Walter Duranty

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Walter Duranty
Walter Duranty.jpg
Walter Duranty
Born Walter Duranty
(1884-05-25)25 May 1884
Liverpool, England
Died 3 October 1957(1957-10-03) (aged 73)
Orlando, Florida, United States
Nationality British
Alma mater Emmanuel College, Cambridge
Occupation Journalist, propagandist
Religion Protestant

Walter Duranty (May 25, 1884 – October 3, 1957) was a Liverpool-born, Anglo-American journalist who served as the Moscow Bureau Chief of The New York Times (1922–36). Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for a series of stories on the Soviet Union. Duranty has been criticized for his denial of widespread famine, most particularly the Ukraine mass starvation (1932–33). Years later, there were calls to revoke his Pulitzer; even The New York Times acknowledged his articles constituted "some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper."[1]

His reporting and motivations have been hotly debated, leading to calls to revoke his Pulitzer (which was for reporting unrelated to the later famine controversy). Duranty's reporting is faulted for being too uncritical of the Soviet regime, including having presented Soviet propaganda as legitimate reporting.[2]

Duranty's name has become for some synonymous with thinly veiled propaganda masquerading as news, in this case in support of Soviet communism.[3]

Early career[edit]

Duranty was born in Liverpool, the son of Emmeline (née Hutchins) and William Steel Durranty.[4] After finishing college, Duranty moved to Paris. During the Great War, he held a job as a reporter. In 1919, he gained initial notice from a story about the Paris Peace Conference, 1919. He then moved to Riga, Latvia, to cover events in the newly independent Baltic States.

Career in Moscow[edit]

Duranty moved to the Soviet Union in 1921. On holiday in 1924, Duranty's left leg was injured in a train wreck in France. After the operation, the surgeon discovered gangrene; and the leg was removed. After recovering, Duranty continued his career as a journalist in the Soviet Union. In 1929, he was granted an exclusive interview with Joseph Stalin that enhanced his reputation. Duranty was to remain in Moscow for twelve years, returning to the United States in 1934. Thereafter, he remained on retainer for The New York Times, which required him to spend several months a year in Moscow. In this capacity, he reported on the show trials of the later 1930s.

Views on the Soviet Union[edit]

In the reporting that won him the Pulitzer Prize, Duranty held that the Russian people were "Asiatic" in thought. That meant to him that they valued communal effort and required autocratic government. In his view, individuality and private enterprise were alien concepts to the Russian people, which led only to social disruption, and were unacceptable to them just as tyranny and Communism were unacceptable to the Western world. Failed attempts, since the time of Peter the Great, to apply Western ideals in Russia were a form of European colonialism that had been finally swept away by the 1917 Revolution. Vladimir Lenin and his New Economic Policy were both failures tainted by Western thought.

Duranty felt that Stalin scrapped the New Economic Policy because he had no political competition. The famine in Ukraine demonstrated the lack of organized opposition to Stalin, because his position was never truly threatened by the catastrophe; Stalin's purges surely contributed to this political vacuum. Stalin did what Lenin could only try to do, “re-established a dictator of the imperial idea and put himself in charge” by means of intimidation. “Stalin didn’t look upon himself as a dictator, but as a ‘guardian of a sacred flame’ that he called Stalinism for lack of a better name.”[5] Stalin’s five-year plan was an attempt to effect a new way of life for the Russian people.

Duranty argued that the Soviet Union’s mentality in 1931 greatly differed from the perception created by Karl Marx's ideas. Duranty claimed: "It would be more proper to refer to the principle present during the period of Stalin’s reign as 'Stalinism'",[6] which Duranty viewed as a progression and integration of Marxism combined with Leninism. In a June 24, 1931, article in The New York Times, Duranty gives his views of the Soviet actions in the countryside that eventually led to the famine. He asserted that the kulaks had been an "almost privileged class" under Lenin. Duranty said that, just as the Bolsheviks had eliminated the ruling class of the Czarist regime, so would the same fate now befall the kulaks, whom he numbered at 5,000,000. They would be "dispossessed, dispersed, demolished".

