Friday, October 24, 2003
Duranty's Pulitzer: When word came earlier this week that Columbia University professor Mark von Hagen had completed his report on Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Walter Duranty with the suggestion that the prize be revoked.
For those unfamiliar with him, Duranty parroted Soviet President Josef Stalin's propoganda and covered up a forced famine in the Ukraine that led to millions of deaths.
My first instinct was that the Pulitzer board should not rescind the award, but that The New York Times should disavow it. The Times would state that the award was undeserved. When listing their Pulitzers won, Duranty's name would not appear. When counting up the total, it would always be one less.
My concern was that a move by the Pulitzer board to rescind the award would set a precedent that might be used in the future to punish unpopular journalists by revisionist historians.
Well, after reading the aforementioned article, I've changed my mind -- because of comments made by Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger Jr. and Bill Keller.
Mr. Sulzberger wrote that the newspaper did not have Mr. Duranty's prize, and thus could not "return" it. While careful to advise the board that the newspaper would "respect" its decision on whether to rescind the award, Mr. Sulzberger asked the board to consider two things. First, he wrote, such an action might evoke the "Stalinist practice to airbrush purged figures out of official records and histories." He also wrote of his fear that "the board would be setting a precedent for revisiting its judgments over many decades."
In an interview last night, Bill Keller, the newspaper's executive editor, said he concurred with Mr. Sulzberger.
"It's absolutely true that the work Duranty did, at least as much of it as I've read, was credulous, uncritical parroting of propaganda," said Mr. Keller, who covered the Soviet Union for The Times from 1986 to 1991.
And yet, Mr. Keller added, "As someone who spent time in the Soviet Union while it still existed, the notion of airbrushing history kind of gives me the creeps."
Airbrushing history? Putting a footnote next to Duranty's name and "Rescinded, 2003" at the bottom of the page isn't airbrushing history.
What is airbrushing history is the Times continuing to count Duranty's prize list of Pulitzers won.