The New York Times Missed the Wrong Missed Story

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In a recent edition celebrating 150 years in business, the New York Times also engaged in a bit of self-flagellation, calling attention to its meager coverage of Adolph Hitler’s slaughter of the Jews during World War II. Saying that it "missed" the Holocaust, the Times decided to point out its alleged malfeasance on page one.

According to former editor Max Frankel, who authored the story, the newspaper ran six stories that included reports of mass murder by the Nazis, but buried the pieces on inside pages. Frankel says that given the false stories of German atrocities during World War I (the "Hun" was supposed to be "bayoneting babies"), the Times was reluctant to be used in the same way a generation later, especially if the stories were to turn out to be untrue (unfortunately, they were true).

Another reason Frankel gave for the reluctance of the Times to play up allegations of a Jewish massacre during World War II was that the Times owners and editorial board, which was dominated by Jews, did not wish to appear to be a "Jewish-oriented" newspaper. In other words, it wanted to appeal to a wider audience than just the New York Jewish community, as large and as influential as that community may have been during the 1940s.

However, the higher ups at the Times tossed aside all of those reasons as they groveled before their readers. The only problem with their new position that the Holocaust was the Big Story that the Times Missed is that it is not true. A decade before the Holocaust, the Soviet Union was undergoing its own series of state-sponsored terror and massacres. It seems that not only did the Times "miss" that story, the newspaper aided and abetted Joseph Stalin’s murderous regime. It was a con job from start to finish, and even today the Times leadership refuses to admit the obvious. In fact, the newspaper continues to celebrate the fact that it deliberately and maliciously misled its readers.

During the 1930s, as Josef Stalin was establishing communism in the U.S.S.R., the Times’ man in the Soviet Union was Walter Duranty, who openly sympathized with Stalin and communism. (Duranty was hardly unusual in that regard, as numerous intellectuals, clergymen, politicians, and union leaders also embraced the Russian "alternative." In fact, Duranty’s reporting from the U.S.S.R. as Stalin was consolidating his first Five Year Plan was considered so informative and important that the reporter was awarded the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for Correspondence. Duranty’s picture still hangs in the lobby of the Times building, as the newspaper proudly displays him among its many other Pulitzer Prize winners.

The only problem is that Duranty wrote nothing but lies, and it is even more apparent that the leadership of the Times had been informed on numerous occasions that Duranty was painting a false picture of Stalin’s actions. While Duranty told the readers of the Times that the Five Year Plan was successfully transforming production in the U.S.S.R. and giving the citizens of that nation an ever-improving standard of living, the opposite was actually true.

Many readers of LRC are very familiar with the human catastrophe that accompanied Stalin’s first Five Year Plan, the Ukraine Famines of the early 1930s being the worst of the dictator’s man-made tragedies. In order to destroy any Ukrainian resistance to Stalin’s rule, the dictator ordered much of the grain harvests of that area confiscated, the result being death by starvation of as many as 10 million people.

The sympathetic western press presented the famine in one of two ways. The first was to deny altogether that famine was even occurring, which is the direction taken by the New York Times and many British newspapers. The second was to claim that if famine existed, it was because of bad weather, which is refuted by the facts.

Through his dispatches, Duranty denied time and again that famine existed at all in the Ukraine, despite the fact that Duranty himself was the source of the 10 million estimate. In other words, even though his stories denied that famine existed at all in the U.S.S.R., Duranty knew all along that he was writing lies.

It is not as though all western dispatches were painting a rosy picture of the Soviet Union. Malcolm Muggeridge, for example, reported in his Manchester Guardian stories that starvation was occurring. Please remember that Muggeridge at this time was a Soviet sympathizer, but at least he had enough honesty to admit what Stalin was doing, unlike Duranty and a host of other American and British writers.

Another journalistic criminal was the radical writer Anna Louise Strong, who was doing articles  for leading periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Nation, and Asia. She was also close to Eleanor Roosevelt. Strong also saw what was going on, and, according to her own writings, wrestled with her conscience as whether to write of the famine, but decided that the furtherance of communism was more important.

In other words, it was possible for the editors of the Times to know that Duranty was lying, but they chose to look the other way, since they, too, were sympathetic to the "Russian Experiment." Later that decade, Duranty again would use the Times as a mouthpiece for lies and Stalinist propaganda with his coverage of the infamous Moscow Show Trials.

As anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the Soviet Union knows, none of the people Stalin put on trial for treason were guilty of the crimes as charged. (As part of the Bolshevik Revolution, they were guilty of mass murder, but Stalin didn’t charge them with that crime.) And while many of Stalin’s former comrades received death as their final reward for bringing communism to Russia, millions of ordinary Russians were sent to concentration camps where many died horrible deaths, most not even knowing what crimes they supposedly had committed.

Duranty, of course, was oblivious to the truth. Instead, he told readers of the Times that all the men executed were guilty as charged, and that people sent to the gulags were enemies of the revolution.

In 1981, the Washington Post found itself in the dock when it was discovered that its Pulitzer Prize winner Janet Cooke had won the prize with a fictitious story. The Post leadership was appalled at this breach of journalistic ethics and immediately returned the prize, as well as firing Cooke, who remains banished from journalism to the present time.

The New York Times apparently takes a different approach when it is discovered that one of its reporters writes falsehoods: it all but canonizes the reporter. Yes, by all accounts the Times did a wretched job of writing about the Holocaust, although its reasons are perfectly understandable in hindsight. Yet, a decade before the Holocaust, the Times committed a far greater crime by denying the wholesale slaughter of millions by its favorite dictator. And even today, the leadership of the Times still wants us to believe that it never happened.

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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