Duranty compared Stalin's logic in the matter to that of the Biblical Prophet Samuel or the Turkic conqueror Tamerlane. He said that these people were to be "liquidated or melted in the hot fire of exile and labor into the proletarian mass". Duranty sometimes claimed that individuals being sent to the Siberian labor camps were given a choice between rejoining Soviet society and becoming underprivileged outsiders. However, he also said that, for those who could not accept the system, "the final fate of such enemies is death." Duranty, though describing the system as cruel, says he has "no brief for or against it, nor any purpose save to try to tell the truth". He ends the article with the claim that the brutal collectivization campaign was motivated by the "hope or promise of a subsequent raising up" of Asian-minded masses in the Soviet Union which only history could judge.

Rather than just repeating the Stalinist viewpoint, Duranty often admitted the brutality of the Stalinist system and then proceeded to both explain and defend why dictatorship or brutality were necessary. In addition, he repeated Soviet views as his own opinion, as if his 'observations' from Moscow had given him deeper insights into the country as a whole.

In his praise of Joseph Stalin as an imperial, national, "authentically Russian" dictator (Stalin was not Russian, but Georgian, with distant Ossetian ancestry—his paternal great-grandfather was an Ossetian)[7] to be compared to Ivan the Terrible, Duranty was expressing views similar to those of some White (Russian) émigrés during the same period,[8] namely the Smenovekhovtsy movement, echoing still earlier hopes by the Eurasianism movement and the Mladorossi group currents in the 1920s.

In 1933, Stalin himself praised Duranty, saying that Duranty "(tried) to tell the truth about our country."[9]

Reporting the famine[edit]

In a New York Times article dated 23 August 1933, Duranty wrote, "Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda. The food shortage, however, which has affected the whole population in the last year and particularly in the grain-producing provinces—the Ukraine, North Caucasus, the Lower Volga—has, however, caused heavy loss of life." Duranty concluded "it is conservative to suppose" that, in certain provinces with a total population of over 40 million, mortality had "at least trebled." [10]

On March 31, 1933, Walter Duranty denounced the famine stories and Gareth Jones, a journalist who had written about the famine, in The New York Times. In the piece, he described the situation under the title "Russians Hungry, But Not Starving" as follows: "In the middle of the diplomatic duel between Great Britain and the Soviet Union over the accused British engineers, there appears from a British source a big scare story in the American press about famine in the Soviet Union, with 'thousands already dead and millions menaced by death from starvation."

The duel in the press over the famine stories did not damage esteem for Duranty—whose reporting The Nation had described as "the most enlightened, dispassionate dispatches from a great nation in the making which appeared in any newspaper in the world."[11] Following sensitive negotiations in November 1933 that resulted in the establishment of relations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., a dinner was given for Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov in New York City's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Each of the attendees' names was read in turn, politely applauded by the guests, until Duranty's. Whereupon, Alexander Woollcott wrote, "the one really prolonged pandemonium was evoked.... Indeed, one quite got the impression that America, in a spasm of discernment, was recognizing both Russia and Walter Duranty."[12]

Later career[edit]

In 1934, Duranty left Moscow and visited the White House in the company of Soviet officials including Litvinov. He continued as a Special Correspondent for The New York Times until 1940.

He wrote several books on the Soviet Union after 1940. His name was on a list maintained by writer George Orwell of those he considered to be unsuitable as possible writers for the British Foreign Office's Information Research Department owing to the possibility of them being too sympathetic to communism or even paid communist agents.[13]

Duranty died in Orlando, Florida in 1957 and is interred at Greenwood Cemetery.

Scholarship on Duranty's work[edit]

Duranty was reporting at a time when opinions were strongly divided on the Soviet Union and its leadership. Their participation in the League of Nations was viewed optimistically by some. Others saw an inevitable confrontation between Fascism and Communism as requiring individuals to take one side or the other. Even into World War II, Joseph E. Davies, U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1936–38), represented positively both "Russia and its people in their gallant struggle to preserve the peace until ruthless aggression made war inevitable" and Stalin as a "decent and clean-living" man and "a great leader."[14]

