I first heard about Kristof when he became the New York Times’ Tokyo bureau chief. I was living in Japan at the time and read an interview with him and his wife and colleague, Sheryl WuDunn, in the Japan Times. He now writes a biweekly column for the Times about humanitarian crises around the world, frequently traveling from Africa to Asia in his quest to uncover and highlight some of the most egregious acts man has ever committed against his fellow human beings.
Yeah, he’s my hero. In an interview with Guernica magazine, he briefly touches on the challenges of balancing his responsibilities as a journalist with that of being a private citizen who cares about people. When is it appropriate to “cross the line” between being a reporter and being an activist? If you read any of his columns over the last few years, you’ll quickly realize that Kristof doesn’t appear too bothered by this delicate balance. He’s written passionately about the crisis in Darfur and the sex-slave trade in Cambodia. He’s also produced videos about his work, including a response to reader questions about how they can help out with some of the issues he addresses in his columns. He’s not just filing the facts; he’s also vocal about the need for Americans — both ordinary citizens and our political leaders — to become more personally involved in some of the most horrifying crises facing our world today..
I’d love to see my own little column in the Free Press do just that. I’ve always positioned myself firmly in the left side of the political spectrum and have never apologized for doing so in my column. Still, the idea of using the column as a platform for highlighting issues that are otherwise ignored by the mainstream media appeals to me. Not that the issues I tackle (immigration, feminism, minority rights, etc.) are necessarily under-the-radar, but I am tired of seeing the same five people speaking on behalf of millions. Especially if those same five people are the same five white, privileged people.
Yeah, Kristof is a white, privileged journalist. (His wife, WuDunn, recently left the Times to become a wealth advisor at Goldman Sachs. Yeah, that Goldman Sachs. So no, they’re not doing too badly.) But I like that his columns are reminiscent of the articles that Mariane Pearl is writing for Glamour magazine. Pearl profiles a prominent woman activist in each of various countries around the world, and her columns are decidedly liberal and activist in tone, as befitting her subjects. Kristof does the same, albeit in a much larger forum, with an even greater and more diverse audience than Pearl commands. It’s a sad fact of life that the privileged classes are more likely to listen to a voice if it belongs to one of their own, but at least that voice is committed to speaking out about the forgotten majority. The un-privileged, if you will.