Supplemental: Who in the world is Emma Brown?


Concerning the ongoing promulgation of our many fake facts:
Emma Brown is an education reporter for the Washington Post.

It’s hard to believe how bad an education reporter she is. And what about her unnamed editors? What role do they play in this mess?

We refer to Brown’s latest bungled news report. It stretches across the top of page B1 in today’s hard-copy Post—the first page in the paper’s Metro section.

This report helps answer an important question: Where do bogus facts come from? Headline included, this is the way Brown starts:
BROWN (2/28/15): Suburbs’ increasing poverty a challenge for schools

The District and dozens of other city centers across the country are becoming younger, more affluent and better educated while poverty rates in inner suburbs are rising, according to a study from the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

The study is based on an analysis of demographic changes in 66 cities between 1990 and 2012. It follows research that has shown a rise in suburban poverty, including a recent Brookings Institution study that found that more Americans are living in poverty in the suburbs than in rural or urban areas.

This sweeping demographic shift has clear implications for public schools in the Washington area and nationwide. Student populations are changing in traditionally high-performing suburban school systems, and superintendents and school board members are wrestling with how to adequately serve the rising number of poor children who come to class with far more needs than their affluent peers.

“This is the new reality in America,” said Joshua P. Starr, the newly departed superintendent of the Montgomery County school system, which, despite its reputation as a tony suburb of the nation’s capital, has more low-income students than the District of Columbia. The amount eligible for free and reduced-price meals, a rough proxy for poverty, has risen from 29 percent to 35 percent just since 2009.
That passage strings together a bunch of claims, many of which may be accurate, at least on a technical basis.

Example: Does “the Montgomery County school system” actually have “more low-income students than the District of Columbia?”

Maybe! The Montgomery County Public Schools is one of the nation’s largest school systems. That said, the DC Public Schools reports that 76 percent of its students received free or reduced-price lunch last year.

According to the passage above, the corresponding number in Montgomery County is 35 percent. And according to our statistical bureau, that would be a whole lot “less” than 76 percent!

Whatever! We were mainly struck today by Brown’s continued insistence on a claim that is basically false—the claim that eligibility for free and reduced-price meals is “a rough proxy for poverty.”

At best, that claim is wildly misleading. More sensibly, it should be described as false.

That said, education reporters at the Post seem to adore this bogus claim. For reasons only they can explain, they just keep advancing this claim, along with a group of attendant false facts.

Let's take a look at the record:

Is eligibility for the federal lunch program “a rough proxy for poverty?” Yes it is, in much the way a solid C average is “a rough proxy” for being a straight-A student.

In fact, eligibility for the lunch program extends to families whose incomes are roughly twice the federal poverty rate. And by the way, participation in the program isn’t the same thing as eligibility:

The FBI isn’t called in to monitor this program! There are plenty of kids receiving free or reduced-price lunch who don’t actually qualify for the program, based on their actual family income.

No, Virginia, and Montgomery County! Students don’t have to be living below the poverty line to qualify for the federal lunch program.

Eligibility for the lunch program isn’t a measure of poverty; it isn't anything close. If 35 percent of Montgomery County students are receiving free or reduced-price lunch, then the poverty rate among those students is much lower than that.

There’s nothing confusing about these facts. Surely, everyone at the Washington Post secretly understands them.

But so what? A wide array of pseudo-journalists, mostly on the pseudo-left, are now pretending that participation in the lunch program is a measure of poverty. For unknown reasons, the Washington Post has been leading the way in the promulgation of this latest bogus fact.

For unknown reasons, the Post just won’t stop with this stupid shit. Brown’s incompetence is especially striking, given her academic background.

Brown graduated from Stanford in the year 2000. Two years later, she got an MAT in teaching from the University of Alaska.

In 2009, she got a master’s degree in journalism from Cal Berkeley. She’s been a reporter at the Post more than five years.

By the norms of the society, Brown has received an elite education. But so what? Today, Brown tells readers of the Post that eligibility for the federal lunch program is “a rough proxy for journalism.”

She never tells them just how rough this “proxy” actually is!

As the Post keeps pushing this formulation, it keeps spewing streams of ludicrous fake facts. This includes last month’s ludicrous claim that more than half the nation’s public school students are currently living in poverty.

That claim appeared on the Post’s front page.
Needless to say, it’s balls-out false. For our real-time report, click here.