Many reporters of Duranty's time slanted their coverage in favour for the Soviet Union, either because the capitalist world was sinking under the weight of the Great Depression, out of a true belief in Communism or out of fear of being expelled from Moscow, which would result in the loss of livelihood. Also, many editors found it hard to believe a state would deliberately starve millions of its own people. However, even with this to consider, Duranty's reports were the source of much frustration from The Times readers in 1932, as his reports directly contradicted the paper's own editorial page.[9]

While Duranty has been criticized generally for deferring to Stalin and the Soviet Union's official propaganda rather than reporting news, the major controversy regarding his work is his reporting on the great famine of 1932–33, now known as the Holodomor. Since the 1970s, Duranty's work has come under increasingly harsh fire for reporting there was no famine, even while it was clear from his personal exchanges that he was fully aware of the scale of the calamity. Indeed, he privately reported to the British embassy in Moscow that as many as 10 million people may have died, directly or indirectly, from famine in the Soviet Union in the previous year. * Robert Conquest has written several books, starting in the 1970s—including The Great Terror and Harvest of Sorrow and most recently Reflections on a Ravaged Century (1990)—critical of Duranty's reporting.

Joseph Alsop and Andrew Stuttaford have criticized Duranty.[15] Alsop said, "Lying was Duranty's stock in trade. British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge called Duranty "the greatest liar I ever knew."[16] American engineer Zara Witkin (1900-1940),[17] who worked in the USSR from 1932 to 1934,[18] and British intelligence[19][clarification needed] have shown that Duranty knowingly misrepresented the famine.

Duranty has also been criticized for defending Stalin's Moscow Trials of 1938, which were staged to eliminate potential challengers to Stalin's authority.[citation needed] J. Taylor, author of the critical Duranty biography, "Stalin's Apologist",[20] argues that Duranty's reporting was a key factor in U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1933 decision to grant official recognition to the Soviet Union.

Calls for revocation of Pulitzer Prize[edit]

The concern over Duranty's reporting on the famine in Soviet Ukraine led to a move to posthumously and symbolically strip him of his Pulitzer award he garnered in 1932, the year the famine started, although the Pulitzer in question did not involve the famine. In response to Taylor's book[clarification needed], the Times assigned a member of its editorial board, Karl Meyer, to write a signed editorial regarding Duranty's work. In a scathing piece, Meyer said that Duranty's articles were "some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper." Duranty, Meyer said, had bet his career on Stalin's rise and "strove to preserve it by ignoring or excusing Stalin's crimes."[9] Four years earlier, in a review of Robert Conquest's The Harvest of Sorrow, former Moscow bureau reporter Craig Whitney wrote that Duranty all but ignored the famine until it was almost over.

In 2003, in response to an international campaign launched by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Pulitzer Board began a renewed inquiry and the Times hired Mark von Hagen, professor of Russian history at Columbia University, to review Duranty's work. Von Hagen found Duranty's reports to be unbalanced and uncritical, and that they far too often gave voice to Stalinist propaganda. In comments to the press he stated, "For the sake of The New York Times' honor, they should take the prize away."[21] The Times sent von Hagen's report to the Pulitzer Board and left it to the Board to take whatever action they considered appropriate.[22] In a letter accompanying the report, Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. called Duranty's work "slovenly" and said it "should have been recognized for what it was by his editors and by his Pulitzer judges seven decades ago."

Ultimately, the administrator of the board, Sig Gissler, refused to rescind the award because "there was not clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception, the relevant standard in this case."[23]




  • The Curious Lottery and Other Tales of Russian Justice. New York: Coward-McCann, 1929
  • Red Economics. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1932
  • Duranty Reports Russia. New York: The Viking Press, 1934
  • I Write As I Please. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1935
  • Europe—War or Peace? World Affairs Pamphlets No. 7. New York: Foreign Policy Association and Boston: World Peace Foundation, 1935.
  • Solomon's Cat. Grand Rapids: Mayhew Press, 1937.
  • One Life, One Kopeck – A Novel. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1937
  • Babies Without Tails, Stories by Walter Duranty. New York: Modern Age Books, 1937
  • The Kremlin and the People. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1941
  • USSR: The Story of Soviet Russia. New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1944
  • Stalin & Co.: The Politburo, The Men Who Run Russia. New York: W. Sloane Associates, 1949



