The exposure of Dan Rather’s use of forgeries against President Bush marked a turning point in the history of the media. For once, CBS News came under scrutiny by many of its competitors, who had previously shied away from highlighting mistakes committed by their rivals. Another factor, of course, was the rise of new and alternative media, including Internet bloggers such as those on Freerepublic.com, who did the investigative work that was necessary to expose the CBS fraud.
It’s now time for the major media to revisit some old media scandals, such as the Pulitzer Prize awarded to New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty back in 1932. He was a notorious liar who covered up Stalin’s engineered famine in Ukraine that killed 7-10 million people. The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America has released a new study on the matter, urging renewal of the campaign to revoke Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize.
Unfortunately, the Pulitzer Prize Board decided not to revoke the prize last year. Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. wrote a letter to the board, saying he didn’t think anything would be accomplished by revoking the prize. Accuracy in Media spoke at last year’s Times annual meeting on this matter, telling Sulzberger that his letter to the Pulitzer Board was inappropriate and that retaining the prize was disgraceful. Ukrainian Americans also spoke, urging Sulzberger to give back the prize for the purpose of restoring historical truth.
Michael Sawkiw Jr., president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, spoke eloquently when he said, “Exactly like Jayson Blair, the heart of all this is journalistic integrity and ethics.” Blair is the reporter, hired and promoted under affirmative action, who lied and cheated while on the Times payroll, committing massive fraud and fabrications in print. His fraudulent activities went on for a couple years. Duranty’s portrait, still hanging in the Times headquarters, represents something far worse. His fraudulent reporting helped cover up the deaths of millions of innocent people. This scandal dates back to the early 1930s. It is time for the Times to come to grips with this atrocity, to take his portrait down and give back the prize.
The precedent set in the Dan “Rathergate” scandal means that it’s no longer acceptable to say that this is the Times problem, and that it doesn’t concern the rest of the media. Recall that the Washington Post returned a Pulitzer Prize, after admitting that its recipient, Post reporter Janet Cooke, had fabricated a story. It’s time for the Post and other media to pressure the Times to give back this prize.
It’s never too late for the Times to recognize and respect the truth in the Duranty case. Cooke concocted a story about a child heroin addict. Duranty fabricated his stories, of course, but in a manner that had a global impact. Pulitzer himself was known as a crusader against political corruption. A prize given in his name to a liar and deceiver besmirches the name of Pulitzer. If the Times retains the award, it will be an indictment and evidence of continuing corruption in journalism.