Editors at the Washington Post keep waving this crap into print. It’s another example of the way fake facts become widely believed.

Can we talk? College students don’t describe their female professors as “bossy.” Also, participation in the federal lunch program isn’t a measure of poverty, “rough” or otherwise.

If memory serves, Tina Turner always “liked it rough.” So do scribes at the Washington Post when it comes to measures of poverty. In the past, bogus factual claims of this type typically came from the pseudo-right. Increasingly, they now come from the pseudo-left, a point we’ll discuss all next week.

Who the heck is Emma Brown? Why is she typing this manifest bullshit?

What role do her editors play in this mess? Does the Post still employ such workers?

WHO IS NICHOLAS KRISTOF: A Dimmesdale, perhaps a Gantry?


Part 4—Self-anointed, racially-nagging light unto the world:
Where do you start with a journalistic problem like Nicholas Kristof?

If memory serves, the problem started in earnest for us with his pimping of the latest feel-good tale about the achievement gap.

Here he was in 2007, stating his newest true belief. Upper-end scribes gain wisdom like this from attendance at too many TED Talks:
KRISTOF (5/1/07): The reality is that paper credentials can't predict who will be an effective teacher...

Yet teachers still vary tremendously in their effectiveness, as the Hamilton Project study found when it examined results in Los Angeles schools. It looked at the 25 percent of teachers who raised their students' test scores the most, and the 25 percent who raised students' scores the least. A student assigned to a class with a teacher in the top 25 percent could expect—after just one year—to be 10 percentile points higher than a similar student with a bottom-tier teacher.

''Moving up (or down) 10 percentile points in one year is a massive impact,'' the authors wrote. ''For some perspective, the black-white achievement gap nationally is roughly 34 percentile points. Therefore, if the effects were to accumulate, having a top-quartile teacher rather than a bottom-quartile teacher four years in a row would be enough to close the black-white test score gap.''
Over the past fifty years, we’ve learned to think poorly of people who toss off bromides like this—bromides which make it sound like it would be oh so easy to erase the achievement gap.

(Typically, these simple-minded stories have blamed the nation’s teachers. At one time, it was because the teachers were racist. Today, it’s because the teachers are selfish and lazy—though no one is lazier than the “journalists” who “analyze” schools in this way.)

Certain types of people never stop with these simple-sounding solutions. We have learned to think of these people as secret haters of children.

In this case, Kristof seemed to have no earthly idea of the many apparent problems with the happy talk he was selling. It just sounded so good!

Back in those days, Michelle Rhee was about to become the rage; Kristof would pimp her greatness. In truth, he didn’t seem to know what the heck he was talking about. But her story just sounded so good!

As of today, Kristof seems to be changing some of his stripes. He may even be sincere in his flips, though we never advise you to bet. Just last week, he said he has changed his mind about labor unions—at least about private labor unions—now that he has learned, at age 55, that corporate tycoons can sometimes be greedy too.

Even as he typed that ludicrous claim, he couldn’t stop bashing the teacher unions. But then, he seems to have little shame and few brains, a fact he made abundantly clear in last Sunday’s column.

Our advice: Whenever you feel inclined to assume that Kristof just has to be sharp, remember the way he got clowned by the latest meme on the web. In that exciting new tale, we were told that college students are inclined to describe their female professors as “bossy.”

It was a clown show of the highest order, but Kristof typed it right up. He presented this latest tribal bullroar under a typical headline:

“Straight Talk for White Men”

We’ll return to that race-nagging headline. But in this instance, our own Dimmesdale’s “straight talk” started with the latest piece of manifest world-class bullshit.

Try to keep that display in mind when your limbic brain starts insisting that Kristof, a former Rhodes scholar, simply has to be sharp. In fact, has anyone ever been conned more often than Kristof has?

He got conned by Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea). He got conned by Somaly Mam.

In the wake of 9/11, someone conned him into writing a series of columns which suggested that Stephen Hatfill was responsible for the anthrax mailings which had the nation upset. Later, he devoted a column to his apology for this rather large error.

(Thanks to an indulgent judge, the Times got dismissed from the lawsuit.)

You could even say that Kristof got conned by Joseph Wilson—that he failed to see that Wilson’s findings on his trip to Niger didn’t refute the “sixteen words” President Bush had actually said. It sometimes can seem that Kristof gets conned a lot, although such things are hard to measure.

