Academic journal article Journalism History

Breaking Eggs for a Holodomor Walter Duranty, the New York Times, and the Denigration of Gareth Jones

Academic journal article Journalism History

Breaking Eggs for a Holodomor Walter Duranty, the New York Times, and the Denigration of Gareth Jones

Article excerpt

On March 31, 1933, the London Evening Standard published an article titled "Famine Rules Russia" by Gareth Jones, a young Welsh journalist who had recently returned from an unescorted walking tour through several of the grain-growing districts in the Soviet Union. In his article, the first of twenty-one that he wrote over the next few weeks, Jones asserted that "the present state of Russian agriculture is already catastrophic but that in a year's time its condition will have worsened tenfold."1 On the very same day, the New York Times published an article titled "Russians Hungry, But Not Starving," by Walter Duranty, an Englishman who had been the Moscow correspondent for the New York Times since 1921. In his lead paragraph, Duranty called Jones' claims "a big scare story . . . with 'thousands already dead and millions menaced by death and starvation.' Its author is Gareth Jones."2 By denigrating Jones by name, Duranty, the Pulitzer Prize winner in 1932, not only denied that a famine was raging across the USSR, but he also ignited a controversy about the legitimacy of that famine that has persisted for eighty years.

The contrasts between the two articles and authors are striking beyond the obvious difference in the headlines. A graduate of Cambridge fluent in Russian, German, and French, Jones was twenty-seven years old and a part-time journalist, known mainly as the foreign affairs adviser to the former prime minister, David Lloyd George. Jones' article merits consideration for its forthright presentation of testimony from peasants gathered during a difficult and dangerous walking tour through fourteen villages across more than forty miles within the republics of Russia and Ukraine at a time when travel within these regions was banned. For his part, Duranty was a forty-seven-year-old seasoned journalist at the height of his fame, considered the most important Western journalist in Moscow. His article, written from the relative safety and comfort of Moscow, was pieced together by making inquiries "in Soviet commissariats and in foreign embassies . . . and from my personal connections, Russian and foreign."3 Jones' reporting represents journalism at its best, bold and assertive in chronicling a disaster of catastrophic proportions; Duranty's article used biased sources and euphemisms to conceal the grim realities of a famine.

The Duranty-initiated controversy/famine denial, which was chronicled by a number of journalists who were stationed in Moscow at the time and aware of the famine and its cover-up, as well as by numerous scholars, represents what Sally J. Taylor, in Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty-Ihe New York Times's Man in Moscow, calls "one of the sorriest periods of reportage in the history of the free press."4 Unfortunately, the controversy came to overshadow Jones' reporting of the Five-Year Plan and the famine of 1932-33. However, on the day that both of their articles were published, Jones was jubilant about what he had already accomplished, doubtlessly unaware of Duranty's criticism of his reporting. Jones wrote to his family:

I have never had two such days in my life. Yesterday the N.Y. Times, the Associated Press, the Allied Newspapers, the Press Association all wanted interviews! Then I went to tell LG. [Lloyd George] about my visit. Then was called to the Daily Express to the Editor and offered £250 to write a series of articles.'

The New York limes, it should be noted, never published a report based on an interview with Jones.

While scholarship has focused a harsh light on Duranty's role in denying the famine, these studies have given scant attention to Jones' reporting, which began in 1930 after the first of three trips to the USSR and continued until his death in August 1935. Jones' reporting was further eclipsed after journals such as the Ukrainianlanguage Svoboda (Freedom) and its English-language subsidiary, the Ukrainian Weekly, took over the primary reporting of the famine in October 1933, when they launched a campaign asserting that Soviet policy had distinctly targeted Ukrainians, in the process murdering millions of innocent people in an act of genocide. …

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