Ukrainians demand Pulitzer be revoked (Globe & Mail)
Friday, May 2, 2003 - Page A7

More than 45,000 postcards were mailed yesterday to the Pulitzer Prize committee demanding that it posthumously revoke a New York Times journalist's award because of his reports that a man-made famine that killed millions of peasants in Ukraine in 1932-33 never happened.

The postcard campaign, spearheaded by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association in Toronto, points out that New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty lied about the famine in his dispatches from Russia, saying that "any report of a famine is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda."

The campaign was launched to mark the 70th anniversary of the Ukrainian famine.

Lubomyr Luciuk, research director for the association, said Mr. Duranty was "a consummate liar whose reports covered up a brutal genocide. The Pulitzer Prize committee should maintain its integrity by revoking posthumously the prize it awarded to a man who lied."

Mr. Duranty, who was the Times's Moscow correspondent from 1921 to 1934, won the Pulitzer for a series of reports in 1931 about Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's five-year plan to reform the economy.

However, archives turned up years later reveal that Mr. Duranty admitted privately to a high-ranking diplomat at the British embassy in Moscow in September, 1933, that "it is quite possible that as many as 10 million people may have died directly or indirectly from lack of food in the Soviet Union during the past year."

Sig Gissler, administrator for the Pulitzer prizes, said that the board is aware of the complaints. "They've come up from time to time through the years."

He noted that the board gave the issue "substantial consideration" in 1990 and "after careful consideration of the issue, it decided not to withdraw the prize that was given over 70 years ago in a different time under different circumstances." He added that the board is not considering reversing its stand.

Mr. Gissler also pointed out that Mr. Duranty, who died in 1957, received the award for his reporting in 1931 on Stalin's five-year plan. "It is inaccurate to say the prize was given for his reporting on the famine, which occurred in 1932-33."

Mr. Luciuk countered that throughout his stint in Moscow, Mr. Duranty was nothing more than a propagandist for Stalin. "How can he be honest one year and a liar the very next? He is a stain on the Pulitzer Prize and he should not be honoured as an outstanding journalist in any way."

Mr. Luciuk said Mr. Duranty betrayed the most fundamental principle of journalism by "not truthfully reporting on what he witnessed. Over many years, in fact, he did just the opposite, and viciously smeared as propagandists those honest journalists who dared tell the truth."

He said the prize should be revoked to preserve the integrity of journalism and the stature of the Pulitzer Prize.

"Those who say that his prize was earned for what he wrote before 1932 are being disingenuous," he said.

"Duranty was used as a shill for the Soviets before, during and after the Great Famine. Perhaps those who honoured him with a Pulitzer in 1932 did not fully know just how dishonest he was. Now we, and the jurors of the Pulitzer Prize committee, and the editors, writers and owners of The New York Times, know better."

In his dispatches, Mr. Duranty, one of the first Western journalists allowed to interview Stalin, repeatedly dismissed reports of the famine in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, peasants in the countryside were starving to death by the millions while Soviet authorities confiscated crops, grain and livestock in an effort to force collectivization on the independence-minded farmers.

British writer Malcolm Muggeridge, who reported on the famine for The Manchester Guardian, once called Mr. Duranty "the greatest liar of any journalist I have ever met in 50 years of journalism."

Catherine Mathis, vice-president of corporate communications for The New York Times, said the newspaper has criticized Mr. Duranty's reporting. In a display of its Pulitzer Prize winners, the Times points out that "other writers in The Times and elsewhere have discredited this coverage."