Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The New York Times Made Up History in the 1930s, Too

 

I have long known about the Holodomor, which has Ukrainian roots that can be translated into the “hunger plague.” During a period of collectivization, Joseph Stalin stole grain from men, women, and children in a part of his empire that mattered very little to him. There is good evidence that Stalin wished, in fact, to eliminate those men, women, and children for the crime of wishing to eat the fruit of their labor as he closed his iron fist around all of his constituent republics.

Peasant revolts proved futile, and “stealing” food from the state could get one the death penalty or hard labor, which was the death penalty, by 1932. If one did not steal food, however, the penalty was also death. In a year of incredible cruelty and communism’s endless catch-22s, millions succumbed to starvation in small villages from which all food had been confiscated, from which no dying souls were allowed to leave, from which corpses were unceremoniously removed in carts as during Europe’s Black Plague. The Soviets then put posters in the streets proclaiming cannibalism was immoral, as the desperate increasingly turned to cannibalism for there was no other source of sustenance due to the Soviets’ immoral removal of all other food.

This brings me to the Grey Lady and her habit of employing liars to fill her pages.

Walter Duranty was a British journalist who might have inspired much sympathy as a young boy because his parents were killed in a train crash when he was just ten. The young orphan then had to deal with the challenges of being a boarder in an elite, all-boys’ school in London, which was no small feat if one gives credence to accounts from a fellow Harrovian, albeit from an earlier era, Winston Churchill. Duranty then came into his own at the University of Cambridge where he put his personal travails aside and gained a reputation for being a charming addition to many social circles, even while he dabbled in the occult.

He first became employed by the New York Times during WWI. His copy had a personal touch, as he recounted the inhumanity of the carnage that marked the era. However, it seems the same cynicism that colored the prose of the Lost Generation writers quickly seeped into Duranty’s spirit; perhaps losing a leg in another train crash in France in 1924 sparked within him some strange dedication to nihilistic hedonism; perhaps Duranty had never had the time or ability to truly develop a moral compass. Whatever the case, he moved to a space in which his profession supported his own self-indulgences, which included myriad mistresses in Moscow while his wife lived away in St. Tropez.

On his philosophy as a journalist, in his 1935 book I Write as I Please, Duranty said, “Right and wrong are evasive terms at best and I have never felt that it was my problem – or that of any other reporter – to sit in moral judgment. What I want to know is whether a policy or a political line or a regime will work or not, and I refuse to let myself be side-tracked by moral issues or by abstract questions as to whether the said policy or line or regime would be suited to a different country and different circumstances.”

Personally, I do not think journalists should sit in moral judgment of their subjects either, as I am a history teacher who understands that doing so comes with many hazards. Journalists go astray when erecting perches on which they sit in judgment of others as if they could somehow transform themselves into modern versions of Solomon. However, there is a difference between trying to be objective and throwing all morals out the window to willfully obscure the truth, as Duranty did when covering the Holodomor and Joseph Stalin.

In 1932, Duranty was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his reports on the Soviet Union. In his 1982 case study of Duranty and another journalist, Angels in Stalin’s Paradise, James William Crowl observed, “What is so remarkable about Duranty’s selection for the Pulitzer is that, for a decade, his reports had been slanted and distorted in a way that made a mockery of the award citation. Probably without parallel in the history of these prestigious prizes, the 1932 award went to a man whose reports concealed or disguised the conditions they claimed to reveal, and who may even have been paid by the Soviets for his deceptions.”

In 1933, when a young journalist from Wales named Gareth Jones tried to tell the world what was happening in the Ukraine, Duranty flatly dismissed Jones’s reporting. In a March 30, 1933 article in the New York Times, Duranty wrote, “There is a serious food shortage throughout the country, with occasional cases of well-managed State or collective farms. The big cities and the army are adequately supplied with food. There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation, but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition. In short, conditions are definitely bad in certain sections – the Ukraine, North Caucasus and Lower Volga. The rest of the country is on short rations but nothing worse. These conditions are bad, but there is no famine.”

Eugene Lyons, an associate of Duranty’s and the first western journalist working in Moscow who was granted an interview with Stalin, openly admitted in a 1937 auto-biography that there was a concerted effort to destroy Jones’s credibility at the time. He and Duranty purposefully used “round about phrases” to question the Welshman’s character. Lyons later told another journalist, Bassow Whitman, that the “filthy business” of conspiring over how to hide what many now call a genocide was chased down with vodka.

