In Slate.com, Pressbox columnist Jack Shafer writes:
In Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America's Most Important Newspaper, Laurel Leff [a professor of Journalism at Northeaster] condemns Times Publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger for keeping the Nazis' atrocities against the Jews off Page One during World War II... "No American newspaper was better positioned to highlight the Holocaust than the Times, and no American newspaper so influenced public discourse by its failure to do so," she writes.
Buried by the Times makes the most persuasive case against the paper, arguing that it failed in its journalistic mission by not explaining that Hitler was killing Jews because they were Jews. Leff counts 1,186 stories about the Jews of Europe in the paper between the war's start in 1939 and its conclusion in 1945. Only 26 of those stories made it to Page One, and only six of them explicitly stated that Jews were the main target of the Nazis.
By the time the paper celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2001, it agreed so fully with Leff's assessment that former executive editor Max Frankel cited her work in a Times feature.
"No single explanation seems to suffice for what was surely the century's bitterest journalistic failure. The Times, like most media of that era, fervently embraced the wartime policies of the American and British governments, both of which strongly resisted proposals to rescue Jews or to offer them haven," Frankel writes.
Frankel wrote in 2001 in a 150th anniversary retrospective on the history of the New York Times:
AND then there was failure: none greater than the staggering, staining failure of The New York Times to depict Hitler's methodical extermination of the Jews of Europe as a horror beyond all other horrors in World War II -- a Nazi war within the war crying out for illumination.
I had the following exchange in November of 2001 with the Times' former Executive Editor. I wrote:
Dear Mr. Frankel:
I read your article "Turning Away from the Holocaust" with some interest, especially the statement:
"No single explanation seems to suffice for what was surely the century's bitterest journalistic failure."
If not giving enough publicity to the Holocaust was "the century's bitterest journalistic failure," then what do you call the long series of outright lies the New York Times published denying Stalin's even more deadly campaigns of mass murder in the Thirties? The Times still takes credit for this pro-Stalin fiction every time it prints the list of Times writers to have won the Pulitzer Prize. Right there at the top of the list is Walter Duranty - 1932. Isn't it time to renounce that Pulitzer and issue an apology to the millions of surviving relatives?
The Times has openly acknowledged that Duranty's coverage was seriously flawed and his picture among our Pulitzer winners at the office carries that notation. But the former publisher, Arthur O. Sulzberger, decided that there's no way to "return" a prize at this late date, that its mistaken award is simply part of history.
As to which failure was more bitter, I dare say many people would have still other nominations. I had in mind the failure at the Times, but what made it especially bitter was that The Times no doubt influenced coverage of the Holocaust throughout the rest of American journalism. That was not true in Duranty's time; many other papers and journals gave excellent accounts of events in Stalin's Russia.
Thanks for your interest.
In other words, because Duranty's lies were being shown up as lies in less influential newspapers, that makes it not so bad. And, anyway, Duranty's lies about the Ukrainian Holocaust are now all part of history's rich pageant, and who are we to rewrite history?
I replied to Frankel, with quotes from him in italics:
Let's try an analogy. Say a New York Times reporter had won the 1944 Pulitzer Prize for numerous NYT articles denying the existence of Hitler's campaign of mass murder. Would your response be the following?
"The Times has openly acknowledged that our reporter's coverage was seriously flawed and his picture among our Pulitzer winners at the office carries that notation. But the former publisher, Arthur O. Sulzberger, decided that there's no way to "return" a prize at this late date, that its mistaken award is simply part of history."
> As to which failure was more bitter, I dare say many people would have still other nominations.
Herbert Matthews' NYT coverage of Castro in 1958 leaps to mind, as does James Reston's NYT writings about Mao in 1972. The NYT seems to have had a recurring problem with being seduced by mass murdering totalitarians. Nonetheless, there is widespread agreement among morally serious people (i.e., people who believe that all victims of mass murder are created equal, rather than those who believe that some are more equal than others) that Duranty's performance stands out as the most egregious American journalistic performance of the last century.
