New York Times historian: rescind Duranty prize
Oct. 23, 2003, 11:27 p.m. |
Says 1932 Pulitzer awarded to Stalin apologist should be taken away for sake of paper’s “honor”
historian hired by the newspaper to review the winning work, which has been questioned for years.
A subcommittee of the Pulitzer Board has been reviewing the prize won by writer Walter Duranty for his series on Russia. The review was sparked by complaints that Duranty deliberately ignored in later coverage the forced famine in Ukraine that killed millions of people.
Mark von Hagen, a Columbia University history professor, said in his report to the Times that Duranty "frequently writes in the enthusiastically propagandistic language of his sources," and that "there is a serious lack of balance in his writing."
"For the sake of The New York Times' honor, they should take the prize away," von Hagen said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press. The New York Sun first reported the professor's recommendation.
The Times has reviewed von Hagen's report and forwarded it to the Pulitzer Board with a recommendation from Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who declined comment on Wednesday.
"It was between me and the Pulitzer Board," Sulzberger said, adding that the next step "is a decision for the Pulitzer committee."
Von Hagen said the Times asked him in July to review Duranty's work. He submitted a report to the newspaper about a month later.
Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, also declined to comment on von Hagen's report and its effect on the review of the 1932 prize. No Pulitzer has been revoked since the prizes were first awarded in 1917.
"This is a matter under internal review," Gissler said.
He noted, however, that the award was for a set of stories in 1931 and that "a prize in a particular Pulitzer category is not meant to say anything about a winner's body of work over time."
Gissler could not say when the subcommittee would end its probe, which was launched in April, but said the ultimate decision would have to come from the entire board. The Pulitzer Board meets twice a year, in November and April.
Members of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America joined Ukrainians worldwide this year in urging the withdrawal of Duranty's award, a campaign that included more than 15,000 postcards and thousands more letters and e-mails sent to the Pulitzer Board.
The effort was timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the 1932-33 famine, which claimed as many as 7 million Ukrainian lives. Josef Stalin's regime created the famine to force Ukrainian peasants into surrendering their land.
This was not the first time the Pulitzer Board has reconsidered its award to Duranty, who died in 1957. A similar review in 1990 ended with a decision to let the Pulitzer stand.
Duranty covered the Soviet Union for the Times from 1922 to 1941, earning acclaim for an exclusive 1929 interview with Stalin.
But Duranty was eventually criticized for reporting the Communist line rather than the facts. According to the 1990 book "Stalin's Apologist," by Sally J. Taylor, Duranty knew of the famine but ignored the atrocities to preserve his access to Stalin. The full force of the famine came in 1933, a year after Duranty won his Pulitzer.
Von Hagen's report said Duranty, as a reporter, "fell under Stalin's spell."
"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," von Hagen writes.
The Times has also distanced itself from Duranty's work. The reporter's 1932 Pulitzer is displayed with the notation: "Other writers in the Times and elsewhere have discredited this coverage."
Though never revoked, a Pulitzer was once returned. Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke surrendered her prize in 1981, after admitting she had fabricated stories.