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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Monitoring the Media: Reviewing the Russian Genocide in Ukraine in the 1930s

Recently, La Russophobe warned readers to be wary of news reports on Russia written by partipants in the Kremlin's all-expense-paid propaganda orgy called "The Valdai Club." To illustrate the kind of things that can go wrong, let's take a walk down memory lane.

On June 4, 1931, A. W. Kleifoth of the U.S. Embassy in Berlin wrote a memo to his superiors at the State Department in Washington DC regarding a meeting he had just had with Walter Duranty (pictured), the Pulitzer-prize-winning Russia correspondent for the New York Times. The two discussed the status of the upcoming Russian grain harvest and speculated about whether the famine conditions that were spreading through the USSR would worsen. Kleifoth states as follows regarding Duranty's intention to report negative developments coming out of the Soviet Union in his paper: "in agreement with the New York Times and the Soviet authorities, his official despatches always reflect the official position of the Soviet regime and not his own."

Duranty's reporting on the Soviet Union was subsequently exposed and discredited. Most particularly aggrieved are members of the Ukrainian community, because Russians caused Ukrainians to bear the lion's share of the burden for the Stalin famines, and millions perished. Duranty knew about this virtual genocide of the Ukrainian nation by Russia, but he did not publish a word about it. The Times itself has recognized this, but it hasn't dealt at all with the aspect of the Kleiforth memo which indicates that the paper's misreporting on the Soviet Union was a matter of editorial policy. Instead, the Times strategy has been to blame Duranty, and at the same time to rationalize his reporting by spewing the utterly false propaganda that the defects appeared only in hindsight. As noted in the link above, an e-mail sent to Insight magazine by Catherine Mathis, vice president of corporate communications at the New York Times Co., explained: "'The Times has not seen merit in trying to undo history'" by returning the Pulitzer. The e-mail insists: 'The Times has reported often and thoroughly on the defects in Duranty's journalism, as viewed through the lens of later events.'" In fact, Duranty's comment in the memo makes it seem that the pro-Soviet reporting was more his editor's notion than his own, something the editors would obviously love to sweep under the carpet; the publishers of the Times refused to be interviewed about the reporting when they were contacted by the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review. Moreover, of course, the Times has not undertaken any review of its pro-Soviet editorial line at that time, of which we can hear the echo even in today's Times editorials. In other words, Duranty's misreporting served not only the interests of the USSR but the political agenda of the Times editors themselves.

Here are some examples of the boldfaced lies the Times told its readers under Duranty's pen, lies which prevented the world from being aware of the problem in Ukraine and therefore cost lives:

"There is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be."
--New York Times, Nov. 15, 1931, page 1

"Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda."
--New York Times, August 23, 1933

"Enemies and foreign critics can say what they please. Weaklings and despondents at home may groan under the burden, but the youth and strength of the Russian people is essentially at one with the Kremlin's program, believes it worthwhile and supports it, however hard be the sledding."
--New York Times, December 9, 1932, page 6

"You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs."
--New York Times, May 14, 1933, page 18

"There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition."
--New York Times, March 31, 1933, page 13

The Times editorial line throughout the Soviet era was that Russia was a nation full of brave and brilliant forward-thinkers leading the world to a socialist utopia. If there was dicatorship and human suffering along the way, this was due mostly to the harassment of the Soviet state by the ignorant outsiders who failed to understand it as well as the brilliant Times itself, and the rest of the blame was due to a "few bad apples" in the Soviet barrel as well as the need to "break a few eggs" (and skulls?) when forming a great social experiment. Given the chance, the Times harrangued, Russians would build a democratic socialist paradise the world would envy.

This line took the Times editors into very dangerous territory in 2000, when the Russian people freely elected a proud KGB spy as their president. This was something truly shocking for the Times, and placed it in a position to have its entire Cold War philosphy exposed as a fraud. Just as Putin was beginning his crackdown, including a barbaric assault on Chechnya, the Times experienced its massive scandal with reporter Jayson Blair being exposed for simply inventing front-page news stories out of whole cloth. To put it mildly, the editors weren't prepared to take two black eyes. So they scrambled for a way out.

Their solution was this: Cast Putin as a "necessary transition" between the USSR and democracy. Blame capitalism for throwing Russia into economic tumult, and claim that Putin's tough tactics were necessary to right the foundering ship of state. Report mostly good news about Russia, especially where the economy is concerned. Check out the NYT coverage during that time, you'll see that is what transpired.

And now the editors are biding their time. How long does it take for a "transitional" figure to morph into a glorious democratic socialist? How long can you gloss over things like the abolition of elected governors, the obliteration of independent TV and providing aid and comfort to rogue entities like Iran, Venezuela, Hamas and Hezbollah? Long enough so that your pro-Soviet stance gets obscure enough that nobody can quite remember it?

We shall see.

FYI: To read more about how the New York Times misleads readers for ideological reasons, check out Michelle Malkin's piece about their Wal-mart scandal.


El Gringo said...

Nice post Kim. As an American of Ukranian heritage (and with a bastardized Ukranian last name) just the mention of Duranty makes my skin crawl.

You have some info on Duranty I hadn't seen before. I'll follow up on it.


La Russophobe said...

Thanks for your comment Gabriel. I will keep my fingers crossed that Ukraine is able to keep a lid no its domestic political scene so as to avoid being swallowed whole by Russian imperialism, which could result in a repetition of this horrible past. America's handling of the issue in the past is a great national shame.