Ukrainians Protest Walter Duranty's Bloody New York Times Pulitzer

November 19th, 2005 11:32 AM

Battling chilly temps and uncooperative winds, a Ukrainian group assembled outside New York Times headquarters in Manhattan Friday to protest the 1932 Pulitzer Prize awarded to Times reporter Walter Duranty for his pro-Stalin coverage of Russia.

The Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 (Ukrainians call it the Holodomor) was engineered by Russian dictator Josef Stalin -- and whitewashed from Duranty's reporting for the Times. Duranty, who covered the country for the Times from 1922 to 1941, ignored Stalin's atrocities, including the famine that killed seven to ten million Ukrainians.

Duranty, who is "credited" for coining the phrase (referring to Stalin’s purges) "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs," said of the famine accusations, which were reported at the time by left-wing journalists like Malcolm Muggeridge: "Any report of a famine in Russia today is an exaggeration or malignant propaganda."

Another choice quote from Duranty: "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.'"

For an hour, a group of about thirty mostly older ethnic Ukrainians stood behind police barriers across the street from Times headquarters. Some wore orange scarves to commemorate Ukraine's 2004 Orange revolution, holding up wind-whipped banners denouncing Duranty and the paper's refusal to "atone" for his reporting. Two babushkas waved Ukrainian flags.

When the hour was up, the protesters quietly rolled up their posters and banners and left (when did a left-wing protest group ever do that?). In all, it resembled less of a protest than a vigil for the victims of Stalin's genocide.

On the 11th floor of Times headquarters is a hall of portraits commemorating all the Pulitzer Prizes awarded to the newspaper in its long history. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, next to Duranty's portrait appears the note: "Other writers in the Times and elsewhere have discredited this coverage." But the Times has never disowned the award, and two years ago the Pulitzer Prize committee decided not to revoke Duranty's prize.

Relieved Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., while regretting Duranty's reporting, argued that giving back the prize would itself evoke the "Stalinist practice to airbrush purged figures out of official records and histories."

Mark Von Hagen, the paper's own hired historian, suggested the "airbrushing" comparison was irresponsible: "Those targeted for 'airbrushing' were already murdered, languishing in the gulag or forced into exile after having been falsely accused of espionage, treason, sabotage and other 'crimes.'....Revoking Mr. Duranty's prize is another matter altogether. He was never prosecuted for any crimes. His articles remain available in the archives of The New York Times, and his books on the shelves of major libraries. Airbrushing was intended to suppress the truth about what was happening under Stalin. The aim of revoking Walter Duranty's prize is the opposite: to bring greater awareness of the potential long-term damage that his reporting did for our understanding of the Soviet Union."

Friday's protest was led by Volodymyr Kurylo, president of the United Ukrainian American Organizations of Greater New York, a jovial, broad-shouldered figure with white hair and a mustache.

Specifically, Kurylo and the protestors demand the Times surrender Duranty's Pulitzer (for what the prize committee called his "scholarship, profundity, impartiality, sound judgment, and clarity") so it can be displayed at a future Ukrainian Institute of National Memory.

The Pulitzer Prize committee isn't big on actually giving out pieces of hardware with its awards, and TimesWatch is unaware whether the company has any certificate or plaque marking Duranty's achievement. But the point remains -- the Times has not rescinded the award Duranty won for his reporting based on his airbrushing of Stalin's genocidal starvation of the Ukraine.

Said Kurylo, "If the Jayson Blair scandal was worth a six-page mea culpa in the Sunday Times, the denial of Walter Duranty of the death of seven to ten million people deserves six-page commemorations in November of every year."

On the 72nd anniversary of Stalin's Ukraine genocide, the Times seems set on retaining Duranty's prize.

Clay Waters is director of TimesWatch.