Well Geez, Can We Revoke Julia Roberts' Oscar Too?

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There's a movement afoot to revoke the late Walter Duranty's Pulitzer Prize. Duranty, a reporter for the New York Times and an apologist for Stalin, won his award in 1932 for work one later observer described as a "dull and largely uncritical recitation of Soviet sources"; he subsequently failed to write about the famine that Stalin's policies were unleashing in Ukraine.

Duranty's prize has always been a black mark on the Pulitzers' admittedly less-than-stellar record. But revoking it would be, at best, a gesture as meaningless as Clinton's apology for slavery; at worst, a noxious attempt to rewrite history. The Pulitzer committee once chose to honor a man who didn't recognize that he was living under one of the century's most brutal dictatorships. Seven decades later, that's a decision it should still have to live with.

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  1. Why revoke Julia Roberts’ Oscar? She has been quite good in several movies. Halle Berry is the one who needs to have her Oscar revoked. So overrated.

  2. I disagree that a revocation would be meaningless. Aside from any symbolic worth, it is improbable that many people are familiar with Duranty’s record and, as such, his name may carry more credibility than it should. For the future, no one would be able to cite him as a reputable source if the award were formally revoked.

  3. Volokh says this much better than I can, so here’s the link:

    http://volokh.com/2003_10_19_volokh_archive.html#106693362213104567

    Basically, it’s ridiculous to call this “a noxious attempt to rewrite history” and I’m surprised to see such shoddy reasoning in Reason.

  4. What we have here is a framing contest. I suggest awarding his Pulitzer to Goering for his work as head of the Humane Society. August 28, 1933: “In order that animal torturing shall not continue, I have now stepped in … and will commit to concentration camps those who still think that they can continue to treat animals as inanimate property.” Better late than never.

  5. If the Pulitzer people want to declare that their predecessors made a mistake, that they regret the award, that Duranty was an ass, that’s fine with me. But to “revoke” the award of a long-dead hack, bestowed by judges who are probably equally dead, is to rewrite history. Unless you’ve got a wayback machine, you’re stuck with what was done.

    The division here may be between those of you who take the Pulitzers seriously and therefore see Duranty’s prize as a great injustice, and those of us who think the Pulitzers are pretty silly, and are happy to have these reminders of how screwed up they can get. Besides, as someone else (can’t remember who) once remarked in a different context, to revoke this prize is to suggest that all the others are deserved.

  6. Presumably the history in question is that he got the award. The idea is that that says what the award was worth; and it’s an interesting historical fact. The airbrushing is “As you can see, it’s worth much more today.” Actually people were as smart then as they are now. They should get the chance to revoke future awards, if it’s going to be fair.

    The award follows fashion, would be my gloss of then and now. Volokh has his own ox to grind.

  7. Jesse,

    Wm. F Buckley, the only thing wrong with the corrections in the Times is that they suggest that everything else was correct.

  8. Buckley? Really? For some reason I thought it was a leftist. Well, props to Bill Buckley.

  9. I do not see that it would be rewriting history; rather, it would constitute continuing to make it.

  10. While we’re at it, revoke David McCullough’s prize. John Adams? I think not. And don’t even get me started about his adulation of FDR…

  11. Come on Jesse, don’t you see how fun this could turn out? Once they set pecident, they might just start revoking as many as they hand out and then when the wind shifts reinstating them. This could wind up making the P even more of a joke than it is now, and more importatly a more obviouse joke.

  12. Let’s not forget the effort to get Michael Moore’s Best Documentary Oscar revoked….

  13. I think it is pertinent that Duranty was not just a naive dupe of the Soviets: he actively suppressed the facts regarding the famine although he knew the truth:

    Duranty, a Pulitzer Prize winner, no less, was keeping count ? in the autumn of 1933 he is recorded as having told the British Embassy that ten million had died.

    So, it’s not just an issue of revoking an undeserved prize, but of recognizing him as a willing apologist for mass murder.

  14. Warren, how can the Pulitzer possibly become more of a joke than it is? I mean, they a journalism award to a guy who spent much of his career writing about how humane and progressive Joseph Stalin’s USSR was. There’s really nowhere to go but up.