Last June, Slate’s Amanda Hess wrote a fascinating analysis piece concerning Kristof’s errors and the method which seems to produce them. We strongly recommend Hess’ piece. For a sensible-seeming response by Kristof, you can just click here.

Does Kristof bungle more often than others? We can’t exactly tell you. But in the past year, his error-strewn work has come to feature a racially-hectoring style. In our view, this politically stupid racial nagging takes his frequently bungled work all the way over the top.

That race-baiting often appears in the headlines which sit atop Kristof’s columns. For one example, consider this headline, which sat atop yesterday’s column about Israeli settlements:

“When Jews Just Don’t Get It”

Tell the truth. What good can come from a race-baiting headline like that?

Full disclosure—no such headline appeared atop yesterday’s column! The sure-footed Kristof would never create such an unfortunate banner.

But other columns repeatedly carry similar race-baiting headlines. Again, this is the headline which sat atop last Sunday’s embarrassing mess:

“Straight Talk for White Men”

On what meat does this egomaniac feed that he keeps churning headlines like that? What fuel drives our own Reverend Dimmesdale, who longs to lecture entire racial groups?

“Straight Talk for White Men,” our Dimmesdale proclaimed, thus anointing himself the great white father to a whole class of people. He borrowed the “straight talk” hook from McCain—and he’s often equally dumb.

Kristof’s performance as race scold has been underway for some time. A few months ago, he did five separate columns which bore this headline:

“When White People Just Don’t Get It”

What a headline! It involves the sanctimony and condescension which are guaranteed to thrill true believers and drive wedges everywhere else.

It’s very, very hard to believe that this represents a winning brand of politics. It does let our liberal tribe swell with pride as we offend and annoy everyone else, often through our own manifest dumbness.

Is Kristof the light unto the world? We’d have to say no, he is not.

His recent work has often been appallingly dumb. In closing, let’s return to the lack of feeling he seems able to muster for the children of the world.

A few weeks ago, Kristof wrote one the strangest columns we’ve ever seen in print. In this highly peculiar column, two highly unattractive traits staged a vivid duel.

On the one hand, Kristof displayed a stunning lack of feeling for two children who were abandoned by their father, one of his high school friends.

Kristof seemed unable to see the tragedy in the way these children had been abandoned. At the same time, he displayed an instant desire to scold wide segments of American society for being less morally fine than he, Nick Kristof, is.

Our own Dimmesdale was scolding conservatives hard, even as his own lack of feeling seemed to be on vivid display. Shortly thereafter, we came upon his puzzling conduct in Haiti as he filmed his infomercial-like PBS series, A Path Appears.

Here too, Kristof was confronted with a real child—and didn’t seem able to feel.

As it turned out, the story he told on the PBS show was a journalistic confection. But as we saw him drag a lovely child all over the Haitian countryside—as we saw him reduce her to piteous weeping—this great, race-nagging moral scold couldn’t even bring himself to tell us why this child was being subjected to all this apparently unneeded pain.

Our moral god didn’t seem to know that other people would wonder about the unexplained conduct they were observing! Put another way, he didn’t seem to know how to care, just as he hadn’t seemed to care about the abandoned sons of his wonderful high school friend.

Kristof works well on leafy terraces, swilling drinks with his movie star friends. Aside from that, we increasingly regard him as a bit of a fallen soul—as a person inclined to scold, distort, mislead and misstate, and to pretend to feel.

Should he possibly stay on those terraces with all those stars and leave the world’s children alone? We’re just asking the question!

Dimmesdale was a fallen person, although he may not have started that way.

Is Nicholas Kristof our own Reverend Dimmesdale? The other night, we had a dream in which college kids described him as “fake,” even as “a bit of a fraud.”

We don’t know what to make of that dream. It hasn’t quite gone away.

Strongly recommended: We strongly recommend Hess’ piece about Kristof’s reporting method. Early on, she quotes him telling some college kids about the way he works in the field:
HESS (6/18/14): [T]he forum’s moderator, Filipina investigative journalist Sheila Coronel, asked Kristof if he ever got depressed at the prospect of flying halfway around the world to hunt down another sad story.

