In theory, there’s nothing not to like about virtuous New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. He and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, “combine journalism and activism in their unique brand of reporting centered on human rights abuses and advocacy,” according to the duo’s speaking bureau. In practice, Kristof is a sanctimonious hack who trots the globe with the White Man’s Burden hanging heavily on his back.
Kristof and WuDunn co-authored Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. As we’ll see, Kristof and WuDunn have certainly turned oppression into personal opportunity — to the tune of about $50,000 for a joint speaking appearance during which they “give a voice to the voiceless.”
Kristof’s specialty is traveling to poor countries and finding a photogenic native here and there who is doing God’s work with the help of Western NGOs and Hollywood movie stars. For example, he helped make Somaly Mam, founder of an anti-sex trafficking group called Helping Women in Danger, into an international celebrity. The only problem is that Mam was a total fraud; she misappropriated vast sums of donor money and her personal tale of heroism — she claimed she had sold to a brothel and escaped after ten years – was about as fact-based as the Pippi Longstocking trilogy. (Still one of my favorites works of fiction.)
Kristof also has been an advocate for the apparel industry in countries like Cambodia. He calls apparel work an “escalator” out of poverty, though there’s little evidence to support that. Most Third World apparel workers get paid abysmally and work in terrible conditions at dead-end jobs. (Check out this report on conditions in Cambodia.)
This year Kristof wrote a lot about the presidential campaign, and he demonstrated that he’s just as clueless reporting on his own county as he is while wandering abroad. Like most elite journalists, Kristof was blindly loyal to Hillary Clinton. “What makes [her] tick has always been a 1960s-style idealism about making the world a better place,” he wrote in one column.
He also tended to write off most Trump supporters as racist cranks and missed the genuine economic hardship that propelled his campaign, maybe because Kristof doesn’t do a lot of reporting on poverty here at home. His class status may also have blinded him to the fact that for much of the country — and not just working class whites — the economy is in recession.
I’m not sure what Kristof gets paid at the Times — please email me at email@example.com if you do — but he’s clearly very well compensated. WuDunn, meanwhile, is a “senior banker focusing on growth companies” and a former private wealth adviser with Goldman Sachs. “She currently helps growth companies, including those operating in the fields of new media technology, entertainment, social media, healthcare, and the emerging markets, particularly China,” reads her bio.
As to their speaking gigs, I recently wrote here about how Washington Babylon had approached the speaking bureau of Vox editor and Clinton surrogate Ezra Klein, using the alias of Emma Stoffels. Young Stoffels was meant to be a campus activist recruiting speakers for a sizzling event next spring: “The 2017 Millennial Policy Summit: What Happens Now?”
It turned out that Klein, a principled opponent of a $15 minimum wage, wanted $30,750, plus hotel accommodations, meals and incidentals. As I noted, median household income in the United States was $56,500 last year so Klein apparently takes in more than half of what a typical family lives on for a full year.
How does the Kristof-WuDunn duo match up?
Well, first off, rest assured that Kristof “always keeps audiences on the edge of their seat in enthralling presentations that catapult many into action themselves. As a master story teller with an unmatched reputation and peerless perspective on the events that shape our world, listeners find themselves glued to their seats and captivated by moving, first-hand global stories until, of course, the inevitable, emotive standing ovation at every engagement’s end.”
(Personally, I find this confusing. First audience members are catapulted, then they are glued to their seats, yet they somehow, having endured so much already, rise to give a standing ovation?)
In any case, Emma Stoffels also inquired about the possibility of Kristof and WuDunn addressing the Millennials conference. Kristof’s fee was $30,000 and WuDunn’s was $20,000 — and both also demand first class travel expenses — for a combined $50,000.
Who knew giving a voice to the voiceless could be so lucrative?