[July 30, 2020] We all experience it. We’ve all been there. Moral failure is the bane of the average person and always will be a problem. Yet, there are those failures that are of such epic proportions that we must tell and retell the story so that even the most ignorant or ideological blind cannot close the eyes to it.
Unfortunately, that is precisely what happened in the story of Walter Duranty,1 New York Times reporter who falsely reported that there was no such thing as widespread starvation (1931-1933) in the Soviet Union and Ukraine. In the 1930s, Duranty was the best-known newspaperman in the world.2 He is credited with gaining diplomatic recognition in the U.S. for the fledgling Soviet state.
But his fortunes belied something sinister. Duranty not only gulled the readers of the New York Times, but he also influenced the thinking of many about the character of Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Regime. Furthermore, the Times top brass suspected that Duranty was writing Stalinist propaganda but did nothing. It wrote in an editorial that he had “the most outstanding correspondent of an American newspaper…”
Anyone with the slightest common sense would easily reject his writings. Even the Times, in recent years, acknowledged that Duranty was a fraud. The lies he told were so bizarre and so far from the truth that even a modern NY Times couldn’t ignore it. A contemporary of Duranty, Malcolm Muggeridge, said that he was “the greatest liar of any journalist I have met in fifty years of journalism.” Why it took the top leadership of the Times so long to come to terms with their own failures is telling.
In our time, the Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has been celebrated by leadership at the Times as a genius for her 1619 Project. This project, in the Time’s word, “reframes” American history around slavery. No longer should 1776 be considered the year of America’s birth, but rather 1619, the year the first African slaves were brought to the New World.3 Historians have rejected her “history” as pure fiction on par with the journalistic propaganda of Duranty.
Just two days ago, even Hannah-Jones herself wrote in a Twitter feed that “I’ve always said that the 1619 Project is not a history. It is a work of journalism …” Is it or isn’t it a history? Reading the Times, one would never know. They are still peddling it as real American history, and those that deny it are called racists.
The Duranty episode of lies and deceit should have been a lesson for the Gray Lady newspaper leaders would have never forgotten. Apparently not. Once again, the New York Times is in the middle of another epic moral failure.