“I’m sometimes embarrassed by how clinical I can become when I’m out reporting,” Kristof replied. When he arrived in Sudan that weekend, he said, “I’ll be out to find the most compelling story that I can within a limited time.” He predicted that he’d hear “some heartrending story about some 30-year-old man. And, frankly, I will know that I can do better as an anecdote. I want to get American readers to care about my story, and if I have some middle-aged man in my lede, they’re going to tune out.” Instead, Kristof would hold out for a more compelling subject, like “some 9-year-old girl with soulful eyes.”

Kristof feels lousy when he has to “cut somebody off and say, ‘It's terrible that you were shot in the leg,’ ” he said. “Meanwhile, I will go off and find someone who was shot in both legs.” But he does it because he knows that if he finds a compelling story abroad, Americans back home will line up to help. “I want to make people spill their coffee when they read the column,” he said. “I do want them to go and donate, volunteer, whatever it may be, to help chip away at some of these problems.”
That’s a dangerous way to work. When a fellow starts out that way, he might end up making a Haitian girl weep for his PBS cameras, then doctoring the real events of her life to give us a better story.

He might even type a sanctimonious headline, “Straight Talk for White Men.” Beneath it, he might hand his readers a pile of pure perfect world-class piddle.

Is this what our Dimmesdale has become? We’re not sure what to tell you.

Supplemental: The New York Times submits to his threat!


O’Reilly gets a pass:
Here at THE HOWLER, we have a bit of a cultural soft spot for Bill O’Reilly.

(Full disclosure. Years ago, we chatted with Bill on the phone. He called us, of course.)

That said, O’Reilly has made a number of statements down through the years about his journalistic service in the Falklands War. This conflict was fought between two actual nations (Great Britain and Argentina) on and around the Falkland Islands, pretty much way out at sea.

O’Reilly was never in the Falkland Islands, or anywhere close. As everyone agrees, he covered demonstrations about the war—demonstrations which occurred in Buenos Aires, a thousand miles away.

The British navy wasn’t present. Neither was Margaret Thatcher.

Despite these stubborn geographical facts, Bill has occasionally misstated the location of his service in the most elementary way. As recently as 2013, he said this on The Factor:
O’REILLY (4/17/13): I was in a situation one time, in a war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands, where my photographer got run down and then hit his head and was bleeding from the ear on the concrete. And the army was chasing us. I had to make a decision. And I dragged him off, you know, but at the same time, I'm looking around and trying to do my job, but I figure I had to get this guy out of there because that was more important.
Perhaps this was a slip of the tongue, but it was a basic misstatement. Mr. O was never “in the Falklands!”

(To watch tape of Mr. O making this statement, you can just click here.)

Bill was never “in the Falklands.” But uh-oh! In his 2001 book, The No-Spin Zone, O’Reilly said this:
O’REILLY (page 110): You know that I am not easily shocked. I've reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falklands.
O’Reilly wasn’t really in an “active war zone” when he was in Buenos Aires. But he certainly wasn’t in any such zone in “the Falklands,” an impression anyone would have gotten from reading that published statement.

O’Reilly has made other statements through the years which gave the impression that he was actually in the Falklands. But how strange!

The New York Times has now published two lengthy reports about this ongoing flap. But as the Times has sifted Bill’s comments, they’ve never noted that O’Reilly has sometimes directly said that he was “in the Falklands.”

Which he never was!

These Times reports have not been brief. On Tuesday, Emily Steel and Ravi Somaiya devoted 1267 words to the flap about O’Reilly’s alleged misstatements. This morning, Jonathan Mahler joined Steel for a report on the same topic which covered 1674 words.

That’s almost 3000 words in all! But in these reports, the Times has never noted the fact that O’Reilly has said, and directly implied, that he was physically present “in the Falklands.”

Instead, the Timesmen have piddled around with other alleged misstatements which are harder to parse. This morning, the Times even said this early on:
MAHLER AND STEEL (2/26/15): David Corn, one of the authors of the Mother Jones article and a former Fox News contributor, said he received the tip about Mr. O’Reilly the day after NBC News announced its suspension of Mr. Williams for six months without pay. According to Mr. Corn’s source, Mr. O’Reilly had repeatedly made false claims about his experience covering the Falklands war as a young CBS News correspondent.
“His experience covering the Falklands war?”

That lazy construction may give the impression that he actually performed that service. Arguably, that’s already a stretch!

