You, O king, saw, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before you; and its form was frightening. This image’s head was of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze, Its legs of iron, its feet part of iron and part of clay. - Daniel 2:31-33
Because I don’t live in New York and am comparatively new (about two years) to the whole blogging scene, I had actually never heard of Nicholas Kristof until autumn of 2010 (which is only fair, since he apparently hadn’t heard of me until March 18th). As I’ve since discovered, he’s been trying to make a name for himself for years, but petty little men like Kristof can never climb on their own; they always do so by trying to bring down others, and if that takes lies so be it. In the last few years he has used “sex trafficking” hysteria (and crusades against prostitutes, brothels and Backpage) to establish himself as a hero to legions of adoring fans, and while those of us working to dispel the myths about the subject have seen him for what he is for quite some time, it’s only recently that more mainstream writers have begun to call attention to this idol’s feet of clay.
The process started the same day he “tweeted” about my column, March 18th; on that day he published one of his typical lurid “sex slavery” accounts, claiming that Backpage was somehow responsible for the “pimping” of a 16-year-old girl he called “Alissa”. As regular readers know, Kristof always plays fast-and-loose with the facts in such columns, but this time he went too far; while he usually uses anonymous women’s stories (often without permission) and then distorts and exaggerates them into unrecognizability (to “protect” the women, of course), this time he left enough facts to allow the story to be checked. So Village Voice (owners of Backpage) did, and guess what?
Nicholas D. Kristof…wrote about an underage victim of human trafficking: “Alissa says pimps routinely peddled her on Backpage.” A video that accompanied his online op-ed was headlined: “Age 16, She Was Sold on Backpage.com” That is not true. According to Alissa’s court testimony, she was 16 in 2003. Backpage.com did not exist anywhere in America in 2003…she…came to the FBI’s attention in August, 2005 [and] was…relocated away from the corners and hotels she worked in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Atlantic City…In the summer of 2005 Backpage.com did not exist in Boston, New York, Philadelphia or Atlantic City. Had Kristof followed any of The New York Times’ standards of journalism, he would have known this. He could have read the court transcripts. He could have read the testimony…He could have Googled the case and read the coverage in The Boston Globe…Neglecting to do any of the above, Kristof could still have asked us. Despite extensive correspondence with our attorney, he never mentioned Alissa or sought confirmation about her purported link to Backpage.com at the age of 16. Instead, he concocted a story to suit his agenda and then asked his readers to boycott Village Voice Media…
It’s possible that Alissa lied either in her testimony or to Kristof, or both; it would be typical of the “reframing of experiences” neofeminist prohibitionists teach to “survivors”. But given Kristof’s track record, it’s just as likely he made it up without her help. Jacob Sullum of Reason covered the story on the 21st, and one of the commenters on that column provided a link to a May 2010 article in The Atlantic about the ordeal of Dr. Steven Hatfill, who was railroaded by the FBI for the September 2001 anthrax scare…and as it turns out, Kristof helped to lay the rails:
…Some journalists became convinced there was plenty pointing to Hatfill’s guilt. Among those beating the drum early and loud…was Nicholas Kristof…[who initially] stopped short of naming Hatfill publicly, instead branding him with the sinister-sounding pseudonym “Mr. Z.” Without identifying his sources, in a July column Kristof wrote:
If Mr. Z were an Arab national, he would have been imprisoned long ago. But he is a true-blue American with close ties to the U.S. Defense Department, the C.I.A. and the American biodefense program…With many experts buzzing about Mr. Z behind his back, it’s time for the F.B.I. to make a move: either it should go after him more aggressively, sifting thoroughly through his past and picking up loose threads, or it should seek to exculpate him and remove this cloud of suspicion.
One of those threads, Kristof reported, pointed to the possibility that Mr. Z was a genocidal racist who had carried out germ warfare to slaughter innocent black Africans. Kristof addressed his column directly to the FBI:
Have you examined whether Mr. Z has connections to the biggest anthrax outbreak among humans ever recorded, the one that sickened more than 10,000 black farmers in Zimbabwe in 1978–80? There is evidence that the anthrax was released by the white Rhodesian Army fighting against black guerrillas, and Mr. Z has claimed that he participated in the white army’s much-feared Selous Scouts. Could rogue elements of the American military have backed the Rhodesian Army in anthrax and cholera attacks against blacks?
Kristof didn’t mention that the majority of soldiers in the Rhodesian army, and in Hatfill’s unit, were black; or that many well-respected scientists who examined the evidence concluded that the Rhodesian anthrax outbreak emerged naturally when cattle herds went unvaccinated during a turbulent civil war. Kristof also failed to mention that Mr. Z had served in that war as a lowly private. To have been involved in some sort of top-secret Rhodesian germ-weapons program “would’ve been like a Pakistani army private being brought in to work on a project at Los Alamos,” Hatfill says today.
Kristof wrote that Mr. Z had shown “evasion” in repeated FBI polygraph examinations. He also claimed that following the anthrax attacks, Mr. Z had accessed an “isolated residence”…where…“Mr. Z gave Cipro to people who visited it.” Other journalists would later describe this mysterious residence as a “remote cabin,” a kind of Ted Kaczynski–style hideout where a deranged scientist could easily have prepared anthrax for mailing. In fact, the “cabin” was a three-bedroom weekend home…in rural Virginia owned by a longtime friend of Hatfill’s, George R. Borsari Jr., an avuncular Washington communications lawyer and retired Army lieutenant colonel. Borsari says he found speculation that his place had been a haven for spies or bioterrorists laughable. When an FBI agent asked Borsari if he would allow a search of the property, Borsari said no. “I told him, ‘I’m not going to be a part of your publicity game,’” Borsari says. No search was ever conducted, but by then the damage to Hatfill had been done…
Kristof’s grown more ambitious in the past decade; he used to be satisfied with libeling individuals, but now he targets entire corporations. Nor is it only sex worker rights advocates and libertarians who question Kristof’s motives and methods; consider this March 21st article (also from The Atlantic) by Teju Cole, in which he compares Kristof to the disgraced “Invisible Children” crusaders:
…This weekend, I listened to a radio interview given by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof…best known for his… accounts of his activism or that of other Westerners. When I saw the Kony 2012 video, I found it tonally similar to Kristof’s approach…I do not accuse Kristof of racism nor do I believe he is in any way racist…But that, precisely, is what worries me…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…is need, and he sees no need to reason out the need for the need…I disagree with the approach taken by…the White Savior Industrial Complex…because there is much more to doing good work than “making a difference.” There is the principle of first do no harm. There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them…
I think Cole is being too kind in saying Kristof is good-hearted and not racist; in fact I agree with Dr. Laura Agustín that he’s very much a racist, because he believes his own race and culture’s way of doing things is the right way for everyone. True charity does not come at the point of a gun, good causes need not be shored up with lies, and worthy idols do not have feet of clay.
One Year Ago Today
“April Updates” discusses the suppressed Rind-Tromovitch-Bauserman study, reports on the Egyptian women subjected to “virginity tests” and two New Orleans cops fired for harassing streetwalkers, criticizes the conviction of a Massachusetts sportswriter for “pimping” and marks the publication of Satoshi Kanazawa’s column about me.