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Let Nicholas Kristof Damage Your Mind

Posted on Jun 14, 2013
AP/Amanda Schwab

Nicholas D. Kristof at the 25th anniversary party in September of Conde Nast Traveler, where he was honored as one of 12 global “visionaries” the magazine says are shaping the world.

By Alexander Reed Kelly

(Page 2)

Kristof’s own reputation as courageous lifesaver is also impugned, as many women he and Mam saved during “well-hyped” raids on brothels reportedly returned to their jobs after the lights and cameras left the scene. Reports have also claimed that “some supposed trafficking victims are held against their will at Mam’s centers,” a place in which rehabilitation involves sewing lessons. Some women prefer work in the sex trade to jobs in the “too-low-wage-to-survive garment factories.” Mam claims rescued women such as these suffer from something like Stockholm syndrome, in which victims of kidnapping develop feelings of trust or attachment toward their captors.

“The problem is not just that Kristof is a bad journalist for failing to see clear inaccuracies, follow up with questions, and provide readers an accurate look at the developing world, or any world (although, of course, he is),” Moore explains. “The deeper problem is that the truth—here, and in Free to Choose—isn’t valued.” Somana’s lies may have been learned from Mam herself, but Kristof doesn’t investigate the possibility. And the women are hardly to blame. “There are too few options for women’s employment in Cambodia, as the nation moves into the wage-and-rights-indifferent vanguard of today’s global capitalism.” Mam’s funding, also, “comes largely, if not exclusively from American sources—which, in turn, come to her organizations through Kristof’s regular coverage.”

In 2009, Moore writes, Kristof devoted a Times column to praising the benefits of Cambodian sweatshops. “His argument was that labor standards in trade agreements limited the ability of multinational corporations,” the same that pay their executives billions of dollars in salaries and bonuses, “to offer jobs to workers in developing nations.” That kind of thinking leaves a lot out and assumes a set of limitations on corporate decision making that is self-imposed and has nothing to do with the reality of commerce and everything to do with the capitalist desire to take more from societies and individuals who have less and less, both in terms of money and available choices for how to make it.

“Fear of a gun, fear of starvation,” Moore concludes, “the two are fungible. Nike, which operates in Cambodia, could simply raise its workers’ pay. Certainly a Kristof-penned New York Times column would do wonders to bolster that effort. An initiative like that, and the standard it would set for other garment manufacturers, would significantly increase the likelihood that women would willingly leave the sex trade. Instead, the Nike Foundation deploys its fortune to fund Half the Sky, ensuring that women in developing nations stay in poverty, ensuring their need for a commercial sex industry, ensuring itself a feel-good name-check, ensuring Nicholas Kristof a job, and ensuring an enduring legacy for Milton Friedman.”

“Or, you know,” Moore adds, “for as long as this shoddy construction holds.”


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