According to Steel, O’Reilly dropped a T-bomb on her when they spoke on the phone this week. This is the way the incident was originally reported:
STEEL AND SOMAIYA (2/24/15): Mr. O'Reilly's efforts to refute the claims by Mother Jones and some former CBS News colleagues occurred both on the air and off on Monday. During a phone conversation, he told a reporter for The New York Times that there would be repercussions if he felt any of the reporter's coverage was inappropriate. ''I am coming after you with everything I have,'' Mr. O'Reilly said. ''You can take it as a threat.''
Full disclosure: Bill was much more polite to us when we spoke on the phone.

Mr. Bill dropped a threat on Steel. After reading the subsequent Times reports, our analysts came to us with tears in their eyes.

“At the New York Times, threats seem to work,” the youngsters sadly said.

Final point, with one army in flight: In today’s report, the Times has even toned down what Mr. O is said to have said to Steel on the phone. An unpleasant word has been softened:
MAHLER AND STEEL (2/26/15): In the days after the Mother Jones article was published, Mr. O’Reilly mounted an aggressive campaign against the article and its authors on Fox, and aired a video clip and an interview with a former NBC journalist that he said supported his version of events. He also threatened a New York Times reporter that he would come after her “with everything I have” if he deemed her reporting unfair. “I don’t want you to get hurt,” he said. “This is as serious as it gets.”
In today’s report, his actual quote with the T-bomb has been disappeared. Again, this suggests a possibility:

At the New York Times, T-bombs may actually work!

WHO IS NICHOLAS KRISTOF: How should college kids describe him?


Interlude—Kristof does Port-au-Prince:
We’ve been happy to spread the good news in our recent reports:

Despite what Nicholas Kristof wrote in last Sunday’s New York Times, college kids almost never describe their female professors as “bossy!” The term appears in their reviews of female professors less than once for every million words of text.

Kristof’s column was grossly misleading concerning ascriptions of “bossy!” On the brighter side, his slippery writing made us liberals feel tribally good. Increasingly, it seems like that’s what the nation’s pseudo-journalism is all about.

For the record, Kristof was actually right in one of the claims in that column. College students do use the word “genius” disproportionately in reviews of their male professors. By a ratio of almost four-to-one, they use that flattering term more often in reviews of the men.

That said, the same is true of the word “jerk,” a fact Kristof failed to mention. For the record, the disproportion is much higher in the use of that unflattering term—a term which college kids almost never apply to female professors.

Whatever! Once again, Kristof jumped on the latest tribal bandwagon in his latest bungled column. Misusing a tricky new research tool, he spread the latest false and/or misleading claims around.

With that in mind, what words should college kids possibly use in their descriptions of Kristof? Based on his frequently horrible columns, they won’t likely go with “genius.”

Should college kids possibly go with “creepy?” Increasingly, the unflattering term pops into our heads when we see Kristof touring the world with his female movie star friends, helping us learn to admire his vast moral goodness.

Should they possibly go with “slippery?” Should they go with “international spokesman for a big industry which can be problematic?” We’ll explain that last point below.

How about a counterintuitive word? Should college kids consider describing Kristof as “unfeeling?”

For us, the unflattering word came to mind as we watched the exalted Timesman doing Port-au-Prince. The same word had popped into our heads when we read this recent column by Kristof, one of the strangest columns we have ever encountered.

At this point, does Nicholas Kristof understand the look and the feel of his interactions with the world’s children? To answer that question, we must review a column which is now fourteen months old.

The column was called “A Girl’s Escape.” It appeared on January 2, 2014—fourteen months ago.

Early in that column, Kristof introduced a 13-year-old Haitian girl named Marilaine. As he did, he defined a new term, “restavek:”
KRISTOF (1/2/14): Marilaine was one of 200,000 or more Haitian children called restaveks, typically serving as unpaid maids in strangers' homes, working for room and board. It is a vast system of child trafficking that is often characterized as a modern form of slavery. I followed Marilaine for a week in Haiti as she tried to flee, find her parents and start life over—and this is her story.

Marilaine grew up in a remote village where no family planning or public schooling is available, one of 12 children to impoverished parents
who later separated. As Marilaine tells the story, one day when she was 10 years old, she walked to her father's house to ask him to help pay her school fees. Instead, he dispatched her here to the capital to work as a restavek, a Creole term used to describe child laborers, without even telling her mother.

