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Lessons on Free Speech from the Soviet Union

Lessons on Free Speech from the Soviet Union
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By Tuesday, 30 March 2021 01:27 PM Current | Bio | Archive

I have never been a big fan of Piers Morgan, but I don’t understand why he was forced to quit his show.

Piers Morgan recently criticized Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey. In response to Morgan’s comments, more than 41,000 complaints were filed against Morgan to the Office of Communications (Ofcom).

It’s pretty ludicrous that talk show hosts cannot express their opinions in a free society. Personally, I think Morgan’s comments were very negative toward Markle. Morgan was friends with her briefly and doesn’t trust her.

That said, commentators should not be fired for criticizing a public figure, even if some of that criticism arose from a personal dislike.

If people don’t like what a pundit is saying, they can change the channel. Any government agency that can punish members of the media for their opinions will ultimately protect the powerful and entrenched at the expense of everyone else.

One of the greatest British journalists of the 20th century was Garreth Jones. In the 1930s, Jones was the first to report about a manmade famine that killed almost 10 million people in the former Soviet Union. Most of the casualties were in the Ukraine, where the 1932-33 famine is known as Holodomor.

Other journalists based in Moscow refused to write any story that was critical of the Soviet government.

One such journalist, Walter Duranty, who was based in Moscow for the New York Times, decided to deliberately lie about Jones.

Duranty wrote an article accusing Jones of writing a "big scare story."

 In the same article, Duranty wrote: "In short, conditions are definitely bad in certain sections - the Ukraine, North Caucasus and Lower Volga. The rest of the country is on short rations but nothing worse. These conditions are bad, but there is no famine."

While Duranty’s brand of journalism resulted in him having a nice apartment, a mistress and international prestige, Jones was condemned as a liar.

In 1935, Jones was murdered under mysterious circumstances.

While reporting in Japanese-occupied Manchuria as a foreign correspondent, Jones and a German journalist were captured by a group of thieves. They demanded a ransom. The German journalist was released while Jones was killed.

While the level of Soviet involvement in Jones’ death is unclear, further investigation indicated that a Chinese contact for Jones and his German colleague loaned them a car to drive into Mongolia.

This Chinese contact is now believed to have been a Soviet NKVD agent.

Jones chose to tell the truth while Duranty publicly attacked Jones’ character and his reporting.

If we don’t oppose the idea of journalists cozying up to powerful people, some of these journalists will eventually give in to the temptation of preserving their status at the expense of exposing the truth.

If Ofcom can take down a journalist as powerful as Morgan, other journalists will fall in line with what the UK government wants.

That is what happened with Duranty in the Soviet Union. There must be zero tolerance for this dangerous dynamic.

In 1990 and 2003, the survivors of the manmade famine and their descendants fought two unsuccessful campaigns to force the Pulitzer Board to revoke Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize. The New York Times refused to support either campaign.

In 2003, the Pulitzer Prize Board claimed that "no clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception" was found in Duranty’s reporting from 1931. If only it were so.

The New York Times conceded two very important points in 2003 in an official statement regarding Duranty.

First, they pointed out that "Duranty’s cabled dispatches had to pass Soviet censorship, and Stalin’s propaganda machine was powerful and omnipresent."

In other words, Duranty had to comply with Soviet censorship at all times.

The second concession in that official statement was even more chilling: "Since the 1980’s, the paper has been publicly acknowledging his failures." 

In other words, for decades the New York Times refused to publicly acknowledge Duranty’s duplicity in the 1930s.

It was only after the publication of Robert Conquest’s book Harvest of Sorrow in 1986 that the truth could no longer be denied. Although the New York Times has criticized Duranty’s articles, the paper still refuses to join the campaign to revoke Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize. For instance, as late as October 2017, Bret Stephens wrote a review in his column about Anne Applebaum’s book about the Holodomor.

Stephens notes that Duranty’s coverage of the Soviet Union was extremely misleading, but his column does not suggest that his Pulitzer be revoked.

Stephens then ponders: "How many readers, I wonder, are familiar with this history of atrocity and denial, except in a vague way?"

For understandable reasons, he chose not to consider the possibility that maybe the reason people know so little about this famine, or the cover-up, is because of Duranty’s articles in the New York Times denying its very existence.

In her book Red Famine, Anne Applebaum points out that Duranty was not the only one to engage in this deception. Applebaum quoted William Henry Chamberlin, who was correspondent in Moscow for the Christian Science Monitor. Chamberlin explained that any journalist whose articles did not comply with Moscow’s wishes "works under a Sword of Damocles—the threat of expulsion from the country or of the refusal of permission to re-enter it, which of course amounts to the same thing."

Applebaum also quoted Eugene Lyons, who was the United Press (now United Press International) correspondent in Moscow from 1928-1934:

"The truth is that we did not seek corroboration for the simple reason that we entertained no doubts on the subject. There are facts too large to require eyewitness confirmation…There was no more need for investigation to establish the mere existence of the Russian famine than investigation to establish the existence of the American depression. Inside Russia the matter was not disputed."

It is time for the New York Times to demand that Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize be revoked. Jones and millions of Ukrainians died while Duranty and other journalists benefited from this lie.

While I doubt media censorship in Britain or the United States will ever reach Soviet levels, recent journalistic trends in both countries are highly troubling.

Whether it is the overreaching of Ofcom, or the willful lack of objectivity and accuracy that has become so common in American newsrooms, we must fight for freedom of speech at every opportunity.

Robert Zapesochny is a researcher and writer whose work focuses on foreign affairs, national security and presidential history. He has been published in numerous outlets, including The American Spectator, the Washington Times, and The American Conservative. When he's not writing, Robert works for a medical research company in New York. Read Robert Zapesochny's Reports — More Here.

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RobertZapesochny
I have never been a big fan of Piers Morgan, but I don't understand why he was forced to quit his show.
USSR, media, piers morgan
1114
2021-27-30
Tuesday, 30 March 2021 01:27 PM
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