Nicholas Kristof isn’t sticking around after speaking Monday at Cal State Long Beach. Hours after his closing statement, and before the sun comes up, the New York Times columnist will be back on a plane to the East Coast.
It’s not that he dislikes public appearances or traveling. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author has done plenty of both in his 33-year career. Kristof said he simply doesn’t want to be away from his office for long, not with the ever-changing political landscape these days in Washington, D.C.
“It’s been completely crazy. It’s been nonstop news and chaos and really important issues that I want to write about,” Kristof said of the months since the 2016 presidential election. “I normally try to travel quite a bit but I haven’t been able to do so because the most important news story is happening right here at home.”
Still, Kristof is taking a day out of his hectic schedule to speak at the Carpenter Center, not only about his travels (he’s been to 160 countries), but his work as an op-ed columnist and champion of varied causes. While Kristof dabbles in political issues, he largely writes on human rights abuses and social injustices, such as human trafficking and the Darfur conflict. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu once called Kristof an “honorary African” after shining light on the country’s struggles.
While Kristof said any “big newsy story” on deadline gets his adrenalin flowing, he likes focusing his energies on neglected issues.
“If it’s not getting a lot of attention, I feel that by writing about it, I can draw more attention in ways that will actually make a difference,” he said. “That’s incredibly satisfying.”
Kristof said among his favorite stories are the ones he did during the Darfur conflict in 2004, considered to be one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world. The fighting led to an estimated 480,000 deaths and more than 3 million others were forced into refugee camps, according to the United Nations.
“I feel I helped, along with lots of others, and there was a positive outcome and a lot of lives were saved,” he said.
Kristof was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2004 and again in 2005 for his columns that portrayed suffering among the world’s often forgotten people. He won the Pulitzer Prize the following year for what the committee described as “his graphic, deeply reported columns that, at personal risk, focused attention on genocide in Darfur.”
In 1990, Kristof teamed up with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, to win his first Pulitzer for international reporting on the pro-democracy student movement and Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Altogether, Kristof has been a Pulitzer finalist seven times.
Yet it’s been the reporting he has done with his wife of 29 years that has been the most rewarding, he said.
“There’s been something really useful about the reporting I’ve done with my wife about women’s rights,” Kristof said.
“When I started my career, I never imagined this was a topic I could see myself writing about because I thought serious foreign policy issues were about missiles or invasions, or maybe trade. It was about what presidents did or what prime ministers did.
“Increasingly over time, I came to see some of these nontraditional international issues were potentially more important and they include the routine discrimination of so many women and girls around the world. Hunger and poverty that is affecting people around the world.”
Then there is President Trump. While Kristof, a liberal/progressive columnist, said he disagrees with many of Trump’s policies and decisions, he also believes the businessman-turned-president has confidence issues.
“President Trump doesn’t have a lot of government experience, and in many cases, he chose for government positions, who likewise are outsiders,” he said. “That makes it harder to use the levers of government.”
Kristof said he expects to be asked about Trump when he’s in Long Beach, but also hopes to share his ideas on how today’s students can make a difference at home and abroad by staying on top of current issues.