In late 1932, Stalin decreed that all grain should be confiscated and anyone interfering with this action should be considered an enemy of the state. More than 5,000 people received the death penalty as a result. Throughout the countryside in Ukraine and other grain-growing areas, starvation set in. Stalin sent troops to prevent farmers from leaving the land, where increasingly there was nothing to eat. In response to pleas for food aid, Stalin called the famine "one of the minor inconveniences of our system."
The famine peaked in the summer of 1933, with some 4 million Ukrainians dying of starvation. Another 1 million died in Kazakhstan, and a million more elsewhere, for a total death toll of 6 million.
Getting back to Duranty, he knew perfectly well what was going on, but none of this was reflected in his reporting. For example, in March 1933 he reported, "There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation." In August of that year, he said, "Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda."
In a meeting with Duranty, another Western reporter asked him what he planned to write about the famine. "Nothing," Duranty replied. "What are a few million dead Russians in a situation like this? Quite unimportant."
In recent years, several books have documented the famine and Duranty's role in covering it up. This led to calls for the New York Times to renounce his Pulitzer Prize. In 2003, the Times commissioned Columbia University historian Mark von Hagen to study the matter. He recommended that the prize should be rescinded, a recommendation rejected by the Times' management on the grounds that the decision is not theirs to make, but rather belongs to the Pulitzer Board, which has also declined to take back Duranty's prize.
Perhaps if the Times had renounced Duranty's Pulitzer, some of its critics today might have been more willing to cut it some slack on the terrorist financing story.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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