminarily made in the late 1930s. Had we done so, it is doubtful that an alliance of the British Empire and the USA could have defeated an alliance of Germany, Russia, Italy, and Japan in a subsequent war. We did not go to war with Germany because of the enormity of its domestic crimes but because of Hitler's expansive ambitions. I understand the thrust of your thinking, but I think it is overdrawn.


Bill Heuisler - 10/24/2003

Mr Luker,
Clues to what's happening is not reliable reportage. It's worse.
Duranty did not err, his lies about the systematic murder of six million Kulaks (Conquest) were apparently cover for a man he admired and excuses for a system he admired. He even wrote a book lionizing Stalin ("Duranty, Stalin & Co., New York, Sloane, 1949) in which he said "whatever Stalin's apologists may say, 1932 was a year of famine in Russis" on page 78.

So, Duranty knew of a monstrous crime and chose to hide it from the world when he was in the unique position to reveal the truth.
Who can say what the truth would have changed. FDR's mind? World sympathy for a monster prior to the rise of Nazi Germany and its reaction to Communism? Recognition of the Soviet Government by the US on Nov. 17, 1933? Yalta? One man rewrote history forever.
Remember, in the depression-plagued world of the Thirties many saw the USSR as hope for the future. What a difference the truth might have made.

In other words, journalists must write the truth or they become the story. To excuse lies for access is to burn unwritten truth and build the future on deception. Duranty did just that and the human cost is probably immeasurable.
Bill Heuisler


Ralph E. Luker - 10/24/2003

Mr. Thomas, There is no evidence that Duranty was a "committed Communist," tho he certainly published what the Soviet regime wanted to have published in the United States. As we've more recently learned in the much smaller instance of Iraq, journalism has a problem with totalitarian regimes. Journalists who are utterly truthful get expelled and there is no reliable reportage. Journalists who don't tell the whole truth may be allowed to stay remain and at least give some clues about what is happening there. It isn't an easy problem to solve. Obviously, Duranty erred badly on the side of power. I agree with you that the Prize should be revoked.


Alec Lloyd - 10/24/2003

If I am not mistaken, we routinely correct the record for those falsely accused or convicted of a crime, even if they are long since dead.

We also offer recognition for those heroic acts that, for whatever reason, were overlooked by contemporaries, again, even if the decoration is postumus.

Why is this any different?


F.H. Thomas - 10/24/2003


The 1932-33 Soviet planned extermination by starvation of about 12 million Ukranians, Russians, and Belorussians, approved by the entire politburo, and executed with chilling, bloodthirsty efficiency by Kaganovich, is the greatest individual crime against humanity, of the 20th century.

Committed communists such as Duranty provided cover, thus they were accomplices, and share all the guilt. Mr. Duranty's snide justifications that the numbers were "exaggerated", and that "you can't make an omlette without breaking some eggs", show human cruelty and mendacity of the level of a Goebbels.

If this is history, why not exhonerate the Nazis for the same reason? This misbegotten prize should definitely be revolked.



Bill Maher - 10/24/2003



Excuse me. There is a difference between actually not knowing and simply refusing to acknowledge the obvious. Duranty, like Lindbergh, does not deserve to be defended.


Wilbur Miller - 10/24/2003

I strongly believe that we should NOT get into the business of rescinding Pulitzer prizes of many years ago! The committee was acting according to standards of its day, and we can't erase the history those standards embodied. So, they were wrong about the USSR. Many people were, as indeed many Americans were about Hitler and Mussolini. That is history.


F.H. Thomas - 10/24/2003


As noted in Fleming's "The New Dealer's War", this shameful episode needs to be pulled (kicking and screaming) into the hard light of day. You have done a fine public service.

That it happened at all is mute evidence of the control which Communist sympathers had over the US Government and elites at that time. As far as the Times is concerned, recent events have shown, again, that truth is not a requirement for publication.