> I had in mind the failure at the Times, but what made it especially bitter was that The Times no doubt influenced coverage of the Holocaust throughout the rest of American journalism. That was not true in Duranty's time; many other papers and journals gave excellent accounts of events in Stalin's Russia.
So, you are saying that the Times' editors were reading the truth in other publications about Stalin's genocidal campaign against Ukrainians and his other mass murders, yet chose to print Duranty's lies instead? And, therefore, that's a less bitter failure of journalism than its WWII performance of printing the truth about the Holocaust, but not giving it the banner headlines it deserved?
You also seem to be implying that the NYT's lies about Stalinism in the early Thirties were less influential than their muted truthtelling about the Holocaust while it was happening.
That makes no logical sense. If I was worried that mass murder might possibly be happening, I would be much more influenced by the New York Times telling me over and over again (in Stalin's case) NO, EVERYTHING IS HUNKY-DORY. THOSE RUMORS ARE JUST REACTIONARY PROPAGANDA than (in Hitler's case) telling me now and then on P. 17 that, yes, mass murder is happening, the rumors are true.
Further, I'm not aware of any historical evidence the NYT's mistakes were luckily less influential in Stalin's case than in Hitler's. Certainly, American government policy toward Stalin from 1933 through 1945 was based largely on wishful thinking. And American intellectual life during that period was severely diseased by Stalin-worship. The NYT deserves a definite share of the blame for this.
Will you be publishing a reconsideration of your judgment?
Strangely enough, Frankel didn't reply a second time.
Note: While I frequently print emails, I always strip off any identifying attributions. In this case, however, the contents were so unbelievable that after thinking about it for over three years, when I saw that Laurel Leff had published a book on Frankel's topic, I finally decided to break my own rule.
If Mr. Frankel wants to find out what his newspaper was up to during the Ukrainian Holocaust, he can read Sally J. Taylor's 1990 biography: Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty, the New York Times's Man in Moscow (now out of print, surprise, surprise).
One little known fact about Duranty was that before World War I he had been a leading Satanist, the right hand man of the world's top Satan-worshipper, Aleister Crowley. (I'm not making this up.)
Let's be frank: history is not written by the victors. The truth about who writes history isn't well understood, even though it's tautological:
History is written by the writers of history.
What that means, in practical terms, is that if the Ukrainians want their Holocaust to stop being ignored, well, they'll just have to become executive editors and professors of journalism and columnists and historians and movie producers and documentarians and all the rest. The Ukrainians will have to do it themselves. People care about avenging their relatives' victimizations a lot more than they care about fair historical balance.
Orwell wrote in "Notes on Nationalism" in October 1945:
Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side. The Liberal News Chronicle published, as an example of shocking barbarity, photographs of Russians hanged by the Germans, and then a year or two later published with warm approval almost exactly similar photographs of Germans hanged by the Russians. It is the same with historical events. History is thought of largely in nationalist terms, and such things as the Inquisition, the tortures of the Star Chamber, the exploits of the English buccaneers (Sir Francis Drake, for instance, who was given to sinking Spanish prisoners alive), the Reign of Terror, the heroes of the Mutiny blowing hundreds of Indians from the guns, or Cromwell’s soldiers slashing Irishwomen’s faces with razors, become morally neutral or even meritorious when it is felt that they were done in the ‘right’ cause. If one looks back over the past quarter of a century, one finds that there was hardly a single year when atrocity stories were not being reported from some part of the world; and yet in not one single case were these atrocities — in Spain, Russia, China, Hungary, Mexico, Amritsar, Smyrna — believed in and disapproved of by the English intelligentsia as a whole. Whether such deeds were reprehensible, or even whether they happened, was always decided according to political predilection.
For quite six years the English admirers of Hitler contrived not to learn of the existence of Dachau and Buchenwald. And those who are loudest in denouncing the German concentration camps are often quite unaware, or only very dimly aware, that there are also concentration camps in Russia. Huge events like the Ukraine famine of 1933, involving the deaths of millions of people, have actually escaped the attention of the majority of English russophiles. Many English people have heard almost nothing about the extermination of German and Polish Jews during the present war. Their own antisemitism has caused this vast crime to bounce off their consciousness.