NEW YORK — A 1932 Pulitzer Prize awarded to the New York Times should be revoked, says a historian assigned by the newspaper to review the winning work, which has been questioned for years.
A subcommittee of the Pulitzer Board has reviewed the awarding of the prize won in 1932 by Walter Duranty for his series on the Soviet Union. The review was sparked by complaints that Mr. Duranty deliberately ignored, in later coverage, the forced terror famine in the Ukraine that killed millions of people.
Mark von Hagen, a Columbia University history professor, said in his report to the New York Times that Mr. Duranty “frequently writes in the enthusiastically propagandistic language of his sources” and that “there is a serious lack of balance in his writing.”
“For the sake of the New York Times’ honor, they should take the prize away,” Mr. von Hagen said in an interview yesterday with the Associated Press. The New York Sun first reported the professor’s recommendation.
The Times has reviewed Mr. von Hagen’s report and forwarded it to the Pulitzer Board with a recommendation from Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who declined to comment yesterday. “It was between me and the Pulitzer Board,” he said. The next step “is a decision for the Pulitzer committee.”
This was not the first time the Pulitzer Board has reconsidered its award to Mr. Duranty, who died in 1957. A similar review in 1990 ended with a decision to let the Pulitzer stand. Mr. Duranty covered the Soviet Union for the New York Times from 1922 to 1941, earning acclaim for an exclusive 1929 interview with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
But Mr. Duranty eventually was criticized for reporting the communist line, rather than the facts. According to the 1990 book “Stalin’s Apologist,” by Sally J. Taylor, Mr. Duranty knew of the famine but ignored the atrocities to preserve his access to Stalin. The famine came in 1933, a year after Mr. Duranty won his Pulitzer.
Mr. von Hagen’s report said Mr. Duranty, as a reporter, “fell under Stalin’s spell.”
“Much of the ‘factual’ material is dull and largely uncritical recitation of Soviet sources, whereas his efforts at ‘analysis’ are very effective renditions of the Stalinist leadership’s self-understanding of their murderous and progressive project to defeat the backwardness of Slavic, Asiatic peasant Russia,” Mr. von Hagen writes.
The Times has also distanced itself from Mr. Duranty’s work. The reporter’s 1932 Pulitzer is displayed with the notation: “Other writers in the Times and elsewhere have discredited this coverage.”
Mr. von Hagen said the Times asked him in July to review the Duranty work. He submitted a report to the newspaper about a month later. Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, declined to comment on Mr. von Hagen’s report. No Pulitzer has been revoked since the prizes were first awarded in 1917, although The Washington Post voluntarily returned a Pulitzer awarded two decades ago to Janet Cook for a fictitious account of a child drug addict.
“This is a matter under internal review,” Mr. Gissler said.
Mr. Gissler could not say when the subcommittee would end its probe, but said the ultimate decision would come from the entire board. The Pulitzer Board meets twice a year, in November and April.
Members of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America joined Ukrainians worldwide this year in urging the withdrawal of Mr. Duranty’s award in a campaign that included more than 15,000 postcards and thousands more letters and e-mails sent to the Pulitzer Board.
The effort was timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the 1932-33 terror famine, which claimed at least 7 million Ukrainian lives. Some scholars say the figure is closer to 10 million. Stalin’s regime created the famine to force Ukrainian peasants into surrendering their land. He sought to use systematic starvation as a means of breaking Ukrainian resistance to his iron-fisted rule.