Retaining a Stalinist's Stained Pulitzer - October 23, 2003 -

Times Watch for October 23, 2003

Retaining a Stalinist's Stained Pulitzer

Giving back Stalinist apologist and Times reporter Walter Duranty's 1932 Pulitzer Prize may itself evoke the "Stalinist practice to airbrush purged figures out of official records and histories," says publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., and the idea gives executive editor Bill Keller "the creeps," reports Jacques Steinberg in Thursday's Times. (Note: Yesterday's New York Sun somehow managed to scoop the Times on this rather Times-centric story).

Steinberg notes a consultant's report: "In his report to The Times, Professor von Hagen described the coverage for which Mr. Duranty won the Pulitzer-his writing in 1931, a year before the onset of the famine-as a 'dull and largely uncritical recitation of Soviet sources.' That lack of balance and uncritical acceptance of the Soviet self-justification for its cruel and wasteful regime,' the professor wrote, 'was a disservice to the American readers of The New York Times and the liberal values they subscribe to and to the historical experience of the peoples of the Russian and Soviet empires and their struggle for a better life.'"

Steinberg sums up a cover letter Sulzberger wrote to accompany von Hagen's report: "While careful to advise the board that the newspaper would "respect" its decision on whether to rescind the award, Mr. Sulzberger asked the board to consider two things. First, he wrote, such an action might evoke the 'Stalinist practice to airbrush purged figures out of official records and histories.' He also wrote of his fear that 'the board would be setting a precedent for revisiting its judgments over many decades.'"

Executive editor Bill Keller is on the same page as Sulzberger: "In an interview last night, Bill Keller, the newspaper's executive editor, said he concurred with Mr. Sulzberger. 'It's absolutely true that the work Duranty did, at least as much of it as I've read, was credulous, uncritical parroting of propaganda,' said Mr. Keller, who covered the Soviet Union for The Times from 1986 to 1991. And yet, Mr. Keller added, 'As someone who spent time in the Soviet Union while it still existed, the notion of airbrushing history kind of gives me the creeps.'"

For the rest of the paper's reaction to the Duranty report, click here.

Walter Duranty | Bill Keller | Pulitzer Prize | Arthur Sulzberger

Bad News in Baghdad

Thursday's report from Baghdad by Ian Fisher is headlined "For Hussein's Ouster, Many Thanks, But Iraqis Are Expecting More." Well, Fisher certainly expects a lot: "With Mr. Hussein still at large, with American soldiers dying here almost every day, with no unconventional weapons found, with America's allies reluctant to help, many supporters now justify the war on the grounds that Iraqis are better off and the nation is on the road to stability. Stability-in the sense of an absence of attacks on Americans and Iraqis-appears a long way off. But in dozens of recent interviews in Baghdad with ordinary Iraqis, it was clear that there is a reservoir of good will toward Americans in Iraq, or at least a weary expectation that they will, in the end, leave Iraq better than they found it. But there are also clear limits to this good will."

After noting the Gallup poll that shows most Iraqis want U.S. troops to stay despite hardships, Fisher concludes: "The central question-for now unanswerable-is which way the widespread Iraqi ambivalence will tilt over that year as Iraqis weigh the cost of violence and killing against the benefits of democracy and American-style capitalism." Did Fisher miss the widespread "violence and killing" (and rape and torture) that took place in Iraq under Saddam Hussein?

For the rest of Ian Fisher's report from Baghdad, click here.

Ian Fisher | Iraq War

Looking On the Dark Side

"Economic Boom in Albania Widens Gulf Between Rich and Poor." - Headline to a Nicholas Wood article on Albania's post-Communist struggles with crime.

Keeping Terri Schiavo Alive a "Constitutional Crisis"

Adam Liptak's story Thursday on Terri Schiavo, "In Florida Right-to-Die Case, Legislation That Puts the Constitution at Issue," manages to quote not a single source who agrees with the emergency law passed by the Florida legislature that will keep brain-damaged Ms. Schiavo alive. Liptak sees a constitutional crisis instead: "In enacting a tightly focused, one-time-only law that effectively reversed a series of court decisions allowing a Florida man to withdraw life support from his brain-damaged wife, the Florida Legislature has created a constitutional crisis, legal scholars said yesterday.

One of the five (!) law professors Liptak quotes in opposition to the decision is unlabeled liberal activist lawyer Laurence Tribe, who "said the central problem is that the law violates Mrs. Schiavo's rights. 'Because the state is obviously not trying to determine what she wanted or would have wanted,' Professor Tribe said, 'but rather is deciding what should happen, it fundamentally violates her right to bodily integrity.'

Liptak then quotes Florida State law professor Steven G. Gey: 'The statute tells the governor that he does not have to enforce judicial decisions,' he said. 'That's sort of George Wallace territory.' In the 1950's and 1960's, Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama and other Southern officials defied federal court orders concerning school desegregation and protest marches. The situation in Florida is not precisely analogous, because the element of state's rights is absent." The Times thus maintains its dishonorable habit of comparing any disagreeable decision made in a Southern state to the segregationist Wallace.

And was Gov. Jeb Bush's prodding of the Florida state legislature really so out of line? As columnist Cal Thomas notes: "The law gives all governors unrestricted power to stay executions, commute sentences and even pardon convicted felons. If the law can do that for the guilty, why shouldn't a governor have the power to preserve the lives of the innocent?"

For the rest of Liptak's story on Terri Schiavo, click here.

Health Care | Adam Liptak | Religion | Right-to-Die | Terri Schiavo

Gov. Bush's "Ghoulish Journey" to Save Terri Schiavo

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is taken to task on the Times editorial page Thursday for preserving brain-damaged Terri Schiavo's life: "Drawing the line between life and death is one of society's most challenging tasks. Florida's courts discharged that duty admirably when they ruled that Terri Schiavo, who has been in a vegetative state for 13 years, should be allowed to die. But the State Legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush have mocked the courts' careful deliberations and embarked on a ghoulish medical journey by directing that her feeding resume. The courts should reaffirm Ms. Schiavo's right to die in peace."

Apparently the Times finds nothing at all ghoulish in letting a brain-damaged woman starve to death.

"The key legal question, as the Supreme Court recognized in a landmark 1990 case, was whether Ms. Schiavo would want to be kept alive if her views could be known. The Florida courts found clear and convincing evidence that she would want the life-prolonging measures stopped."

Yet the Times editorial neglects to cite any of this "evidence." Schiavo left no living will before she collapsed in 1990, so her wishes were never written down. The "evidence" seems to rest on the words of her husband Michael Schiavo, who claims his wife Terri once told him she never wanted to be kept alive artificially.

"The Florida Legislature, prodded by the religious right, hastily passed a law authorizing the governor to order the feeding of patients in a vegetative state who lacked living wills. Governor Bush signed the law, so six days after Ms. Schiavo had stopped getting food and water, she was again receiving fluids and nourishment yesterday. The new law infringes the right to die that the Supreme Court recognized in 1990."

Actually, the "right-to-life" coalition supporting Schiavo is far broader than religious conservatives; several disability activist groups, including Not Dead Yet, have filed friend of the court briefs in support (The groups picture doesn't exactly fit the "religious right" stereotype.) Still, if the Times wants to "blame" the religious right for keeping Terry Schiavo alive, then Times Watch imagines it's a cross the "religious right" can bear.

For the rest of the Times editorial endorsing Terri Schiavo's "right to die," click here.

Editorial | Health Care | Religion | Right-to-Die | Terri Schiavo