    Revoking the Pulitzer from Duranty is like revoking the Bancroft Prize from Michael Bellesiles. Both men used outright fraud and deception to further their careers, and were accidentally rewarded for it by gullible and sympathetic judges. The Pulitzer is meant to recognize exceptionally meritorious journalism, just as the Bancroft prize is meant to recognize exceptionally meritorious work in the field of history. Revoking it isn’t rewriting history; it’s acknowledging that the recipients were utterly undeserving.

  15. BTW Jesse
    “Rebels on the air” does not appear to be inside searchable on amazon. WTF!? What’s with you Reason authors huh? Efin-eh you got to stupid IMHO to be so annal about your intelectual property rights to keep you work from being sampled on amazon. I mean seriously, what’s up with that?

  16. I hope they aren’t thinking of yanking Arafat’s Nobel Peace Prize as well.

  17. Dan: At least with the Bancroft Prize, the judges who made the lousy decision are still around to express their regret. Revoking a 70-year-old award feels a bit like voting to void the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant.

    Warren: Don’t talk to me about it, bug NYU Press. If it were up to me, you could read the whole book online with your eyes closed and both hands tied behind your back. And it would win a Pulitzer Prize!

  18. Warren, you can’t be serious about intellectual property paranoia. This is the same magazine that publishes the text of their issues ONLINE. For FREE.

  19. Ahhh the evil publisher… should’ve known.
    Thanks ;^)

  20. tievsky

    As Jesse Walker pointed out they yanked the Bancroft Prize from Michael Bellesiles.

    However GC advocates still quote his book as a “reputable source”. Indeed some judge cited it in a decision recently. (anyone remember? I’m too lazy to google).

    Of course, anyone who thinks Joe Stalin was a nice guy won’t get much attention today anyway.

  21. As for JR’s oscar, who gives a fuck? Did anyone notice that Jack Elam died? Now I think of the giants, the character actors who carried the vehicles that took mediocraties to stardom.

  22. The Pulitzer committee once chose to honor a man who didn’t recognize that he was living under one of the century’s most brutal dictatorships. Seven decades later, that’s a decision it should still have to live with.

    Why? Do you have any reason to believe the committee knew it was making that mistake?

    They didn’t have CNN back then, ya know. Hell, we didn’t know much about the Gulag until Solzhenitsyn.

  23. Jesse, are you familiar at all with the University of Michigan basketball scandal? Basically the team violated a whole lot of NCAA rules in the 1990s and so as a self-imposed punishment it retroactively “forfeited” five years worth of games, including Big 10 championships and Final Four appearances.

    (See http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/mensbasketball/bigten/2002-11-07-michigan_x.htm )

    Now this may or may not have been an appropriate thing for a university to do, but I’d see revoking the Pulitzer as far more similar to this than to taking Julia Roberts’s Oscar away.

    (Or you could skip the non-Pulitzer metaphors entirely and compare Duranty to Janet Cook. Cook made a story up; Duranty reporting, by contrast, contained such gross *omissions* that the effect worse even worse.)

  24. Matt: I’m a Michigan alum. I’m very familiar with the scandal. It’s possible that it’s coloring my opinion of this issue. :>

    Alkali: Obviously they didn’t know the extent of his or Stalin’s transgressions. Indeed, for both Duranty and Stalin the worst years were ahead. But Duranty was an essentially pro-Soviet reporter at a time when plenty of people, not all of them conservatives, were spreading the word about the direction that regime had taken. And he was being honored for his reporting from the Soviet Union.

  25. It’s a token gesture. Announcing you may rewrite history before you actually do it is a poor strategy; you’re not rewriting anything, just adding an asterisk.

  26. Just to echo a couple comments above,

    “[ . . . ] a man who didn’t recognize that he was living under one of the century’s most brutal dictatorships”

    misstates the facts. Duranty was not a dupe; he knew exactly what was really going on and deliberately falsified it. It’s true that his greatest crime was his reportage of the Ukrainian famine, which came after the Pulitzer. But the announcement of the Pulitzer praised his “dispassionate, interpretive reporting,” his “impartiality,” his “sound judgment” . . . his dispatches were hailed as “excellent examples of the best type of correspondence.”

