A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The New York Times, Walter Duranty, covered up one of the worst genocides in modern history. The atrocity I’m referring to is the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 that was orchestrated by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. It killed an estimated 7 to 10 million people.
Walter Duranty is now viewed as a Stalin-apologist who turned out copy largely regarded as Soviet propaganda.
British-born Duranty had been The New York Times’s man in Moscow from 1922 to 1936, during which he interviewed Stalin twice. For a series of reports he wrote about the Soviet Union in 1931, he was even awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Walter Duranty was given the award in 1932, the year the famine began.
Known to the Ukrainians as the Holodomor, “murder by famine,” it is one of the least known genocides in modern history, but it is one now recognized by 24 countries, including Australia and Canada. The famine was used as a weapon of war by Stalin to wipe out Ukrainian peasants who opposed his goals of collectivization.
One of the reasons why this atrocity remains widely unknown by the general public has to do with the deliberate dishonesty of certain Western journalists at the time, such as Walter Duranty.
“[Duranty] was of course not only the greatest liar among the journalists in Moscow, but he is the greatest liar of any journalist I have ever met in 50 years of journalism,” said British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, who was one of the few who honestly reported on the famine in Ukraine.
“We used to wonder whether in fact that the authorities has some kind of hold over him because he so utterly played their game. But it didn’t worry The New York Times who featured his reports,” said Muggeridge in the video further below.
Muggeridge said Duranty’s reporting on the famine in Ukraine was “particularly disgraceful” because he denied its existence.
One subhead of one of Walter Duranty’s New York Times’ articles said boldly that people were “well nourished” and that “children are enthusiastic.”
Through some of his articles, Walter Duranty also tried to discredit journalists, such as Muggeridge and Gareth Jones of Wales, who exposed what was occurring in Ukraine.
Duranty labeled such articles as “exaggerated or malignant propaganda.” Reports of famine he said were “ridiculous.”
Walter Duranty privately admitted there was a famine
But in a 2003 article by The Guardian, Walter Duranty held other views in private where he admitted that he believed the famine had killed millions.
“British Foreign Office documents show that Duranty confided to a diplomat at the British Embassy in Moscow that he believed around 10 million people had perished [in the Ukraine famine],” wrote Askold Krushelnycky for The Guardian.
Opinions on why Walter Duranty reported falsely range from him being blackmailed by the Soviets for his sexual appetites to an egotistical desire for celebrity.
Krushelnycky’s article was the last time the now-dead Duranty got widespread press, thanks to a campaign by Ukrainian-Americans and other organizations seeking to have him stripped of his Pulitzer Prize.
In response to the campaign, The New York Times issued a statement explaining his reporting.
“Duranty, one of the most famous correspondents of his day, won the prize for 13 articles written in 1931 analyzing the Soviet Union under Stalin. Times correspondents and others have since largely discredited his coverage,” said the statement.
“Duranty’s cabled dispatches had to pass Soviet censorship, and Stalin’s propaganda machine was powerful and omnipresent,” the statement said. “Duranty’s analyses relied on official sources as his primary source of information, accounting for the most significant flaw in his coverage — his consistent underestimation of Stalin’s brutality,” it continued.
This would be all well and good if no one paid any attention to what Duranty wrote and what The New York Times’ published at the time, but that was not the case. His words carried weight during the 1930s.
Walter Duranty was a celebrity and was fawned on by left-leaning Westerners who believed what he wrote. Not only that, his reporting and so-called expertise heavily influenced official American views about the Soviet Union. Even at the very highest levels.
“For beyond his questionable probity, he wielded great influence in shaping American attitudes toward the Soviet Union during its fledgling years, and even played a central role in pressuring Franklin D. Roosevelt to open diplomatic relations with Moscow,” wrote Francine du Plessix Gray for a New York Times review of the biography on Duranty by Sally. J. Taylor.
Walter Duranty died in 1957. He has yet to be stripped of his Pulitzer Prize.