YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Historian Urges Revocation of 1932 Pulitzer

October 23, 2003|John J. Goldman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — A Columbia University historian retained by the New York Times said Wednesday that he had recommended that the Pulitzer Prize awarded in 1932 to the newspaper's Moscow correspondent be revoked.

In an eight-page critique of Walter Duranty, who was honored for a series of articles on the Soviet Union, Mark Von Hagen concluded that the reporter showed "a serious lack of balance in his writing."

"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," Von Hagen wrote, "and the liberal values they subscribe to and to the historical experience of the peoples of Russian and Soviet empires in their struggle for a better life."

In a phone interview Wednesday, Von Hagen said the New York Times reviewed his letter and sent it to the Pulitzer Board in August with a recommendation from its publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. The details of Von Hagen's findings were first reported in Wednesday's New York Sun.

Von Hagen said he did not know the specifics of Sulzberger's recommendation.

Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, told the Washington Post Wednesday night that the paper has no objection if the Pulitzer Prize board wants to revoke the award. Keller said the paper told the board that the Times considers Duranty's work "pretty dreadful.... It was a parroting of propaganda."

In reviewing Duranty's articles, Von Hagen wrote that the reporter relied overwhelmingly on official Soviet sources and employed "the enthusiastically propagandistic language of his sources." He noted that throughout 1931, Duranty wrote that Josef Stalin "was a progressive historical figure on the order of Oliver Cromwell or Napoleon who was fighting a war against his own Slavic people's Asiatic backwardness."

He said that Duranty, who died in 1957, downplayed the significance of the widespread and violent opposition to collectivization -- "a virtual civil war in the countryside which would have been hard for Duranty to remain ignorant of."

Between 6 million and 11 million people died in a man-made famine during Stalin's brutal campaign to collectivize agriculture in the Ukraine.

Von Hagen said the Times sent him Duranty's 1931 Pulitzer-entered articles and asked him to evaluate whether they were reasonable accounts of Soviet life at that time.

In the New York Times' official listing of its Pulitzer Prizes, Duranty's award carries this notation: "Other writers in the Times and elsewhere have discredited this coverage."

The board reviewed Duranty's prize in 1990 and left it in place. No Pulitzer has been revoked since they were first given in 1917; the Washington Post returned Janet Cooke's award in 1981 after learning she had fabricated the story of a young heroin addict.

Los Angeles Times Articles