The awarding of Pulitzer Prize this year to three photojournalists from Jammu and Kashmir has typically resulted in a petty political skirmish between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress. In the hullabaloo emerging from this word war, a most important question has been neglected: what is the legitimacy and credibility of Pulitzer?
Just one decision of the Pulitzer Prize Board’s will help us understand its intellectual and moral bankruptcy. There was a big demand in 2003 that the award given to The New York Times’ Moscow correspondent, Walter Duranty, in 1932 be revoked. The charge against him was that he had sent glowing reports about the supposed progress and prosperity in the Soviet Union at a time when brutal collectivization drives, the ensuing famines, and brutal purges were being carried out. Millions died, but Duranty kept glorifying the murderous communist regime under Stalin.
The Pulitzer Prize Board refused to revoke the award.
This was despite the fact that Duranty, who reported from Russia for 14 years (1922-35) was doing PR job for the cruelest regime of that time. At a time when most Russians had to wait hours for a loaf of bread—when they got it—the great journalist was living like a prince in Moscow with a four-room flat, expensive liquor, opium, a chauffeur, a maid, a secretary, a researcher, and a cook; the last one was also his mistress and the mother of his child.
The price he had to pay for such a sumptuous existence was very high: he had to sacrifice his professional ethics. So, he described Stalin, as “a quiet, unobtrusive man” who was destined “to train and discipline and give self-respect to a nation of liberated slaves.” Such praise for the thug who killed 30-40 million people, unleashed a reign of terror, and made the erstwhile Soviet Union look like a gargantuan prison!
The show trials and bloody purges of 1928, 1934, and 1936? They were needed “to purge [cities] of undesirable elements.” The millions of deaths because of collectivization? “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.” Except that what Stalin’s henchmen broke were usually human heads and bones.
What about the famine that killed four million in the Ukraine alone? Duranty’s verdict was unequivocal: “the ‘famine’ is mostly bunk.”
Duranty not only lied to the world about the conditions in the Soviet Union; he also made every effort to conceal the truth coming out; he maligned an earnest account of the famine by calling it “hasty” and insinuating that the author was scaremongering.
In March 1933, the 27-year-old Gareth Jones, who had worked earlier for Lloyd George, had managed to sneak into the Ukraine to present the real, grim picture of the famine. “I crossed the border from Great Russia into the Ukraine. Everywhere I talked to peasants who walked past. They all had the same story. ‘There is no bread. We haven’t had bread for over two months. A lot are dying’.”
That was correct. In 1932 and 1933, the Soviet Union had a catastrophic, manmade famine, caused by Stalin’s collectivization. The entire farm produce was appropriated by the authorities and distributed as per the bureaucratic wisdom, resulting in massive shortages, starvation, fear, and massacres. Out of the 5 million people who died of starvation, about 4 million were in the Ukraine.
Needless to say, Stalin’s lackey Duranty could not stand this truth. So, he wrote what a fine piece in propaganda on March 31, 1933. The very headline encapsulated the story: ‘Russians Hungry But Not Starving.’ Duranty ridiculed Jones, writing: “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 and starvation.’ Its author is Gareth Jones, who is a former secretary to David Lloyd George and who recently spent three weeks in the Soviet Union and reached the conclusion that the country was ‘on the verge of a terrific smash,’ as he told the writer. Mr. Jones is a man of a keen and active mind, and he has taken the trouble to learn Russian, which he speaks with considerable fluency, but the writer thought Mr. Jones's judgment was somewhat hasty and asked him on what it was based. It appeared that he had made a 40-mile walk through villages in the neighborhood of Kharkov and had found conditions sad.”
Further, Duranty wrote, “I suggested that that was a rather inadequate cross-section of a big country but nothing could shake his conviction of impending doom.”
The message: Jones was delusional. As it turned out, Jones’ was bang on, whereas Duranty was lying through his teeth.
Indeed Duranty lied all his life. His lies were dangerous, for they shaped world opinion about the Soviet Union and helped veil the ugliness of socialism.
Yet, as we mentioned, the Pulitzer Prize Board refused to revoke his award.
Now, it has awarded three Associated Press photographers—Mukhtar Khan and Dar Yasin from Kashmir and Channi Anand from Jammu—“for their striking images of life in the contested territory of Kashmir as India revoked its independence, executed through a communications blackout.”
India revoked Kashmir’s independence! But when was it independent? It has always been a part of India.
Many Indian nationalists were aghast by the Pulitzer Prize Board’s citation. They shouldn’t be, for it has little credibility and prestige..