    If a Nobel-winning scientist were later found to have falsified his results, would the award be allowed to stand? I doubt it.

    I say asterisk it.

  27. Sorry, that should be ” [ . . . ] the best type of *foreign* correspndence.” Proofread, dammit.

  28. “Correspondence.” With two “o’s.” Jeez.

  29. I meant that his dispatches didn’t recognize it, Michelle. Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

    Bruce: I’m not sure how I feel (or whether I care) about the Cooke prize. But as with Michael Bellesisles, there’s a substantial difference between her case and Duranty’s: she was still alive when her award was revoked, and at least some of the people who decided to give her the prize also made the decision to take it back.

    (Specifically: Cooke’s Pulitzer was returned less than a year after it was granted, and the committee then awarded it to someone else. I don’t think anyone’s proposing to do something like that this time.)

  30. As one of Stalin’s lackeys (Khatayevich) said during the initial stages of de-collectivization in support of Stalin’s plan, this was “no time for squeamishness or rotten sentimentality.” Of course when this ended up in disaster, Stalin was more than willing to throw aside his own responsibility and claim that the people implementing it were “dizzy with success.”

    In the same speech, Khatayevich went onto say:

    “Beat down the kulak agent wherever he raises his head. It?s war- it?s them or us! The last decayed remnant of capitalist farming must be wiped out at any cost!?Your job is to get the grain at any price. Pump it out of them, wherever it is hidden?Don?t be afraid of taking extreme measures. The Party stands four-square behind you. Comrade Stalin expects it of you.”

  31. Dan: At least with the Bancroft Prize, the judges who made the lousy decision are still around to express their regret.

    Hypothetical scenario: a man is sentenced to life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Cut to thirty years later — the judge, jury, and prosecuting attorney have all coincidentally died of old age or disease. New evidence comes to light proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the man’s innocent. Should we leave him in prison, just because the folks who sent him there are dead?

    Obviously the Pulitzer is much less important than a man’s life. But the moral principle holds — it is never too late to acknowledge, and (if possible) to correct, a past wrongdoing. Rescinding Duranty’s award is the right thing to do. He doesn’t deserve it, and even though the judges didn’t know that (at least, I *hope* the judges weren’t all actively pro-Soviet too), today we do. Even if the only minor benefit is that today’s remaining Communist apologists will no longer be able to cite a Pulitzer award winner’s writings as evidence that life in the USSR was happy and good.

  32. I have no particular strong feelings about revoking the Pulitzer, but would not be sorry if it happened. (Like others here, that prize means little to me.) It would, however, draw attention to some of the horrific crimes of complicity engaged in by the far left in the West, so I could not cry. A very good read, to show how morally bankrupt Duranty was, and that he knew what he was doing (he felt Stalin had to break eggs to make omelets, ignoring that human beings are not chicken egs), is S.J. Taylor’s “Stalin’s Apologist: Walter Duranty, the New York Times’s Man in Moscow.”

  33. You’re right to cite the “silliness” of some of the Pulitzer citations, other issues aside. One such I’m particularly familiar with is the Pulitzer granted to the Akron Beacon Journal during the 1980s for coverage of the attempted hsotile takeover of Goodyear by Sir James Goldsmith. I lived next door to Akron then, and the coverage in question consisted entirely of the paper’s brazen shilling on behalf of then-present Goodyear management.

  34. It?s just a complicated game

  35. While we’re at it, we need to revoke Bill O’Reilly’s Peabody Award.

    What do you mean he didn’t win one?

  36. When Janet Cook’s Pulitzer Prize was revoked, was that also rewriting history?

  37. Idi Amin is up for a Nobel Prize — posthumously. When it happens, Uncle Milty will be turning his in.

  38. Technically speaking, Janet Cooke’s Pulitzer Prize was not revoked–she gave it up.

  39. “Of course, anyone who thinks Joe Stalin was a nice guy won’t get much attention today anyway.”

    Harry Truman once said he like Stalin, personally.

  40. Stalin was just your average run of the mill dictator, hell bent on ruling with an IRON FIST.
    He was no different than Idi Amin in Uganda, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, or Milosovec. Unfortunately Stalin didn’t meet his end as the last two will. If there is any justice in this world. !!!!!!

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