Nicholas Kristof


Film Review: Half the Sky is half humanitarian heroics, half celebrity ego trip | 

Cross-posted from Seattle Globalist: A review of Half the Sky, a PBS film celebrated for championing women’s empowerment worldwide. This reviewer says the celebrities hurt this celebration.

By Cyan James



Actress Olivia Wilde hangs at the Umoja Women’s Village in Kenya as part of Half the Sky

Newsflash: being a woman is surreal.

Last night I was supposed to be at the gym. So I could look slimmer and prettier or something. But I had a headache. So I stayed on the couch, stumbled across human dolls on Facebook (seriously?!), and tuned in to the much-trumpeted nationwide premier of Half the Sky.

The documentary sprung from the book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, carrying on the crusade against violence, discrimination, and lack of education visited upon women around the world.

These aren’t stories about women trying to lose weight and look prettier. They’re not vying for attention via extreme surgery. They’re not beating down Harvard’s doors, or scrambling for the next rung in the corporate ladder.

They’re just trying to take their next breath.

Kristof and his film crew whisk us through a worldwide tour of struggling women in struggling countries. From Sierra Leone to Vietnam, we’re introduced to a heartbreaking parade of teenage girls, each one fighting her very culture for a viable life, often with enough grace and forgiveness to keep smiling.

Continue reading

A not-so-friendly assessment of Nick Kristof’s portraits of the poor | 

New York Times

Many of us depend upon the New York Times’ Nick Kristof’s compelling and heartfelt columns to gain perspective on the many forms of inequity and tragedy experienced by the poor and disenfranchised around the world.

But some feel Kristof tends to over-simplify, or even caricaturize, these people and their problems. Here’s one such (extensive) view put forth by Elliott Prasse-Freeman in The New Enquiry:

Writes Prasse-Freeman:

Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times journalist, is often hailed as a defender of the downtrodden, courageously reporting those man-made events that “shock the conscience.”

Kristof’s ability to frame and deliver the world’s horrors to millions—in a way that keeps those millions coming back for more—seemingly should make him worthy of the hero worship that has attended his rise. Indeed, what is worse than a privileged bourgeois population that knows nothing of the way the other half (or rather the other 99 percent) lives?

But, Prasse-Freeman goes on, the “devil is in the details” and there are some details that Kristof tends to always leave out of his stories that may be doing more harm than good. Read on.


Happy Thanksgiving: Two thought-leaders on things getting better | 

Flickr, ~Sage~

Thanksgiving tends to produce a standard stock (schlock?) of stories that fit the holiday theme and also appear to be produced based on the assumption nobody actually reads them.

Stories about turkeys, shopping, hunger, obesity, the wackiness of American family life or maybe the pilgrims. You can usually guess what they say without even reading them.

But here are two Thanksgiving articles that I think are well worth reading, both of them noting that we should give thanks that the world is getting better.

Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times asks Are we getting nicer? Yes we are, Kristof says:

It’s pretty easy to conclude that the world is spinning down the toilet.

So let me be contrary and offer a reason to be grateful this Thanksgiving. Despite the gloomy mood, the historical backdrop is stunning progress in human decency over recent centuries.War is declining, and humanity is becoming less violent, less racist and less sexist — and this moral progress has accelerated in recent decades. To put it bluntly, we humans seem to be getting nicer.

Kristof then goes on to cite evidence of increasing amounts of niceness.

Over at Foreign Policy magazine, Charles Kenny (author of the book Getting Better) similarly suggests we should all be Counting our blessings. Says Kenny:

It’s been a tough year, and one in which a lot of people around the world might be struggling to find things to be thankful for. In the United States, unemployment remains stubbornly high, growth stubbornly low, and good sense on Capitol Hill stubbornly absent. European debt, meanwhile, looks about as secure as a Las Vegas mortgage. But look more broadly at the state of the world and there’s a lot going right — so give that thanks and pass the gravy.

Kenny then goes on to list 10 facts (the blogosphere likes lists, especially lists of 10, however arbitrary they may be) that demonstrate the world, overall, is on an upswing.

He begins by noting the increased amount of vegetarianism, a trend turkeys — if not turkey farmers — can also celebrate.

“Amateur aid” and a close look at One DIY’s Wages | 

You may recall the flap caused by Nicholas Kristof‘s article in the New York Times about “Do-it-Yourself” foreign aid — about individuals and small groups trying to make the world a better place, on their own.

Some of those DIYers, or “amateur aid” organizations, will be among the participants at the Global Washington annual conference, which begins today on the Microsoft campus and, as it turns out, featured Kristof as the keynote speaker for its inaugural meeting last year.

One of those celebrated in Kristof’s article was a Seattle organization, One Day’s Wages. It’s operated by the pastor of Quest Church, Eugene Cho, and his wife Minhee. Here’s their video:

As the video says, the Chos created One Day’s Wages (ODW) in 2009 when they decided to donate their $68,000 annual income to “fighting extreme global poverty.” This dramatic move prompted local media attention, and the Chos’ non-profit has since raised about half a million dollars, to be distributed to select causes.

Sounds good, but the problem with these kind of DIY humanitarian organizations, critics say, is that they can end up doing more harm than good. Problems of poverty are often more complex than they appear. And these small organizations are seldom adequately transparent or accountable. Continue reading

More reactions to NYT’s Kristof DIY foreign aid idea | 

Journalists are always looking to stir up discussions and Nick Kristof certainly has caused a stir with his celebration of individual efforts in development, or as he called it DIY foreign aid.

I posted last week to refer readers to Dave Algoso’s article in Foreign Policy in which Algoso took the ubiquitous New York Times columnist to task for being simplistic and potentially harmful. Foreign aid, Algoso said, could be made much worse by a Do-It-Yourself revolution.

For those interested in the ongoing debate, see this link at Good Intentions Are Not Enough.

Foreign Policy: Nick Kristof is wrong | 

Nick Kristof of the New York Times recently wrote a popular article about individuals launching humanitarian efforts that he celebrated as the “D.I.Y. Foreign Aid Revolution.”

The humanitarians he profiled (most were women … Kristof’s thesis is that women are more focused on helping the most vulnerable, which are often women) were an impressive lot. One was a Seattle couple, Eugene and Minhee Cho, who ask people to donate one day’s wages to help fund certain causes they vet and select.

Many of my friends said they found the article inspiring and encouraging. As Kristof put it:

“It’s striking that the most innovative activists aren’t necessarily the ones with the most resources, or the best tools…. Rather, what often happens is that those best positioned to take action look the other way, and then the initiative is taken by (these lone activists) of the world, who are fueled by some combustible mix of indignation and vision.”

All of these efforts are admirable, but something about this DIY aid idea bothered me. Continue reading