Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Former NY Times Reporter: '93 Pulitzer Should be Revoked

By Sherrie Gossett Staff Writer
March 22, 2006

Washington ( - Castigating the press for "journalistic crimes" committed during its reporting on the Balkans wars of the 1990s, retired New York Times reporter David Binder claims the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting awarded to both the Times and New York's Newsday "should, in all fairness and honesty, be revoked."

Binder was speaking at a press conference for the release of a new book criticizing the war reporting. Binder wrote the foreword to the book by Peter Brock, titled "Media Cleansing: Dirty Reporting, Journalism and Tragedy in Yugoslavia."

"What we're looking at here is a series catalogued by Peter Brock of journalistic crimes," said Binder. Before mentioning the reporting of the Times' John F. Burns and Newsday's Roy Gutman, Binder evoked the memory of what he called Walter Duranty's "phony reporting" for the New York Times in the 1930s as an example of an undeserved Pulitzer. Duranty was criticized for having been too deferential to Joseph Stalin and his plan to industrialize the Soviet Union.

"What Peter [Brock] has unraveled and disclosed in this book involves at least a couple of Pulitzer prizes that should in all fairness and honesty be revoked." Binder confirmed to Cybercast News Service that he was referring to the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting, awarded to Burns of the New York Times and Gutman of Newsday for their reporting in the Balkans. Brock devotes considerable space in his book to criticizing the reporting of Burns and Gutman.

Binder noted that the Times has gone through "agony" in recent years over the "terrible professional behavior of its staff members" and with "what has gone on under its masthead."

"[E]xposure is the best remedy," said Binder.

"I think Peter Brock's book helps a great deal to confront these egregious crimes of journalism. I think it should be shoved under the noses of editors all across the press, at least the editors who are dealing with foreign news ..." said Binder.

The Pulitzer Board at first voted to award the prize solely to Gutman, according to Binder. "The New York Times got so agitated that John Burns was passed over that they started lobbying the board. The Pulitzer is an extremely political award in many if not all cases. There are all kinds of backstage manipulations that go on."

The centerpiece of Burns' Pulitzer entry was a seven-hour interview with a captured Bosnian Serb -- Borislav Herak -- who in graphic statements to Burns, confessed to dozens of murders, including eight involving rape. Burns' Nov. 27, 1992, article was described by the New York Times as offering "insight into the way thousands of others have died in Bosnia."

However, more than three years after the publication of Burns' story, the Times on Jan. 31, 1996, described Herak as "slightly retarded" and reported that Herak had retracted his confession and claimed it had been beaten out of him by guards.

"I was tortured, forced to confess," said Herak. By that time his testimony already had been used to convict Sretko Damjanovic for the killing of two Muslim brothers who were later found alive. Both Herak and Damjanovic, who also said he had been "tortured" into providing a false confession, were sentenced to death by firing squad.

Author Peter Brock described Burns' interview with Herak as "a manipulated confession and interrogation in which Burns was the key participant." Brock faults Burns for failing to tell readers that the interview took place with a Sarajevo video production crew present and that "interrogations were conducted by [government] investigators and by Sarajevo film director Ademir Kenovic."

He also argues that "vital pieces" of Herak's story were missing. "[T]here was no evidence, corpses or victims, or eyewitnesses to implicate Herak, except for hearsay from Bosnian government 'investigators,'" Brock writes.

Brock also faults Newsday's Roy Gutman for being unduly influenced by government propagandists including one source who operated under four different aliases. Gutman was criticized for not exercising enough scrutiny before repeating allegations of atrocities and statistics of the dead and tortured.

Gutman won his Pulitzer partly for "electrifying stories about 'concentration camps'," notes Brock, who criticizes the reporter for the prominence of "hearsay" and "double hearsay" in his stories, as well as gratuitous use of the language of the Nazi Holocaust.

Gutman's first five stories about the alleged Omarska concentration camp in Bosnia were actually filed from Zagreb, in Croatia, Brock complains. It was Gutman's sixth story on the subject that finally carried an Omarska dateline, Brock wrote, and that was after the prison had been shut down.

Both Binder and Brock accuse the press of falling into "pack journalism" and playing the role of "co-belligerent." The reliance on Croat and Bosnian Muslim propaganda resulted in distorted reporting that exaggerated the Serb role in the three-sided conflict and ignored ethnic cleansing of Serbs, according to Binder and Brock.

Brock went so far as to say the $3,000 Pulitzer Prize money awarded to Burns and Gutman was "blood money."

"What we're talking about in terms of what I call crimes of journalism was only ten years ago," said Binder. "It wasn't so long ago that these, I think revolting things, were happening -- revolting bias, revolting suppression of other sides of the story."

During his recent appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Binder said it would take "at least a decade" before historians "clear out that wretched underbrush of lies and concoctions" from "despicable" politicians "like Richard Holbrooke," an international negotiator during the administration of former President Bill Clinton and "certainly the journalists" criticized in Brock's book. The rise of blogs and media watchdog groups offers a "corrective" for the public now, Binder contended.

In his call for the revocation of the Pulitzer Prize Peter Brock said that "in all fairness, if [the Pulitzer board] is not going to revoke the prize, they ought to give Janet Cooke's Pulitzer back." Cooke was a Washington Post reporter who won a Pulitzer for a fabricated 1980 story about an eight-year old heroin addict.

(Contributed by a Poster)\SpecialReports\archive\200603\SPE20060322a.htm


Anonymous said...

This would be a wonerful article to get into the American press.Is it possible that the Serb newspaper could reprint this?Thank you Se5rbblog for the truth for a change!!!! said...

Actually the real thanks belomgs to CNS news and the Anonymous poster who brought it to our attention.

The Serb media doesn't need this story as much as the American media does.

Please forward a copy of the story with the CNS link to every major news outlet you can think of. With enough emails from viewers and readers, they can't ignore it.

As of this moment, it appears that the NYT and Newsday, who CNS has given a chance to respond, is simply ignoring it. Don't let them get away this! Email this to everyone you can think of! Don't let them off the hook!