Accuracy in Media

On November 26, the Ukrainian state-controlled media suddenly did an historic about-face.   Journalists acknowledged they had broadcast propaganda and lies about the election favorable to the government-approved candidate.  They apologized and pledged full independence.

Unlike the Ukrainian journalists, The New York Times has not fully apologized, even though it sponsored some of the worst lies about Ukraine ever published.  The reporting was done by the Stalinist apologist Walter Duranty, The New York Times’ Moscow correspondent during the 1920s and 1930s.  Duranty denied millions of Ukrainians were being killed by the Moscow-instigated Great Famine during the years 1932-33.

Malcolm Muggeridge called Duranty “the greatest liar of any journalist I have ever met.”  Correspondent Joseph Alsop said: “Lying was Duranty’s stock in trade.”  So influential was Duranty’s reporting, that when Malcolm Muggeridge went to Moscow as a reporter for the Manchester Guardian and discovered the Ukrainian holocaust and wrote about it, he was not believed.  In fact he was vilified, and abused, and lost his job.  Duranty led the denunciations even though he knew perhaps ten million had died.  In the book “Stalin’s Apologist,” Sally Taylor says that several editors considered Duranty a Soviet stooge. 

Nonetheless, Duranty won the Pulitzer Prize, which still hangs in a hallway of the New York Times.  According to the Pulitzer Prize selection committee, his dispatches were “excellent examples of the best type of foreign correspondence.”  The committee cited his “scholarship, profundity, impartiality, sound judgment, and exceptional clarity.”  Last November, the Pulitzer board decided not to rescind the prize.  It concluded that the pieces in question, while they fell well below “today’s standards for foreign reporting,” showed “no clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception.”  The committee argued that the award was not for a body of work but for 13 specific articles that didn’t have anything to do with the genocide.  One was titled, “Red Army is Held No Menace to Peace.”

The New York Times admitted the reporting was some of the worst to ever appear in its pages.  Executive editor Bill Keller told the Washington Post that the 1931 articles were “awful,” “a parroting of propaganda” and “clearly not prize-worthy.”  But in a bizarre twist, Keller disagreed with the idea of the prize being revoked. “As someone who spent time in the Soviet Union while it still existed,” he said, “the notion of airbrushing history kind of gives me the creeps.”  Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. then warned the Pulitzer Board against using such a “Stalinist practice” by revoking the prize.

We’ve long argued that the Times should return the prize, even if the committee won’t revoke it.  Why retain and display the prize after its recipient has been exposed by scholars as an apologist for a genocidal murderer?  Keeping the prize is what’s truly “creepy.”  The New York Times should learn a lesson from the Ukrainian media.  It’s never too late to tell the truth.

Ready to fight back against media bias?
Join us by donating to AIM today.


Comments are turned off for this article.