May 31, 2022
On 9 May 2022, the board of the world’s most prestigious journalistic prize, the Pulitzer, announced a decision: “The Pulitzer Board awards a special citation to the journalists of Ukraine for their courage, endurance, and commitment to truthful reporting during Vladimir Putin’s ruthless invasion of their country and his propaganda war in Russia. Despite bombardment, abductions, occupation, and even deaths in their ranks, they have persisted in their effort to provide an accurate picture of a terrible reality, doing honor to Ukraine and to journalists around the world.”
This decision was an important victory for Ukrainian journalists who oppose Russia’s powerful propaganda machine, which has been spreading lies about Ukraine around the world for many years.
And it shows just how much the Western world has changed.
Less than a hundred years ago, Walter Duranty, a New York Times journalist, won the same Pulitzer Prize in 1932. He, however, took an active part in Russia’s propaganda war and helped Stalin distort “the exact picture of a horrible reality.”
Duranty was a journalist for the American publication in Moscow since the early 1920s. People saw the communist regime through his eyes. He saw the repression unfold, how collectivization was carried out and how the cult of Stalin was created.
This did not prevent Duranty from writing that the USSR was a country that could serve as an example to the world. He was the only Western journalist to have an exclusive interview with Stalin. This happened in 1929, when Stalin had already destroyed his rivals in the struggle for power and launched a massive attack on the “kulaks” and intelligentsia.
But Duranty’s articles described a completely different image of the Kremlin tyrant in the West – an effective leader of his country. In this way, he contributed to the establishment of relations between the USSR and the free world – no worse than what Russia Today’s propagandists are doing for Putin today.
During the Holodomor, Duranty argued that the ideas that mass deaths in the USSR were due to a lack of food were simply lies. He stated that he traveled to the areas where there was to be a famine, had personally seen “chubby children and fattened calves” there.
With the zeal of Skabeyeva and Solovyov, he attacked the reporting of brave Western journalists (such as Gareth Jones), who wrote the truth about the murder by starvation. He denied the terrible tragedy not because he did not know about it. And not because he was misled. Duranty was not a victim of propaganda, but a conscious tool. In the autumn of 1933, after the Holodomor, Duranty privately told a British diplomat: “It is possible that ten
million people have died directly or indirectly from food shortages in the Soviet Union in the last year.”
At a time when the brave journalist Gareth Jones, who told the world the truth about the Holodomor, died under mysterious circumstances before the age of 30, the cynical liar Walter Duranty enjoyed the authority of a journalist with the most prestigious prize awarded in the industry, until the end of his life at the age of 72 in Florida.
The truth about Duranty’s lies began to unfold, along with the hidden information about the Holodomor, in the 1980s. In particular, thanks to the work of British historian Robert Conquest. As a result, the Ukrainian communities in the United States and Canada appealed to the Pulitzer Prize Board to repeal Duranty of the prestigious award. In 2003, they launched a large-scale campaign to send more than 10,000 letters from Ukrainians around the world. It was impossible to ignore such a wave. However, the Pulitzer Board decided not to revoke the award because “there was no clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception.” The next Ukrainian campaign, again timed to coincide with the Holodomor anniversary in 2008, was also unsuccessful.
Perhaps the situation will change now that the newly elected laureates, Ukrainian journalists, have appealed to the Pulitzer Prize Board.
Their statement reads: “Russia’s current war against Ukraine is the result of the Western world’s uncritical attitude to the Russian tradition of totalitarianism. And the work of Mr. Duranty has been very helpful in hiding its true face with the mask of humanity and civilization.”
Right now is the best opportunity to restore justice. It is Russia’s war against Ukraine that has, after all, reminded the world that words can kill.
The lies of a journalist who concealed a crime, make the next crime possible. Duranty’s uncondemned lie about the Holodomor inspired Solovyov’s lie about Bucha.
Volodymyr Viatrovych is a member of Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, and the former director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance.