Fresh calls to strip Pulitzer prize from British reporter who denied Stalin was starving millions

New York Times’ Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty played down the horrific death toll of a man-made famine sweeping the Soviet Union

By Ronald SENIOR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT. 1 June 2021

Millions died of starvation during the 1932-33 famine that Ukrainians call the Holodomor

American genocide campaigners have renewed calls to revoke the Pulitzer prize given to a controversial New York Times correspondent who covered up a man-made famine that killed millions in Stalin’s Soviet Union.

The US Committee for Ukrainian Holodomor Genocide Awareness, a pressure group, launched a petition demanding the Pulitzer Committee cancel Walter Duranty’s 1932 prize ahead of this year’s awards ceremony on June 11.

Duranty, a Cambridge-educated journalist from Merseyside, won the Pulitzer for correspondence – the most prestigious in American journalism – for a series of dispatches and essays from Moscow published in the New York Times and the New Yorker in 1931.

Shortly afterwards, he denied reports of a famine sweeping rural areas of Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan, in an act of apparently intentional misreporting that made his name a by-word for the cover-up of atrocities by authoritarian regimes.Advertisement

In one notorious dispatch from March 1933, he publicly attacked on-the-ground reporting by the Welsh journalist Gareth Jones as a “big scare story.”

Instead, he insisted that “conditions are bad, but there is no famine” and attributed the reports to “no actual starvation or deaths from starvation, but … widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.”

‘Misleading’ coverage

The New York Times carries a statement on its website describing Duranty’s reporting from the Soviet Union as “misleading” and acknowledging that its own reporters, among others, “have since largely discredited his coverage”.

The Pulitzer Board has twice declined to revoke Duranty’s award.

Following its most recent review of his work in 2003, it said the winning articles fell “seriously short” of modern journalistic standards, but found no “clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception.”

The winning articles were written before Duranty became embroiled in the famine scandal. 

Stalin’s collectivisation of agriculture and forced requisitioning of grain killed millions of Soviet citizens in the early 1930s.Advertisement

Historians still dispute the numbers killed and whether the famine was intentional, and if so whether it would meet the legal definition of genocide. 

In Ukraine, where around 3.9 million people died, the famine is known as the Holodomor, or death by starvation, and considered a deliberate act of genocide targeting Ukrainian national identity. 

Some historians also believe there was genocidal intent in Kazakhstan, where between 1.5 and 2.3 million people died.

Russia has condemned the Soviet policies that led to the famine but rejected the genocide label, arguing that there is no evidence it was organised to target specific ethnicities. 

The Pulitzer board did not immediately respond to emailed questions.

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