Like Brian Williams, a brand: Once again, we find ourselves puzzled by Nicholas Kristof’s latest column.
It appears in this morning’s New York Times. The column starts like this:
KRISTOF (2/19/15): Like many Americans, I’ve been wary of labor unions.All through the column, Kristof says he’s been wrong, oh so wrong, about unions—at least about private sector unions.
Full-time union stagehands at Carnegie Hall earning more than $400,000 a year? A union hailing its defense of a New York teacher who smelled of alcohol and passed out in class, with even the principal unable to rouse her? A police union in New York City that has a tantrum and goes on virtual strike?
More broadly, I disdained unions as bringing corruption, nepotism and rigid work rules to the labor market, impeding the economic growth that ultimately makes a country strong.
I was wrong.
What a guy! Here’s how the column ends:
KRISTOF: Lawrence F. Katz, a Harvard labor economist, raises concerns about some aspects of public-sector unions, but he says that in the private sector (where only 7 percent of workers are now unionized): “I think we’ve gone too far in de-unionization.”In comments, the usual suspects rushed to praise his honesty and his courage. We had a different reaction to the puzzling fellow’s latest puzzling column.
He’s right. This isn’t something you often hear a columnist say, but I’ll say it again: I was wrong. At least in the private sector, we should strengthen unions, not try to eviscerate them.
Kristof is 55 years old. He went to Harvard, then to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. For all those reasons, we think this part of his column is rather hard to believe:
KRISTOF: I’ve also changed my mind because, in recent years, the worst abuses by far haven’t been in the union shop but in the corporate suite. One of the things you learn as a journalist is that when there’s no accountability, we humans are capable of tremendous avarice and venality. That’s true of union bosses—and of corporate tycoons. Unions, even flawed ones, can provide checks and balances for flawed corporations.Really? Until he was 55, Nicholas Kristof hadn’t learned that “we humans are capable of tremendous avarice and venality”—and that that was even true of corporate tycoons?
We’re sorry, but we don’t believe that. It’s hard for us to avoid the suspicion that Kristof is semi-dissembling a tad.
In recent weeks, we’ve been repulsed by some of Kristof’s work. We’re still trying to decipher the Haiti segment from his PBS program, A Path Appears—a segment which seems to have been journalistically false and rather cruel to boot.
As we’ve watched this puzzling man seem to reinvent himself, we’ve often thought of Brian Williams. This is why we say that:
Williams was always more than an anchor. He was also a major brand—in effect, a corporation.
It seems he did a lot of embellishing in support of that brand. We’ve been getting a similar sense from Kristof’s recent work.
Kristof is a major international brand. In theory, he and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, support everything good and decent. But his work is getting sloppy and strange.
Quite often, his work doesn’t quite seem to make sense. We don’t trust Nicholas Kristof.
We’ll plan to return to this topic next week. That said, is Nicholas Kristof a journalist? Or is he a Williams-type brand?
Typical recent Kristof: As Kristof starts his latest column, he offers a jibe about “union stagehands at Carnegie Hall earning more than $400,000 a year.”
That’s a lot of money. That said, we wonder if Kristof understood that he wasn’t discussing salary alone—that the figure he cited included all compensation for those employees, including retirement and benefits.
According to NPR, the five stagehands he was discussing did not earn $400,000 per year, not in the way Kristof’s readers probably thought he meant. Beyond that, they averaged 60 hours of work per week, according to the New York Times.
Increasingly, Kristof’s work seems sloppy and strange. Maybe he’s simply over-extended. Do you believe he recently learned that corporate tycoons can be greedy?
We don’t believe that. Increasingly, we get a strange vibe from the work of this major brand.