The New York Times reported yesterday that a Columbia University history professor hired by the paper to make an independent assessment of the coverage of one of its correspondents in the Soviet Union during the 1930s said that the Pulitzer Prize the reporter received should be rescinded because of his "lack of balance" in covering Stalin's government.
The Times had asked the professor, Mark von Hagen, to examine the coverage of the correspondent, Walter Duranty, specifically for his "failure to report on a famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933."
According 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."
Well, if the standard is "dull and largely uncritical recitation of" official sources, then maybe the Times should just close up shop.
Let's take one example: the 1967 Israeli military attack on the USS Liberty that killed 34 American crew members. Both the government of Israel and the government of the United States continue to claim that the Israeli bombardment of the U.S. ship was a "tragic mistake."
There was a press conference on Capitol Hill yesterday where former high-ranking U.S. government officials released a report that found that Israel "committed acts of murder against American servicemen and an act of war against the United States" when it deliberately attacked the USS Liberty.
Why would Israel want to deliberately sink a U.S. ship? One reason put forth by the Commission: Sink the ship, and blame Egypt -- with the hope of drawing the United States into the 1967 war.
In addition, the chief attorney to the original 1967 Navy Court of Inquiry said in a sworn affidavit that then-President Johnson and then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered the Court of Inquiry to cover up the attack by presenting it as a mistake.
Admiral Thomas Moorer, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, headed the independent commission of inquiry that released the report yesterday.
"The men of the USS Liberty were representing the U.S. They were attacked for over two hours by Israeli Air Force and Navy units with 70 percent American casualties and the eventual loss of our best intelligence ship," Moorer said. "These sailors and marines were entitled to our best defense. We gave them no defense. The findings of this commission are irrefutable. Every other attack on a ship in our history has been investigated by our Congress except this one."
"Nor has Congress ever investigated the recall by the White House of U.S. Navy aircraft sent to rescue the Liberty while the ship was still under attack."
Moorer called the Johnson White House's cancellation of the Navy's attempt to rescue the Liberty "the most disgraceful thing I have witnessed in my entire military career."
The major newspapers, including the New York Times, did not mention Moorer or his report. Typical of the Times' reporting on this issue is its most recent entry July 10, 2003, when it ran an AP story reporting that "newly declassified transcripts back up Israel's claim that its attack on an American spy ship during the 1967 Middle East war was an accident." The AP dispatch quotes a Florida Judge, A. Jay Cristol.
It was Mr. Cristol's work that led the Navy attorney of the official inquiry to go public after almost four decades of silence.
In his sworn affidavit, Captain Ward Boston, Counsel to the original 1967 U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry's investigation into the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, says the attack was deliberate but that the Court was ordered to cover it up by the Johnson White House.
"For more than 30 years I have remained silent on the topic of the USS Liberty. I am a military man and when orders come in from the Secretary of Defense and President of the United States, I follow them," Boston said.
Boston said that Cristol's book forced him out of the closet. The book, The Liberty Incident, "twists the facts and misrepresents the views of those of us who investigated the attack. . Contrary to the misinformation presented by Cristol and others, it is important for the American people to know that it is clear that Israel is responsible for deliberately attacking an American ship and murdering American sailors."
On the issue of the USS Liberty, it can be said that the New York Times' reporting has been a "dull and largely uncritical recitation of" official sources.
They'll win no Pulitzer on this one -- so they won't have to give it back.