Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Nick Kristof makes the "Hack List" for 2012

(The excerpt below is from  Alex Pareene's Salon.Com article: Hack List No. 10: The New York Times.)

Kristof’s self-aggrandizing heroism is what’s made him a journalism superstar, and largely immune to the sort of bitching that his opinion page colleagues receive, because he is Out There Doing Stuff instead of opining from behind a desk. But while he is indeed Out There, his years of Raising Awareness have, as far as I can tell, largely succeeded in making a bunch of rich old Times readers Aware of Nick Kristof.

His writing always features morally unambiguous black-and-white heroes and villains. The heroes are frequently rescuing helpless maidens. Kristof declines to see complexity in every great crisis he tackles, and largely refuses to acknowledge that money and American “intervention” are frequently as much the cause of so many of his Causes as the potential solution. As Teju Cole put it:
His good heart does not always allow him to think constellationally. He does not connect the dots or see the patterns of power behind the isolated “disasters.” All he sees are hungry mouths, and he, in his own advocacy-by-journalism way, is putting food in those mouths as fast as he can. All he sees is need, and he sees no need to reason out the need for the need.
He is also the Times Africa “expert” who rarely demonstrates any special knowledge of the history, culture or society of any of the African nations he parachutes into to save innocents.

Just the headlines and teasers of some of his columns from this summer show how quickly this style of do-gooder rich liberalism lapses into self-parody:
Big Chem, Big Harm?
Chemicals in everything from canned food to A.T.M. receipts could affect you, your children and your children’s children.
August 26, 2012, Sunday
War Wounds
This veteran wishes he had lost a limb. Instead, he has to watch himself lose his mind.
August 12, 2012, Sunday
Obama AWOL in Syria
Why is Obama passive as thousands of Syrians are dying? Top strategists want him to act now.
August 08, 2012, Wednesday
Blissfully Lost in the Woods
Here’s a little advice for the overburdened and overconnected: take a hike.
July 29, 2012, Sunday
The dateline on that last one: “ON THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL, Ore.” Obama should do something about Syria and also oh isn’t backpacking through Oregon delightful, everyone should do it.

Kristof’s reliance on anecdote and personal narratives above all else occasionally lead him to deeply stupid conclusions, like his column this December arguing that we should cut a meager poverty program designed for low-income children with disabilities because he heard secondhand that some people weren’t teaching their kids to read in order to qualify for it. Illiteracy isn’t actually what qualifies kids for SSI — actual doctors must submit proof of physical or mental disability in order for the children to qualify for the $600 that is making them so “dependent” — but even if you accept the truth of Kristof’s anecdote, his conclusion barely makes sense. Why would cutting SSI and using that money to pay for early childhood education make more sense than just paying for both and making sure some random parents in Kentucky aren’t committing fraud? (Kristof’s also a school reformer, natch.)