  • ASIA Magazine, Volume XXXV, Number 11; November, 1935
  • ASIA Magazine, Volume XXXVI, Number 2; February, 1936
  • Redbook; March, 1928

Pulitzer Prize articles[edit]

  • "Red Russia of Today Ruled by Stalinism, Not Communism"
  • "Socialism First Aim in Soviet's Program; Trade Gains Second"
  • "Stalinism Shelves World Revolt Idea; To Win Russia First"
  • "Industrial Success Emboldens Soviet in New World Policy"
  • "Trade Equilibrium is New Soviet Goal"
  • "Soviet Fixes Opinion by Widest Control"
  • "Soviet Censorship Hurts Russia Most"
  • "Stalinism Smashes Foes in Marx's Name"
  • "Red Army is Held No Menace to Peace"
  • "Stalinism Solving Minorities Problem"
  • "Stalinism's Mark is Party Discipline"
  • "The Russian Looks at the World"
  • "Stalin's Russia Is An Echo of Iron Ivan's"


Literary awards[edit]

(other than Pulitzer)

  • O. Henry Awards, First Prize, 1928, for "The Parrot", appearing in Redbook, March 1928

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Walter Duranty, Duranty Reports Russia (New York: Viking Press, 1934)
  6. ^ Walter Duranty, Duranty Reports Russia (New York: Viking Press, 1934), 238.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Роговин, В.З. Была ли альтернатива. Том 6. XIII. Сталин и сталинизм глазами белой эмиграции
  9. ^ a b c The Editorial Notebook; Trenchcoats, Then and Now. New York Times editorial on Walter Duranty, 1990-06-24
  10. ^ Assignment in Utopia By Eugene Lyons
  11. ^ Alex Nazaryan "Villains of 'Superman' are in denial: The left-wing's sad reaction to truth about our schools", New York Daily News, 12 October 2010
  12. ^ Conquest, R. Reflections on a Ravaged Century. W.W. Norton & Company. New York. 2000
  13. ^ John Ezard Blair's babe: Did love turn Orwell into a government stooge? The Guardian, June 21, 2003]
  14. ^ Davies, Joseph E. Mission to Moscow. Garden City Publishing, Garden City, NY, 1941
  15. ^ Andrew Stuttaford, "Prize Specimen – The campaign to revoke Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer", National Review, May 7, 2003
  16. ^ Leroux, Charles (June 25, 2003). "Bearing Witness". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved April 26, 2015. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "An American Engineer in Stalin's Russia: The Memoirs of Zara Witkin, 1932–1934", University of California Press
  19. ^ The Foreign Office and the famine: British documents on Ukraine and the Great Famine of 1932–1933 (Studies in East European nationalisms)
  20. ^ published by Oxford University Press, 1990
  21. ^ N.Y. Times urged to rescind 1932 Pulitzer, retrieved February 2, 2008
  22. ^ Reported in The Washington Times "National" section, October 22, 2003.
  23. ^ Pulitzer review board's response to the 1932 prize given to Walter Duranty


  • Muggeridge, Malcolm Winter in Moscow (1934)
  • Conquest, Robert The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties (1968)
  • Conquest, Robert, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine (1986)
  • Crowl, James W. Angels in Stalin's Paradise: Western Reporters in Soviet Russia, 1917–1937; A Case Study of Louis Fischer and Walter Duranty. Washington, D.C.: The University of America Press (1981), ISBN 0-8191-2185-1
  • Carynnyk, M, B S Kordan and L Y Luciuk, eds, "The Foreign Office and the Famine: British Documents on the Great Famine of 1932–1933 in Soviet Ukraine." Limestone Press (1988).
  • Taylor, Sally J. Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty: The New York Times Man in Moscow. Oxford University Press (1990), ISBN 0-19-505700-7
  • Luciuk, Lubomyr Y, "Not Worthy: Walter Duranty's Pulitzer Prize and the New York Times." Kashtan Press (2004), ISBN 1-896354-34-3

External links[edit]

Defence of Stalin's purges[edit]

Pulitzer Prize articles by Walter Duranty[edit]

The Pulitzer Prize controversy[edit]