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.


  1. Disclaimer Anonymous in 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ...

    1. Warning to actual readers of this blog: These comments are unmoderated. They are infested by chimps and trolls who apparently don't follow implication, a kind of reasoning that normal people engage in when reading. Such attacks are not an inference. Inferences are limited by the meanings of words which are agreed upon by those within a culture. "Hurt" is vague. One can have hurt feelings, but trolls would then say it wouldn't hurt to put salad dressing on the strawberries. "Threat" is more specific. If you threaten to find the keys to the mess room locker, they attack the validity of the geometric logic of the content posted and the esteem of the blog author is held hostage by others.

      Of course I'd be happy to answer any questions.

    2. Oh I have many questions.

      On the scale of heinousness, where do the sins of Williams and Kristof rank against those of Govs. Christie and Ultrasound?

  2. "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."

    What achievement gap? I've been told by the fantastic gains by African-American fourth graders by no less authority than Somerby.

    It is also the same authority who tells me there would be no achievement gap at all if only poor mothers talked to their babies more, and used bigger words.

    1. Anonymous (2003): "What absence of WMD? I've been told about the absence of WMD by no less authority than (Insert the name of something other than the MSM here)".

    2. Tossing bromides in the eyes of thirteen year old Haitian girls is a leading cause of tears.

    3. A teacher in LA committed suicide because of those ratings, which were published with teacher names in the paper.

      This is not a joke to those who work in schools trying to help kids have better lives. Someone like Kristof can do real damage to real people.

    4. And perhaps Kristof has reconsidered his opinion in the nearly eight years since he wrote that column.

    5. A teacher in LA committed suicide because the teacher was mentally ill.

    6. The teacher in question killed himself three years after the Kristof column mentioned here by Somerby. The column did not contain his, or any other teacher's name.

      But that's OK. Kristof is such a creep he probably would have personally driven the guy to the canyon where he jumped off a bridge if he thought he could have gotten a good column out of it. Instead he had to drive that poor teenager in Haiti to tears instead.

    7. The LA Times listed his teaching scores, of the type touted by Kristof. They did it by name. There ensued a lengthy discussion of the fairness of such scores and the unwiseness of publishing them with teacher names.

      I saw one interesting letter in which a teacher pondered how her teaching skills could have improved by many points simply by changing schools.

      But it is all a big joke to our trolls -- and just another column to Kristof.

    8. So was this the only teacher whose scores were listed and whose name was named?

      If not, how many of the others committed suicide?

    9. Empathy incarnate.

  3. There is no journalisitic proof that Bob Somerby has ever reconciled with the children he abandoned.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Troll #1) "Kristof's education reporting is solid because Somerby sucks."
      Troll #2) "Kristof's education reporting is solid because Somerby abandoned his children."

      Pass that hot potato!

    3. Gee, Perez, you'd have a point if anyone claimed that Kristof's education reporting is solid.

    4. Somerby fanboy A. Perez passed on a hot potato!

  4. Bob Somerby's dream may rank between Martin Luther King's and the Everly Brothers. We do know it won't sell as well as either.

    1. Ah, so the source of yesterday's "interlude" lies somewhere deep in Somerby's subconscious. That is a scary thought.

    2. It is also possible that Somerby has written this entire four-part with interlude Kristof series while not fully conscious.

      Anything is possible until it has been disproven on a journalistic basis.

  5. And once again, for those of you keeping score at home, it only takes 1,834 words today for Somerby to build his case that Kristof is Dimmesdale.

    This is some 575 fewer words than Somerby devoted yesterday to the "Interlude."

    Howler trolls get results!

    1. Length doesn't matter.

      Slippery writing makes me feel tribally good. On a purely journalistic basis, of course.

    2. Yes, but I can't seem to find any words Somerby devoted to his companion case that Kristof is a Gantry.

    3. That is because the Gantry words were on PBS where you only think you see things.

    4. Gantry, Billy Sunday, Dimmesdale.

      It is enough to make the ghost of poor Cecil Rhodes regret having inspired the damn White Man's Burden.

  6. A piece like this can jar a few self-impressed progressives out of their delusional cocoons by stating uncomfortable observations about how people like Kristof operate. The more resistant who prefer to cling to their delusions about themselves and Kristof as "good persons" will hurl r-bombs and various insults at Bob.

