"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


why I don't like Kristof

In the interest of staying sane - and, really, because Amanda and Kate already had it covered - I've thus far refrained from comment on this blog about the whole Kristof-printed-a-child-rape-victim's-name fiasco. Suffice it to say that Kristof's apology did not satisfy me. It was an apology of the "sorry if I upset you" nature that didn't reflect a real understanding or acknowledgment of why this was such a grave error. Moreover, his essential justification for printing her name and face is that she's Congolese and lives in a remote area.

Sorry, but that's not good enough. There's a qualitative difference between getting informed consent to print an adult rape victim's name and doing the same for a child. I don't believe there's ever a valid reason to print the name and face of a child who is a victim of abuse or violent crime, especially when that child is an orphan. The story would have been just as horrific had Kristof used a pseudonym and an obscured picture, and I can't think of any good-hearted person who would refuse to donate to an aid organization because they didn't get to know the child's actual name. There was just no reason to put her at even more risk on the pages of the New York Times. And the Times would never have even considered printing the name and face of an American child who'd been raped. The only things that differentiate this little girl are her ethnicity, nationality, and location. None of those factors validate the decision to violate her right to have her identity protected.

Someone sent me a tweet the other day to note that I seem to enjoy attacking Kristof and that I need to recognize that he's an ally. I don't like Kristof, it's true. Do we both think the things that happen to women and girls in the Congo are horrific? Of course. But I don't see Kristof as an ally, or at least not one with whom I want to be associated. Kristof spends his time sensationalizing poverty and behaving as though the solutions to global poverty, violence, and abuse must originate from the west. His approach reeks of the white man's burden and all-too-often ignores the complexity of the cases he addresses. Kristof seems to be largely unwilling or unable to recognize that the solution to the Congo's problems will ultimately have to come from within the Congo.

As we've discussed here time and time and time again, advocacy for its own sake is a not laudable goal. Bad advocacy that's based on bad facts leads to bad policy recommendations. I don't enjoy attacking anyone who's putting out bad ideas based on incomplete understandings and faulty assumptions. But I'm not going to ignore them when they do. The Congolese deserve better. And it's their voices - not Nick Kristof's or mine - that should be foremost in the debate.



Blogger Unknown said...

Best comment on the Kristof non-apology I have seen. I have lost count of the number of times I have had students approach me about Kristof's columns (usually along the lines of "gee, that Kristof is such a brave understanding man. If we were all like him Africa would be a paradise of milk and honey"), compelling me to provide some nuance, reflexivity, and the point that there are different kinds of advocacy and not all of it is good and more than a few instances are tinged with "the white man's burden." Now I can just refer these students to this (and the wronging rights) post.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010 7:04:00 AM

Anonymous Michael said...

What a ridiculous case of Kristof envy. Is he perfect? No. Of course not. But he has done more for the people you claim to care about than, well, you will probably ever do. Maybe you would prefer more snarky columns about Washington politians in the NYTimes? Kudos to Kristof for keeping these issues most would like to forget in the spotlight so we can all talk about them, critically and otherwise.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010 10:42:00 AM

Blogger Dustyn Winder said...

Michael, you obviously know not of which you speak. Taking college kids to take pictures with Africans, naming rape victims, giving a differing level of respect of privacy to Africans (in this case Congolese) than would be given to an American, sensationalism, schmoozing with Brangelina, giving interviews - the list could go on - does little for anyone or anything bu Kristof's own career. I like the guy. He's a talented writer. He's good at what he does. Sensationalizing. It's just too bad he doesn't direct his talents in a constructive direction.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010 11:23:00 AM

Blogger KS said...

You were gracious not to include examples of Kristof's "the solutions can only come from the west" theory. It was crushing to see him (finally) cover the Panzi Hospital this weekend, only to paint Dr. Mukwege as a man overwhelmed by the futility of his actions.
“'Sometimes I don’t know what I am doing here,' Dr. Mukwege said despairingly."
Really, Kristof? That's the quote you use from a man who has made a palpable difference in the lives of thousands of women? That the solution isn't solely medical doesn't mean the work is futile. Sigh.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010 1:47:00 PM

Blogger Andrea Bohnstedt said...

My biggest issue with Kristof (and Bono, and Jolie, and Geldof and that whole lot) is that they do very little to address the complexities that lead to conflicts (and resultant humanitarian crises) as in DRC. Or Afghanistan. Or elsewhere.

Awareness is all well and dandy, but in itself doesn't fix anything. And good intentions are not enough (thanks WrongingRights and Saundra Schimmelpfennig).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 1:14:00 PM

Blogger Colored Opinions said...

Interesting, but not unexpected, to see that for some this is still a taboo subject.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 4:04:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kristof has been slipping for a long time. I hope this latest incident was a reality check for him. I have never seen so many negative reader comments on one of his articles, as on this latest piece. I take that as a very good sign.

Monday, February 15, 2010 1:22:00 AM

Blogger Sam Gardner said...

I have been working on the issue of GBV in DRC for quite some while now, with all of the "usual suspects" in the arena of health, support and advocacy. From the start there was a split in the movement between those who see advocacy as the main issue and those who see support as the main issue. Not a lot of actors work on prosecution. I even worked with Mrs. Ensler at one stage.

I started to consider the option of supporting the ICRC as the lead on care for the victims, because they seem to be the only ones who can be trusted to resist the urge to use the victims as a showcase for advocacy work and give them the respect they need.

Sunday, February 21, 2010 12:38:00 PM

Anonymous maureen baumgartner said...

Your tone when talking of Kristof, as opposed to his much less offensive, more reasoned one when explaining his actions, gives you away. There does seem to be something personal in your attacks. I have to agree with Michael that there is something else going on here.
As to the comment that his efforts are not "constructive?" Really? Run that one by Mhuktar Mai (google her); without his constant columns on her, not only would she be long dead, but even with her incredible bravery, this hero would not financially have been able to start two schools, one clinic w/ambulance, and a women's shelter in her village in Pakistan. Ridiculous pettiness!
There is something, well, foolish, about good people focusing their anger on other good people in a world full of evil and cruelty.
Come off your ivory tower, stop over-analyzing and over intellectualizing every detail from your academic perch, and focus your anger on some real evil in this world. Kristof is not the enemy. He's one of the good guys, like you. My God. People are raping and lashing 14 yr. old girls to death, and Nick Kristof is what makes you "stress?" Lucky you!

Thursday, March 31, 2011 6:51:00 PM


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