BOB GARFIELD: Jayson Blair was a nightmare of a journalist, but his sins probably didn't significantly alter the course of world history. Another New York Times correspondent in a different time, in a difference place may have. This is the story of a scandal that has been hidden in plain view for 70 years, re-emerging to bedevil the staggered New York Times. Pulitzer Prize winner Walter Duranty, the Times Moscow correspondent in the late 1920s and early '30s accused then and now of suppressing the story of millions of Ukrainians dying from famine may now have his Pulitzer posthumously revoked in response to an international campaign. Bert Patenaude wrote about Duranty in his new book The Big Show in Bololand [sp?]. He joins me now on the phone from his home in California. Bert, welcome to On the Media!
BERT PATENAUDE: Good to be here!
BOB GARFIELD: Gossip about the integrity of Duranty's reporting swirled seven decades ago. Why did he get the Pulitzer in the first place and why is the Pulitzer board now considering revoking the prize?
BERT PATENAUDE: Well he got the Pulitzer in 1932 primarily for his reporting on Stalin's crash industrialization of the first five year plan. Well, what started to happen in 1932 was that you had a major famine breakout in Ukraine. Now reporting the famine, if Duranty had done it faithfully, would actually have made not just the Soviet Union look bad but Duranty look bad, because this great narrative about the great Soviet achievement would have been punctured.
BOB GARFIELD: So actually he was being boosterish about Stalin's industrialization.
BERT PATENAUDE:Very much so, to the point where in 1932, on September 16, he published a long, shall we call it a poem -- it's an ode to Red Square --and in there he says -- this is 1932 -- this is before the famine begins -- he says "Russians may be hungry and short of clothes and comfort, but you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs." Now that phrase happened to be the way Stalin justified the number of deaths that accompanied the great industrialization drive, but here is Duranty repeating it and praising it in the New York Times!
BOB GARFIELD:We're talking about millions of deaths and what has been described by some historians as Stalin's genocide against his own people -- an intentional famine, in other words.
BERT PATENAUDE: Right.
BOB GARFIELD: And some of that was reported contemporaneously! Duranty wasn't the only Western reporter stationed in the Soviet Union. What of the other reporters on the scene at the time? Didn't they talk about the famine?
BERT PATENAUDE: Well they began to talk about it in 1933. There was always the issue of whether you would be kicked out if you told the actual story! But some of them did. One of them was Malcolm Muggeridge [sp?], British correspondent, and he actually after he came out -- shortly after writing articles about the famine -- condemned Duranty for covering it up. Now it's not as if Duranty never spoke about a problem, but he never used the word "famine."
BOB GARFIELD:Muggeridge was not shy about criticizing Duranty. He called him a "sociopath." Those are strong words. Why in the intervening seven decades has this extraordinary sin of omission at a minimum not gotten the attention of the Pulitzer board? Why did it take the current difficulties at the New York Times to bring this issue to the surface?
BERT PATENAUDE: I mean the Times has done enough on this, it seems to me. The newsroom has the equivalent of an asterisk by Duranty's Pulitzer. I mean it seems to me that's as far as they can go. Now the issue is whether the Pulitzer board will feel the pressure, and it comes from a couple of sources -- one is, as you say, the Times is very vulnerable at this moment. This is a moment when the box is open, so to speak. But I would say that look, the Ukrainians who have been pushing for this for a long time, are in a much better position now because since the end of the Cold War and in particular recently people are openly comparing the Soviet Union to Nazi Germany! And I think the moment has been reached now when it's no longer taboo to make those comparisons -- not to say that they were the same, but at least to make the comparisons. I think that has created the atmosphere that's going to cause some trouble for the Pulitzer board.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, Bert, thank you very much.
BERT PATENAUDE: Thanks, Bob. My pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD:Bert Patenaude is a historian at Stanford University and author of The Big Show in Bololand -- a history of American relief of the first Soviet famine. [MUSIC]