February 9, 2012
Nicholas D. Kristof —
Journalism and Compassion

Can journalism be a humanitarian art? New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has learned that reportage can deaden rather than awaken the consciousness, much less the hearts, of his readers. He shares his wide ethical lens he's gained on human life in our time — both personal and global.

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is a columnist for The New York Times and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. He is also the co-author of the best-selling book, Half the Sky.

Pertinent Posts


Our senior editor sees Kristof in a new light after watching Reporter in a hotel on location, and resolves to pitch him as a guest for this program.

SoundSeen (our multimedia stories)

Rebels For Christ in the Congo

Nicholas Kristof meets with a reputed warlord in the Congo and is confronted with the complexity and humanity of war in this excerpt from the documentary, Reporter.

Selected Readings

Recommended Columns by Nicholas Kristoff

We've pulled together some of our favorite columns by Nicholas Kristoff - columns on subjects ranging from evangelicals to oppression of women to philosophy to sweat shops and sex trafficking.

About the Image

Nick Kristof interviews a Rwandan prisoner held captive by General Nkunda, a Congolese warlord, and his soldiers.

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listening to nicholas kristof was inspiring and faith-sustaining.

inspiring in that someone in the world of journalism has the personal and moral fiber to go after his vision of speaking for the tragically unseen, and in some many ways be successful at it. inspiring because i feel like the voice of one person who truly cares has the power of a thousand others who remain silent. and also inspiring in that my world includes looking at a lot of suffering (as a clinical psychotherapist) so the view of being inspired and energized by growth, relief, or any other positive sign is one that strongly resonates with me as well.

together, these thoughts sustain and increase my faith in the goodness of the world.

thank you nicholas kristof!

I heard Nicholas Kristof today on your show. Thanks for having people who can give me hope for world, and thanks for telling me about so many things that I didn't know before.

I really appreciated Krista Tippett's interview with Nicholas Kristoff this morning. I am a clinical psychologist in Alexandria, Va. In my interest in social justice, I believe that the main psychological contribution comes in the findings of "bystander research." The Kristoff interview was most relevant to this.

The main points I learned in the interview were:

- Psychologist Paul Slovic, has studied "outrage and compassion fatigue". If I understood Mr. Kristoff correctly, Paul Slovic believes that these can begin after we hear 2 stories of great sadness. People can be turned off by unremitting news of despair, ie. genocide in Darfur.

- One alternative is to present a hopeful story or outcome after the story of suffering.

-The brain responds more to emotion than to information, but will respond to information when it follows and is connected to an emotional story.

- People have an amazing capacity for self-delusion, especially when they feel threatened. We have to push back against this tendency.

- Those who hurt, hurt others.

- Words and phrases, vocabulary matters. Words which mean one thing to one person can mean very different things to another, such as political and religious meanings, very different from what we intended.

- Perpetrators of great cruelty can be complex and show kindness, especially within their own communities.

- Victims can exaggerate and can lie.

- Isaiah Berlin was a philosopher who stressed the complexity of truth and countered the search for one true answer.

- We can become paralyzed by complexity and the possibility that we're wrong.

- Are we going to watch change happening around us or are we going to be a part of it?

thanks again, Pete Bloom

Your Nicolas Kristoff program this morning 9/26 reminds me of the following quotes... "Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - The Talmud Catastrophe is the essence of the spiritual path, a series of breakdowns allowing us to discover the threads that weave all of life into a whole life - Joan Halifax Compassionate action starts with seeing yourself when you start to make yourself right and when your start to make yourself wrong. At that point you could just contemplate the fact that there is a larger alternative to either of those, a more tender, shaky kind of place where you could live. - Pema Chodron Refugee resettlement in the US includes persons who have been trafficked sexually. The Centers for Survivors of Torture (Dallas/Austin/national) help these and tortured others to adjust to an integrated, functioning life.

I had never read or heard of Kristoff. I don't often read newspapers and am not very into politics, but consider myself a left-leaning moderate with a Zen attitude. Anyway, I was struck by Kristoff's intelligence and how well he articulated his ideas. Four things I took away: 1)Maybe sweat shops in developing countries aren't so bad. 2)When trying to make a difference, it doesn't have to be all or nothing; every little bit helps. 3)The Rebels for Christ made me dislike institutional religion. 4)The Polish nun fighting single-handedly to protect the innocent victims of the genocide brought me back. At 6am on Sunday mornings I find myself hanging onto every word of these interviews. They feed me intellecturally and spiritually. Thanks!