    1. A piece like this can be used as evidence by the defense if Somerby is ever arrested in a Baltimore park trying to rescue little girls from the Dangersous Mr. Dimmesdale. Coupled with the testimony of the analysts I am sure he'll only get six weeks in Spring Grove.

    2. In my view the analysts seem to cry a lot doing the work Somerby assigns, dragging them all around his sprawling campus. It is not clear why they are crying, but I wouldn't risk putting them on the stand even if he does feed them bagels and let them go to school after they wash the newspaper ink off their paper-cut scarred fingers.

    3. Allow me to assure our friend at 2:27 that on these frigid winter mornings, I am far more concerned about the operation of such things as my furnace and my automobile than in the operation of "people like Kristof."

      So any "uncomfortable observations" about Kristof and his ilk would hardly "jar" me out of any "delusional cocoon."

      You see, I have neither delusions or cocoons about Kristof since I spend very little time worrying about how he operates.

      Far less time than, say, our host blogger who couldn't quite seem to find much else to discuss, other than Brian Williams, for a solid, if short, month.

    4. As a self impressed progressive I am tired of the stereotype that we hurl r-bombs and various insults at Bob.

      I am far too dumb to have a variety of insults in my toddler based vocabulary.

      I am too lazy to throw bombs.

      I fling poop. But it is my poop. And it is impressive. If I do say so myself.

    5. 3:15@ maybe he should devote his blog to how your furnace works or doesn't work in the morning?

    6. Maybe that furnace is where Bob heats his potatoes that Perez sees him throwing at the trolls.

  7. I think Somerby is on the money when it comes to this Kristof character.

    1. So which is it? Dimmesdale, Gantry, Sunday, Collins,
      or just plain Mr. Creepers?

    2. Your comment and the recent obsession of our own Harvard blogger remind me of one of my favorite debates during a long period of observing one of our provencial institutions of self government concerned that very topic.

      The legislation being discussed was a bill to renew the life of a professional licensing agency, and the matter at hand was an amendment allowing professors to legally perform a procedure while instructing students seeking to join the licensed profession, Veterinary Medicine.

      "Members" exhorted an angry solon to his colleagues in opposing this amendment, "Just because you're a Pee-H-Dee doesn't mean you're qualified to stick your hand up a horse's rear end."

      This all seems remarkably similar to that heated discussion of anal palpitation of an equine.

    3. No, it isn't. You just like talking about horse's asses.

  8. By the way, the Anonymous troll replies to himself as if he were multiple people who support his view.

    1. Tater tots. I like Tater tots.

    2. By the way, the A Perez troll is a crappy mentalist.

  9. Tomorrow: Full disclosure. We once walked Judi Ann "Judith" Stish Ross Nathan Giuliani's dog.

  10. Long Weekend Ahead...Bad weather with no train rides planned and a sneaking assumption our favorite blogger plans no fresh weekend posts reliving past sins of our press corps.

    We decided to stroll back in the lovely Howler archives to see if we could discover the source of the burr in Bob's blanket where the creepy Kristof is concerned. You can guess we were mining for Gore in them thar archival hills.

    Humorously we were struck by a piece from 2009. What struck us was not what it revealed about the Somerby/Kristof coverage. Bob was very consistent then with what he criticizes about Kristof now. No, what struck us was how easily, if you take Bob's writing and substitute his name for Kristof's, and change a few adjectives to fit Somerby's more recent crusade, you can get Bob Somerby describing himself while writing about Nicholas Kristof. The words that follow are Bob's except when in bold. It could apply to many recent Somerby posts.

    'Indeed, this post struck us as such Vintage Somerby that we decided to fact-check his claims. We’re accustomed to posts like this from the blogger—posts in which he self-identifies as a liberal, while typing up claims which seem to come straight from pseudo-conservative spin tanks. But was his basic claim actually true? Are liberals “dumb ”—are they “lazy” and “immoral?”

    Howler 1/8/2009

    1. My assumption was false. Somerby's rough thumbs got to twitching and he posted again.

    2. This troll theme of hypocrisy is more repetitive than anything Somerby writes, yet you try to dress it up as some new discovery. Fraud.

    3. This theme that anyone taking exception to what Somerby says is more repetitive than anything Somerby writes, yet you persist. Bore.

    4. This theme that anyone taking exception to what Somerby writes is a troll is more repetitive than anything Somerby writes, yet you persist. Bore.

      FTFY - your welcome.