Pulitzer Announcement Errors Exemplify Press's Failure to 'Get Facts Correct'

April 18th, 2016 11:13 PM

Earlier today, Tim Graham at NewsBusters covered a poll done by an Associated Press-led partnership which found that, in AP's words, "Just 6 percent of people say they have a lot of confidence in the media, putting the news industry about equal to Congress and well below the public's view of other institutions."

The poll noted that "Nearly 90 percent of Americans say it's extremely or very important that the media get their facts correct." How ironic it therefore is that the Pulitzer prize announcements this afternoon contained two glaring failures to "get facts correct."

The first was the announcement's original description of the work done by the Baltimore Sun which earned it Finalist status in the Breaking News Reporting category (since corrected, but captured by Sun crime reporter Justin Fenton; HT Twitchy):


Freddie Gray died in police custody, but he was not shot, and thus certainly did not die from being shot.

The fact that whoever drafted the Pulitzer verbiage believed that Gray was shot to death arguably shows that the much of the press — to be clear, excluding the Sun — sensationalized the Gray story to the point where a significant plurality of Americans probably do believe that he was shot to death by police.

The second mistake was giving credit to the New York Times for the Sun's editorials during and after the Baltimore riots a year ago:


How intensely ironic it is that the Pulitzer announcement falsely credited the New York Times for work it didn't do.

The Times won a Pulitzer for the "work" of Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty in 1932.

The problem is, and the historical record shows, that Duranty's work, summed up in a few words, "covered up (Josef) Stalin's infamies." Just a few of them, as chronicled by Arnold Beichman at the Weekly Standard in 2003, included the following:

"There is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be." — Nov. 15, 1931, page 1

"Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda." — Aug. 23, 1933, page 1

"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." — December 9, 1932, page 6

"There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition." — March 31, 1933, page 13

Duranty's attitude, as captured by another reporter: "What are a few million dead Russians in a situation like this? Quite unimportant. This is just an incident in the sweeping historical changes here. I think the entire matter is exaggerated."

Beichman notes that at the time, "peasants in Ukraine were dying of starvation at the rate of 25,000 a day." That's an annual rate of 9 million per year.

in November 2003, the Pulitzer Prize Board "decided it will not revoke the foreign reporting prize awarded in 1932 to Walter Duranty of The New York Times," because the articles from June of 1931 and March and December 1931 Times Magazine items submitted for their consideration supposedly didn't contain "clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception." Readers who can stand it can go to this linked list of the submitted items and decide for themselves. It didn't take long for me to conclude that it is overwhelmingly likely that Duranty made a lot of stuff up without substantiating it, which in my view would be enough to justify pulling the Pulitzer.

The errors in today's Pulitzer announcements obviously aren't as consequential as its prize for Duranty's fraudulent work, which affected "the thinking of countless thousands of other (Times and other) readers about the character of Josef Stalin and the Soviet regime." But they certainly exemplify why the public has lost patience with the media's failure to "get their facts correct," and why it holds the establishment press in such low regard.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.