Kristof’s moralistic journalism was often full of holes


New York Times columnist and two-time Pulitzer Prize–winner Nicholas Kristof has ended a four-decade career of globe-trotting and covering poverty, war and strife. He is choosing to return to his native Oregon, where he grew up on a farm, with an eye toward running for governor as a Democrat (New York Times, 10/14/21).

In his formal announcement, he vowed to tackle “unaffordable housing, weak mental health support and inadequate education” (Oregonian, 10/27/21). In his last column (New York Times, 10/28/21), Kristof cited the bravery of pro-democracy activists he has covered the world over as inspiration to address the social problems he sees festering in his home state: “I’m bucking the journalistic impulse to stay on the sidelines because my heart aches at what classmates have endured,” he said. He has decided to rise above the supposed disinterest of journalism, he wrote: “It feels like the right moment to move from covering problems to trying to fix them.”

It’s indisputable that Kristof stands out in the world of opinion journalism; few with his position have fused commentary with on-the-ground reporting and outright activism. Columnists aren’t expected to do reporting, and the title can be seen as a late-career relief from having to go places and interview regular people. Some at the Times are expected to be more like public intellectuals, like Paul Krugman, commenting on the news rather than uncovering news in the field. Or it’s a chance to advocate for a pet political cause without having to put real energy into doing anything about it. But there is no doubt Kristof feels strongly about injustice, as demonstrated by the 2006 Pulitzer he won writing about the conflict in Darfur.

And yet his moral compass has sometimes led him astray. Maybe he thinks he can rise above the fray and balance budgets, battle the corporate interests, and grapple with the state’s out-of-control police and fascist street mobilizing. But his journalistic record leaves something to ponder.

‘A full-on re-evaluation’

Newsweek (5/21/14) cited a column by Nicholas Kristof (New York Times, 1/3/09) that presented a false sex-trafficking narrative.

The most glaring and memorable example of this comes from one of Kristof’s pet issues: battling sex trafficking in Southeast Asia. When it was exposed  that Cambodian activist Somaly Mam, whom Kristof not only lauded but used as a source, had fabricated much of her life story (Newsweek, 5/21/14), it threw his reporting, advocacy and commentary on the subject into question.

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting for more

Comments are closed.