''My father didn't want to spend money on my school fees,'' Marilaine explained.

As is common for restaveks, Marilaine slept on the floor and woke up at 5 each morning to clean the house, fetch water and wash dishes. She says she was beaten daily with electrical cords.
“[T]he restavek system isn't always slavery,” Kristof wrote. “Sometimes the child gets more food and education than would have been the case in her own family.”

In this case, “Marilaine says that she was fed properly and that she was also allowed to attend a free afternoon school,” Kristof wrote. But because she was being beaten, she tried to run away at one point.

Eventually, an international agency intervened. In this passage, Kristof told the rest of Marilaine’s story:
KRISTOF: An aid group called the Restavek Freedom Foundation helped Marilaine escape her home and find refuge in a safe house for restaveks. The mood was festive in the beautiful home as the dozen girls living there cheered Marilaine's arrival and hugged her.


A few days later, I drove for several hours with the police and the Restavek Freedom Foundation to Marilaine's village. When Marilaine stepped out of the car, family members and neighbors were stunned. They had assumed that she had died years ago.

Yet the reunion was a letdown. Marilaine's mom didn't seem at all thrilled to see her daughter again, and Marilaine quickly made it clear that she wanted to return to the safe house in the capital so that she could attend a good school. The police told Marilaine that she would have to stay in the village with her family, and she burst into tears.

The authorities will probably eventually let Marilaine return to the Restavek Freedom Foundation safe house,
but the episode was a reminder that helping people is a complex, uphill task—and that the underlying problem behind human trafficking is poverty.
Because Marilaine is an important person, this is an important story. Fourteen months ago, that’s the way Kristof told it.

When Kristof’s column appeared, Marilaine was back in her deeply impoverished rural village, a place without public schools. She hoped to return to Port-au-Prince “so that she could attend a good school.”

That’s the way the story was told in Kristof’s column, fourteen months ago. Earlier this month, these same events formed the basis for a thirty-minute segment in a three-part PBS series, A Path Appears.

The PBS series was hosted and narrated by Kristof; he starred in all its events. If you watched this PBS series, you saw the footage from the events he had described in that column.

Kristof is present in all the footage, accompanied by one of his endless posse of female movie star friends.

The PBS series showed you the footage from the events Kristof discussed in that column. But if you watched the PBS series, you saw a story which was quite different from the story he told in that piece.

On a purely journalistic basis, we’re surprised that PBS can get away with this sort of thing, or that it’s even willing to do so. How had the original story been changed?

In his column, Kristof said that Marilaine burst into tears when she was told, by the police, that she had to remain in her village. On the PBS show, you thought you saw Marilaine weeping because her mother had said that she couldn’t afford to keep her—in effect, because she couldn’t stay in the village.

In the column, we were told that Marilaine was forced to stay in the village. On the PBS show, you thought you saw Marilaine get into the Restavek Freedom Foundation’s big van and drive straight back to Port-au-Prince.

In the column, we were told that Marilaine had been cheered and hugged by a dozen girls on the night that she was freed from her abusive adoptive family.

On the PBS show, you saw her being welcomed and cheered as described. But you saw her being cheered that way after she'd been rejected by her mother—after the van ride back to Port-au-Prince, the van ride which didn’t occur.

According to Kristof’s original column, the story he showed us on PBS isn’t the story which actually happened. We’re surprised to think that PBS is willing to play it that way.

On a purely journalistic basis, we’re surprised that PBS is willing to do that. If Kristof’s original column was accurate, his PBS broadcast resembled “reality TV,” with basic events and chronologies changed to tell a better story.

PBS could almost sell the rejiggered footage to Bravo for airing as “Real Restaveks of Port-au-Prince!” But our problems with Kristof’s role on that PBS program go a bit deeper than that.

The presence of the movie stars is one “creepy” part of the problem. In the eight or nine segments on the three-part series, Kristof is accompanied by a different female star in each and every segment.

No male movie stars allowed! That said, Ronan Farrow was allowed to tag along with mom in Mia Farrow’s guest segment.

Should college kids call PBS “cynical” as they watch this unfold? Rather plainly, we’re being told that PBS viewers won’t watch a show about Haitian kids unless a female star is present on-screen to help them choke it down.

There is one “repulsive” scene in the Haiti segment where Kristof sits on a leafy terrace high above Port-au-Prince. He’s enjoying drinks with Alfre Woodward as they gaze, just a bit grandly, on the city below.