At the same time that Jones’s work was being questioned, Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office. This was during the Great Depression, and sympathy for communism was on the rise in the United States. This sympathy was stoked by Duranty who pushed the opinion that the US should normalize relations with the USSR, which was accomplished by November. Alexander Woollcott, the famed critic who wrote for The New Yorker, said after a dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria celebrating the new arrangement that “one quite got the impression that America, in a spasm of discernment, was recognizing both Russia and Walter Duranty.” Joseph Stalin then rewarded Duranty for his contributions to this normalization of relations with the Americans with an interview, the second in Duranty’s career, and praised him for telling the “truth” about the Soviet Union.

As chronicled by Sally J. Taylor, Walter Duranty would continue to be “Stalin’s apologist” for years to come. He excused the show trials of the Great Purge as “necessary.” He felt Stalin was a great man who needed to act as he did to modernize the country. Duranty became the “prototype for the dishonest reporter” as he prostituted his work to absolve one of the world’s most brutal dictators from crimes against humanity.

In 1944, Duranty wrote, “In a bare quarter-century the USSR has accomplished ages of growth. The most ignorant and backward of all the white nations has moved into the forefront of social, economic, and political consciousness. Its obsolete agricultural system has been modernized and mechanized; its small and artificial industry has become gigantic and self-supporting; its illiterate masses have been educated and disciplined to appreciate and enjoy the benefits of collective effort.”

By 2003, Bill Keller, who served as the executive editor of the New York Times, said that Duranty’s work had simply been “parroting propaganda.” Thus Duranty had been unworthy of the Pulitzer he won in the early twentieth century when he was one of the most lauded of all the journalists who then worked for the New York Times. Mark von Hagen, a professor at Columbia University, called Duranty’s work a “disgrace” for the newspaper.

Ultimately, the award was not retracted, which I think is most proper. To withdraw the Pulitzer in the 21st century would erase in a way what happened in the 20th. As we have seen from further Pulitzers bestowed on journalists like Nikole Hannah-Jones, the prize itself is worthless if trying to assess quality of reporting, and the New York Times has not gotten any more honest over the decades. After all, one day, the paper might repudiate Hannah-Jones as well, but this will be done as it was with Duranty: only after damage to the world has already been inflicted by the prize-endorsed deception.

Maybe it’s no surprise that the New York Times has a record of liking liars and sustaining lies. That is certainly a part of the Grey Lady’s legacy.

However, if you’d like to learn more about an honorable writer who was not in the employ of the New York Times at all while risking all to tell the truth, you might enjoy renting Mr. Jones currently available on Amazon. The movie gives you a good overview of Gareth Jones’s efforts, though I think his research in the Ukraine was more extensive–per his defense of his conclusions written in response to Walter Duranty’s attacks on his work–than the film can show.

I had never heard of Gareth Jones before watching the film, but I was happy to know that truth is uncovered sometimes by good journalists. Unfortunately, truth is obscured more often by men like Walter Duranty who so often find fame in the same field.

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  1. Bob Thompson Member

    Just like today there were plenty of receptive communists and fellow travelers in American society supporting anything published by the New York Times.

    • #1
    • July 31, 2020, at 11:08 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  2. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A year before Lenin died, Emma Goldman wrote in 1923 about the Bolshevik establishment’s antipathy towards Ukraine. Although Soviet abuse of Ukraine wasn’t quite yet genocidal at that point, Moscow’s hostility towards Ukraine still predates Stalin.

    In her book she also detailed how the Bolsheviks courted Western fellow travelers by treating them to a life of luxury in Moscow while ordinary Russians (let alone ordinary Ukrainians) were forced to eke out an existence worse than when they were peasants. Incidentally, Walter Duranty first moved to the USSR in 1921 and lived there until 1934.

    Goldman’s report was originally published as a series of articles in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. Less than a decade later, Pulitzer’s heirs sold the newspaper to Scripps-Howard in 1931 and it was almost immediately shut down. Walter Duranty was awarded his Pulitzer Prize in 1932. Probably a coincidence.

    • #2
    • July 31, 2020, at 11:34 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  3. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Just like today there were plenty of receptive communists and fellow travelers in American society supporting anything published by the New York Times.

    I did a deeper dive into research about Duranty after watching Mr. Jones. Duranty was a vague name floating around in my mind, but I did not know exactly why. I mean… I had heard of him but only in passing. The research was a bit disheartening. Journalism is not a profession covered in glory.

    • #3
    • July 31, 2020, at 11:35 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane

    Misthiocracy got drunk and (View Comment):

    A year before Lenin died, Emma Goldman wrote in 1923 about the Bolshevik establishment’s antipathy towards Ukraine. Although Soviet abuse of Ukraine wasn’t quite yet genocidal at that point, Moscow’s hostility towards Ukraine still predates Stalin.

    When slapping down Jones, Duranty wrote that “you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.” I had always understood this to be something Lenin himself told Goldman who became disillusioned with the Bolsheviks. It was startling to see the same phrase used in the New York Times.

