Walter Duranty and the Pulitzer Prize

A Tale of Two Journalists: 
Walter Duranty, Gareth Jones, and the Pulitzer Prize 
by James Mace 
The Day, 15 July 2003

On June 24 the Pulitzer Prize Committee was sent an open letter by Dr. Margaret Siriol Colley and Nigel Linsan 
Colley, Bramcote, Notts, UK, too long to be recounted here in full, but which can be read on the Internet at: 

The lady is the niece of one Gareth Jones (1905-1935), a journalist who had had the courage to tell the truth about the despicable things he had seen in Ukraine in the spring of 1933. For his courage he paid with his professional reputation and being long all but forgotten. The hatchet man in this tale was one Walter Duranty, winner of the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for writing stories from the Soviet Union, reportage that he had already freely confessed “always reflected the official Soviet point of view and not his own.” And here begins a tale of one journalist being crushed for his honesty and another rewarded for his mendacity. It is a tale that touches directly both on the ethics of journalism and the history of Ukraine.

Walter Duranty, born in Liverpool (England) in 1884, was always something of a scoundrel and openly relished in being able to get away with it. In S. J. Taylor’s excellent biography, Stalin’s Apologist: Walter Duranty: The New York Times’s Man in Moscow (Oxford University Press, 1990), he is seen lying even about his own family origins, claiming in his autobiography to have been an only child orphaned at ten, neither of which was true: his mother died in 1916 and his sister fourteen years later, a spinster; when his father died in 1933, he left an estate of only ã430.

After finishing his university studies, he drifted to Paris, where he dabbled in Satanism, opium, and sex on both sides of the bed-sheets. By the time World War I broke out, he had a job as a reporter for the New York Times and could thus avoid actual combat. Duranty seems to have known that the key to success in journalism can often be in first determining what the readers want and then gauging how the facts might fit in with it. His reportage was always lively, eminently readable, and usually – but by no means always – had some relationship to the facts. Still, he realized that in the American free press, newspapers are made to make money for their owners, and the reporter’s job is to write something people would want to read enough that they would go out and buy his employer’s newspaper. It is the classic relationship between labor and management in a market economy: the more effective a worker is at helping his employer make more money, the better chance he stands of getting higher pay, a better job, or other attributes of worldly success.

For Duranty, this system seems to have worked quite well. After the war, he was sent to the new independent Baltic states and in 1921 was among the first foreign reporters allowed into the Soviet Union. This latter achievement was a major one, for the Soviet Union was never shy about exercising control over who could come or leave. A Western reporter in the Soviet Union always knew that if one wrote something offensive enough to the Soviet authorities, he would be expelled and never allowed to return.

Duranty, a little sharp-witted energetic man, was a much more controversial person; I should say there was more talk about him in Moscow than anyone else, certainly among foreigners. His household, where I visited him once or twice, included a Russian woman named Katya, by whom I believe he had a son. I always enjoyed his company; there was something vigorous, vivacious, preposterous, about his unscrupulousness which made his persistent lying somehow absorbing. I suppose no one – not even Louis Fischer – followed the Party Line, every shift and change, as assiduously as he did. In Oumansky’s eyes he was perfect, and was constantly held up to the rest of us as an example of what we should be.

It, of course, suited his material interests thus to write everything the Soviet authorities wanted him to – that the collectivisation of agriculture was working well, with no famine conditions anywhere; that the purges were justified, the confessions genuine, and the judicial procedure impeccable. Because of these acquiescent attitudes – so ludicrously false that they were a subject of derision among the other correspondents and even (Soviet censor – Author) Podolsky had been known to make jokes about them – Duranty never had any trouble getting a visa, or a house, or interviews with whomever he wanted.

Such subservience to a regime that was one of two truly evil systems of the twentieth century, for which the term totalitarianism is most often applied, was marked by a veneer of objective analysis and certainly not without insight – he was the first to have “put his money on Stalin,” as he put it, and is even credited with having first coined the word Stalinism to describe the evolving System – and he was always fascinating to read, even more to talk to. He was the most famed foreign correspondent of the time; a nice apartment in Moscow complete with a live-in lover, by whom he did indeed beget a son, and an oriental servant to do the cooking and cleaning; was the social center of the life of foreigners in Moscow; and took frequent trips abroad, as he put it, to retain his sense of what was news.

The rest is here:



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