(Should college kids be wondering what the plane fare must have been to jet the two stars in? Should they wonder if the same amount of cash could perhaps have opened a school in that forgotten village?)

The presence of the movie stars is a somewhat “creepy” element. That said, we were actively troubled by other aspects of the Haiti segment, at least until we learned that the segment didn’t show us what actually happened.

In the segment on the PBS show, we see tears streaming down Marilaine’s face after she has been taken back to her village. We think she’s crying because her mother has told her she isn’t wanted.

According to Kristof’s column, that isn’t why Marilaine was crying. But as we watched the show, we were appalled, for these reasons:

Why in the world had this lovely child been exposed to this torment? Why hadn’t adults from the foundation gone to the village without Marilaine to determine whether her family was willing and able to take her back?

Kristof never explained. Instead, the camera kept playing on his face so viewers in PBS land could see how concerned he was.

We had another question. Were Kristof and the foundation really planning to take Marilaine back to the western world’s worst rural poverty and just leave her there?

On TV, we got to enjoy a happy ending! Marilaine returns to Port-au-Prince, where she is greeted by those cheering girls.

That said, we were puzzled as we watched the show. Had Kristof really planned to take Marilaine back to that village and leave her? Despite the happy ending we got, we were puzzled, left a bit sickened, by the whole presentation.

On the PBS program, Kristof seemed to be too “unfeeling” to explain the puzzling events we saw unfolding. And by the way:

What had the legal basis been for the events we saw unfolding? At no point did Kristof, or his move star friend, explain this basic matter. Instead, we got lots of footage designed to make us appreciate Kristof’s greatness, intercut with the movie star shots which set our hearts at ease.

Only when we read the earlier column did we realize that these events had not occurred in the manner shown on PBS. Beyond that, the column suggests that Haitian law and Haitian legal authorities were involved in these events, a matter that went unexplained on Kristof’s reality show.

Increasingly, we don’t think much of Kristof. Rather, we wonder if college kids should think that something may have gone a tiny bit “wrong” in his head.

As his PBS program aired and re-aired, we watched the Haiti segment several times, trying to figure out what we were seeing. When we stumbled upon his earlier column, we realized that we had seen a rejiggered reality show which reshaped basic events.

We wondered what kind of person could have produced that segment without seeing that the events, as shown, would be puzzling and upsetting to decent viewers. It reminded us of the “unfeeling” column Kristof had written a few weeks before, in which he couldn’t seem to understand the horror of a story he told about the abandoned children of one of his high school friends.

Is Nicholas Kristof “unfeeling?” We've heard that it can happen to people with too many movie star friends! This brings us to the overall framework for his PBS series.

Forgive us, but the series almost seemed like an advertisement for a major industry—an industy you might describe as the philanthropic industrial complex. It wasn't just the female stars who accompanied Kristof in every segment. At the very start of the series, George Clooney and other stars appeared, assuring us of the general greatness and worth of what we were going to see.

Forgive us for saying what follows, but we see a problem with that.

We will assume, until we’re shown different, that the Restavek Freedom Foundation is run by good decent people (in Cincinnati) who are doing good work in Haiti. That said, there is an ongoing question about the value of various programs run by various such entities—programs in which a lot of money (from PBS viewers, for instance) may be changing hands.

In his somewhat self-serving PBS show, Kristof almost struck us as a bit of a tool for his rich and famous and powerful friends. The program seemed a bit like an infomercial for a set of organizations which may also need the services of normal journalistic scrutiny.

Watching a rather “creepy” man sipping drinks with his movie star friend—watching the PBS cameras instruct us in his obvious moral greatness—we thought back to the very strange column he wrote about the children his high school friend had failed or refused to support.

In that peculiar column, Kristof seemed unable to empathize with the abandoned children of his high school friend, who he praised to the skies. He didn't seem able to understand the tragedy of those children.

On his PBS show, he seemed to display the same problem. We thought we heard college kids call him “lacking in empathy” as he dragged Marilaine all around the countryside with his latest movie star friend.

Increasingly, we’re wary of Kristof’s heavily-pimped moral greatness. Tomorrow, we’ll return to his recent columns.

We’ll explain why you should possibly be just a bit skeptical too.

Tomorrow: “When Israeli Jews Just Don’t Get It”