    • #4
    • July 31, 2020, at 11:39 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. Bob Thompson Member

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Just like today there were plenty of receptive communists and fellow travelers in American society supporting anything published by the New York Times.

    I did a deeper dive into research about Duranty after watching Mr. Jones. Duranty was a vague name floating around in my mind, but I did not know exactly why. I mean… I had heard of him but only in passing. The research was a bit disheartening. Journalism is not a profession covered in glory.

    I reached adulthood in the fifties when knowledge of the seriousness of the communist threat was schooled throughout our upbringing. I can remember even then the voices countering that we were exaggerating. I think we may have now forfeited that base of serious opposition and it is really showing in the media.

    • #5
    • July 31, 2020, at 12:03 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  6. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy got drunk and (View Comment):

    A year before Lenin died, Emma Goldman wrote in 1923 about the Bolshevik establishment’s antipathy towards Ukraine. Although Soviet abuse of Ukraine wasn’t quite yet genocidal at that point, Moscow’s hostility towards Ukraine still predates Stalin.

    When slapping down Jones, Duranty wrote that “you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.” I had always understood this to be something Lenin himself told Goldman who became disillusioned with the Bolsheviks. It was startling to see the same phrase used in the New York Times.

    According to Wiktionary, that idiom dates back to 1742. It was already pretty common by the time Stalin came along.

    • #6
    • July 31, 2020, at 12:11 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  7. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Just like today there were plenty of receptive communists and fellow travelers in American society supporting anything published by the New York Times.

    I did a deeper dive into research about Duranty after watching Mr. Jones. Duranty was a vague name floating around in my mind, but I did not know exactly why. I mean… I had heard of him but only in passing. The research was a bit disheartening. Journalism is not a profession covered in glory.

    I reached adulthood in the fifties when knowledge of the seriousness of the communist threat was schooled throughout our upbringing. I can remember even then the voices countering that we were exaggerating. I think we may have now forfeited that base of serious opposition and it is really showing in the media.

    My education in the history of communism didn’t really come until 2002 when Joshua Muravchik published Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism. I recommend it highly.

    • #7
    • July 31, 2020, at 12:15 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Just like today there were plenty of receptive communists and fellow travelers in American society supporting anything published by the New York Times.

    I did a deeper dive into research about Duranty after watching Mr. Jones. Duranty was a vague name floating around in my mind, but I did not know exactly why. I mean… I had heard of him but only in passing. The research was a bit disheartening. Journalism is not a profession covered in glory.

    I reached adulthood in the fifties when knowledge of the seriousness of the communist threat was schooled throughout our upbringing. I can remember even then the voices countering that we were exaggerating. I think we may have now forfeited that base of serious opposition and it is really showing in the media.

    Duranty proved it’s easy to justify anything–communism, tyranny, genocide–as long as you get good press. I’ve long thought education has degraded in the United States, but it seems Americans in the 1930s were no more discerning than those who subscribe to the New York Times now.

    • #8
    • July 31, 2020, at 12:20 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. Bob Thompson Member

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Just like today there were plenty of receptive communists and fellow travelers in American society supporting anything published by the New York Times.

    I did a deeper dive into research about Duranty after watching Mr. Jones. Duranty was a vague name floating around in my mind, but I did not know exactly why. I mean… I had heard of him but only in passing. The research was a bit disheartening. Journalism is not a profession covered in glory.

    I reached adulthood in the fifties when knowledge of the seriousness of the communist threat was schooled throughout our upbringing. I can remember even then the voices countering that we were exaggerating. I think we may have now forfeited that base of serious opposition and it is really showing in the media.

    Duranty proved it’s easy to justify anything–communism, tyranny, genocide–as long as you get good press. I’ve long thought education has degraded in the United States, but it seems Americans in the 1930s were no more discerning than those who subscribe to the New York Times now.

    I think that’s right. My education on communism was highlighted by the Soviet behavior in Eastern Europe in the fifties and Castro in Cuba capped by the Cuban Missile Crisis while I was in the Army. We seem to have made progress since then through the Reagan years followed by the Soviet collapse only now to be attacked from within again by grifters and Leftists capitalists allied with the Chinese Communists and supported by our media leading much of our ill-educated youth down the socialist path.

    • #9
    • July 31, 2020, at 12:41 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  10. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Just like today there were plenty of receptive communists and fellow travelers in American society supporting anything published by the New York Times.

    I did a deeper dive into research about Duranty after watching Mr. Jones. Duranty was a vague name floating around in my mind, but I did not know exactly why. I mean… I had heard of him but only in passing. The research was a bit disheartening. Journalism is not a profession covered in glory.