Dear Ms. Tippett,

It is good to hear your interview with the journalist who has done much to help with Africa's calamities and many others like him. The help is truly appreciated and certainly in order for moral responsibility. On the other hand we must also take a look at the other side of the African story by bringing African history to bear. There is so much more to Africa than just her catastrophes perpetually sensationalized by the western media. Of the 54 African nations the majority has never seen war before. Pre-colonial Africa contains great history to tell about the continent, her empires and past leadership and the enormously rich resources endowed to the continent until the explosive force of disruption caused single-handedly by the west for their greed and power. The benefits of that oppression built the foundations of western riches. Unfortunately, this process still continues with unfair trade rules of Africa's raw materials needed by western industrialized countries. So, Afric a continues to remain poor, ironically, even though she has the richest land mass on earth. These facts are never communicated by the press and the average American is clueless, except for Africa's sad and pitiful situation. The African Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade from the 16th-19th centuries and shortly afterwards brutal colonization by Europe truly brought the entire continent to her massive destruction. Yet African has done well in her development and efforts to rebounce from the down-falls. During colonial rule only 1% of Africans received formal education, but since independence, Ghana for instance, has as high as 75% literacy rate, Botswana as much as 86%, and many Africans come to America and Europe with scholarships and great academic preparedness. Why do American media not discuss some of these positive attributes? I am truly grateful for how Africa raised me and so do millions of African people. It truly breaks my heart to hear all the horrible things everyday of a c ontinent, which otherwise has so much to be admired for their rich heritage, contributions to the world as we see it today, good community living, extended family system for emotional stability, great self-esteem and a sense of belonging. African young people are among the most stable, emotionally. Therefore if I have anything at all to suggest, it is that your Being program make a commitment to discuss that side of the African life story as well with African intellectuals, putting things into their proper cultural context for a balancing view of Africa, her people and her affairs. Thank you.

Nana Akomaa

DEar MS Tippet, As a former christian of many years turned agnostic,I always try to respect people's personal convictions(save for self-serving exploitive ones) However, I'm a bit concerned about how religion as expressed on your show is used to push a conservative political agenda. OVer the past two years I've heard at least two shows touting the virtues of capitialism and "cowboy capitalism"on the name of "spirituality". Never have you or any of your guests questioned the rhetoric of "social entrepreneurship" as possibly misleading people, to serve the economically privliged. ANd on this past Sunday's show , Nicholas Kristof got a free ride as he defended sweat shops as an 'escalator to opportunity" for people who work in them, justified the war b Afghanistan in the name of "security", and other controversial issues that"liberals don't understand". And while it's all fine and good that a nun was personally hand feeding starving children d oes Mr Kristof really see this as "hope" or a solution to world wide hunger? Or is he deliberatley misleading us to shield from accountability those financial interests who tampered with food prices to make food unaffordable to many in Africa and other continents? In short, I'm asking where is the critical inquiry that is so essential to public media journalism? Sincerely, Dana Franchitto S.WEllfleet, MA.

Advocates for Peace

"It does not require a majority to prevail,
but rather an irate, tireless minority
keen to set brush fires in people's minds."
--Samuel Adams
Many people have said it
smarter than me so I believe
it is true though I have never
found a viable candidate I can
support opposed to war
and war making and my
peace-loving friends are
few and far between.

So I continue to be irate and
rage with Jesus at the horror stories
in Darfour and the Congo. If I
can set brush fires in my reader’s
minds then perhaps that’s
the best I can do and hope
that someday the love of
Jesus and peace will prevail.

© 2010 by Harold Confer

The fine balancing act between exploitation of another's suffering and the need to tell that story of suffering so others are moved to compassion and action. Recognition, also, of our capacity to respond (with aid, empathy, and even the clothes off our backs and blood donations) to horrific images from a single event, while being unable to maintain that assistance and compassion in the face of seemingly unending tragedy to thousands of people at the hands of their own government. How does Kristof - and how do other individuals who continue to slog on in the face of such horrors - maintain their reserves of compassion and good will? Finally, a deepening sense of despair at the last observation: that the plight of women and girls is still so tenuous, and that sex slavery exists in such huge numbers (and I know this is a blight not limited to underdeveloped countries, but engulfs girls from every socioeconomic background even here in Ohio). Humbled at the ability of Mr. Kristof to communicate so effectively, and to sustain his high standards for investigation in the most challenging of circumstances.

Journalism and Compassion
Can journalism be a humanitarian art? New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof
A Journalist concern about how issue on human poverty; can have the ability to be so overwhelming to the reader that it can deadens the sensibility and empathy of the reader toward mankind.
He feels that Journalist should go the extra mile and become concerned enough to share what happens to them after gaining knowledge about the hidden issues that they bring to light, and not only tell the stories but tell how it changed them from being not just a journalist but a person that can also make a difference in the lives of the people, and the issues they write about, and also tell how the change of heart came about.

Kristof shines light on situation and issues worldwide, such as in China (baby girls dying because of not getting the same nourishment as baby boys)

The story about the peoples concern over a red tail hawk verses hundreds of people being driven out of their homes is what stuck a cord with him, how can people be so deaden to the crises of humanity.

His endeavor became an inner drive to reconnect the reader to the stories of mankind. By showing that you can make a difference after being informed about human tragedy, because he realized that the reader becomes so overwhelmed after reader these tragic, horrific, terrible reality issues concerning human lives that we find it easier to simply shut down our bowls of compassion and turn a deaf ear.

So he step up to give a more broaden form of journalism by not only bringing the reader into the life of the unknown, poverty stricken, stories but ways that the reader can make a difference after becoming informed.