The New York Times had long distanced itself from Walter Duranty’s reporting from the Soviet Union in 1931 when it received a letter in 2003 from the Pulitzer Prize board asking whether the prize awarded to Mr. Duranty for that coverage should be rescinded.
Mr. Duranty, who reported from Moscow from 1922 to 1941, had been accused of overlooking some of Stalin’s most egregious atrocities and rationalizing others in his coverage, which in those years was subject to censorship by the Soviet authorities.
In response to the letter, The Times commissioned Mark von Hagen, an expert in early-20th-century Russian history at Columbia University, to assess Mr. Duranty’s 1931 work. The Pulitzer had been awarded on the basis of 13 articles Mr. Duranty wrote that year.
Professor von Hagen’s resulting eight-page report was highly critical of the coverage but made no recommendation about the prize. Only in interviews after the report was released did he suggest that the award be revoked because of what he described as Mr. Duranty’s “uncritical acceptance of the Soviet self-justification for its cruel and wasteful regime.” In his view, he said, Mr. Duranty had fallen “under Stalin’s spell.”
“He really was kind of a disgrace in the history of The New York Times,” Professor von Hagen was quoted as saying.
In the end, however, the Pulitzer board decided that it did not have enough grounds to annul the award, which was bestowed in 1932.
Professor von Hagen died on Sunday in a hospice facility in Phoenix after an extended illness.