    I reached adulthood in the fifties when knowledge of the seriousness of the communist threat was schooled throughout our upbringing. I can remember even then the voices countering that we were exaggerating. I think we may have now forfeited that base of serious opposition and it is really showing in the media.

    Duranty proved it’s easy to justify anything–communism, tyranny, genocide–as long as you get good press. I’ve long thought education has degraded in the United States, but it seems Americans in the 1930s were no more discerning than those who subscribe to the New York Times now.

    There was never any golden age when newspapers could be trusted. A great deal of my communications studies degree in the 1990s was about the history of journalistic mendacity. Heck, folk have lamented the poor quality and/or outright mendacity of newspapers ever since the invention of the printing press.

    “A newspaper consists of just the same number of words, whether there be any news in it or not.” – Henry Fielding

    “Your connection with any newspaper would be a disgrace and a degradation. I would rather sell gin to poor people and poison them that way.” – Sir Walter Scott

    “Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization.” – George Bernard Shaw

    “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” -Thomas Jefferson

    • #10
    • July 31, 2020, at 12:42 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  11. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane

    I absolutely love the Shaw quote @misthiocracy.

    • #11
    • July 31, 2020, at 12:48 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    I absolutely love the Shaw quote @misthiocracy.

    Personally, I think Fielding’s comment is the most insightful, and is even more applicable to cable news. They have 24 hours of airtime they have to fill every single day, regardless of what is actually happening out in the world. They ARE going to fill it, come what may.

    • #12
    • August 1, 2020, at 8:45 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. Bob Thompson Member

    Misthiocracy got drunk and (View Comment):

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    I absolutely love the Shaw quote @misthiocracy.

    Personally, I think Fielding’s comment is the most insightful, and is even more applicable to cable news. They have 24 hours of airtime they have to fill every single day, regardless of what is actually happening out in the world. They ARE going to fill it, come what may.

    CNN does that and gets fewer viewers as time goes by. Is that a successful formula?

    • #13
    • August 1, 2020, at 8:58 AM PDT
    • Like
  14. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy got drunk and (View Comment):

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    I absolutely love the Shaw quote @misthiocracy.

    Personally, I think Fielding’s comment is the most insightful, and is even more applicable to cable news. They have 24 hours of airtime they have to fill every single day, regardless of what is actually happening out in the world. They ARE going to fill it, come what may.

    CNN does that and gets fewer viewers as time goes by. Is that a successful formula?

    CNN is very strange to me. I don’t know how it’s still in all the airports. My husband is much more apolitical than I am, and he made a comment recently about how unhinged CNN has become. I got the move from news to entertainment because the “Ron Burgundy” formula expands audiences. I don’t understand the move from news to repetitive hyperbole when it results in shrinking numbers. I guess it’s just committed ideology? That matches up more with Duranty. He seems to have viewed Russians/Ukranians as “less than” other Europeans, so he cared less about the horrible things Stalin did to them. He really seemed to admire Stalin. But Duranty definitely still cared about making money. 

    • #14
    • August 1, 2020, at 9:05 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  15. Little My Member

    I was recently reading William L. Shirer’s Berlin Diary, alongside This is Berlin (transcripts of his broadcasts for CBS, along with a couple of speeches he made when in the United States). He mentions seeing Duranty in Vienna in December 1937, and even had him on a broadcast. About a year later, in Warsaw on November 11, 1938, he and Duranty, in the midst of a howling storm, went out to dinner. Duranty insisted on speaking Russian with the Polish driver of their horse and buggy. They ended up around midnight in a Russian restaurant, Shirer writes, “…and there was much vodka ad balalaika-playing and singing and the girls would warm their backs against a great porcelain stove, getting a little more tired and sleepy each time, a little sadder, I thought.”

    Duranty sounds like an obnoxious jerk. The book of broadcast transcripts does not include the one in which Duranty took part, a pity.

    I have to say that reading the transcripts along with Berlin Diary is worthwhile. Shirer was of course, under the thumb of Nazi censors, and it’s useful to compare his record in the Diary of what he observed with what he was allowed to broadcast. On some occasions he was limited to reading the headlines from German daily newspapers.

    Shirer of course had his own biases, but it seems that he really did try to provide honest reporting from Berlin and other cities in Europe under very difficult conditions. By the time he left Germany in December 1940, he was thoroughly disgusted with the situation he experienced as a journalist.

    Another dishonest reporter I recall all too well was Peter Arnett, especially during the Gulf War, although his dicey reputation apparently emerged even in his reporting from Vietnam.

    I hope I have a chance to see Mr Jones soon.

    • #15
    • August 2, 2020, at 5:49 AM PDT
    • 3 likes