The Reporter I trust (and there aren’t many)

Dec 8, 2010 by

The Reporter I trust (and there aren’t many)

When I was a child television news in our home meant Walter Cronkite. In junior high school history class we watched his “You Are There” series of historical reenactments. There were reasons he was the most trusted man in America; why President Johnson once said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America” and became a one-term president. Cronkite was calm, thoughtful and balanced. His work and his words made a positive difference.

Most popular news celebrities today–from both the right and the left–remind me far more of  Howard Beale in the movie Network (“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!“) than of Walter Cronkite. There are exceptions, of course. But for the most part it seems like so much screaming, interrupting, innuendo, corporate influence, and preconceived bias. What we see on television and hear on radio isn’t news. It’s entertainment. It’s opinion laced with vitriol. The focus isn’t on informing the public about the important issues of our day; on providing knowledge and understanding. It’s about profits.

And then there’s Nicholas Kristof.

Without the reporting of Nick Kristof the world may never have learned about the crisis in Darfur; certainly not as early as we did. I look for his columns in the New York Times because they always inform, they help me think, they broaden my knowledge about issues that matter around the world. I’d like to also recommend to you two projects of his outside of the Times.

Half The Sky Book CoverKristof and his wife, Sheryl Wudunn, wrote the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Did you know that more girls have been killed in the last half century – because they were girls -than all the men who were killed in all the wars of the 20th century? The authors demonstrate clearly that the abuse and enslavement of women and girls is the greatest moral outrage of our time. This is one of the best and most powerful books I’ve read in the past year. I was honored and humbled when I learned that the United Methodist Women selected both Half the Sky and Inheriting the Trade for their 2011 reading program.

While participating in, and presenting at, the Bioneers Conference recently with my friends Belvie Rooks and Dedan Gills, I saw the documentary film The Reporter. In it, we follow Kristof in 2007 when he traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than five million people have been killed there over the past decade. Kristof’s mission is to make sure this humanitarian crisis is well-known; that everyone from typical citizens to international decision-makers knows what’s happening with the hope that with this knowledge will come the responsibility to make a positive difference there. He meets people from the most humble peasants in devastated villages to the Congo’s leading rebel warlord in his jungle lair. It’s a harrowing and important film.

Reading Half the Sky and watching The Reporter may give you the impression that Kristof pretty much reports on the most horrible and sad situations around the world. That is true. And we should all be grateful for his important work. We have choices. We can watch and read the bizarre “info-tainment” that passes for “news” in most places today. We can hide from the important news because so many places and situations in the world are horrible. Or we can seek out those who can help us understand the terror and oppression that continues to plague our world and, with that knowledge, do something about it.

Paying attention to Nick Kristof is a good place to begin.


Thomas Norman DeWolf is the author of Inheriting the Trade

1 Comment

  1. My dear Mr. Dewolf; You have illuminated one of the great problems of our society today, “Info-tainment”. As a broadcast journalist in the 60’s through the 80’s I was in a position to determine the content of the “newscasts” we produced. In one such case, where I served as Assignment Editor, our 3o minute nightly “News at six” program was built around an opening fifteen minute presentation of all of the important stories of the day, world, national and local, with Clete Roberts reporting. Clete was a “no nonsense” anchor who wanted justification for every story he was to present. After Clete’s opening fifteen minutes a special report, an investigative series of stories presented by another fine broadcast journalist, Tom Franklin who specialized in matters that affected the pocketbooks and bank accounts of our viewers. He was followed by our sports reporter, Tom Harmon, who, because of his stature in the sports world, had live interviews with the likes of Jesse Owens, Ralph Boston, Babe Dietrichson Zaharias, Arnold Palmer and other top name atheletes of the time. A short weather report and we encapsulated the important news of the day in thirty minutes. We had no “Hollywood Reporter”, even though that was our base of operation. If a story out of Hollywood was deemed important enough to affect our viewers lives then we ran it, if it was some flack’s piece of fluff, it went in the barrel with the other myriad handouts that we got every day. I was proud to be a part of an organization that was actually what it claimed to be, a “Newscast”. Oh, and one other thing, the only “Teaser” we ever ran was, “Here is a bulletin from the Associated Press”, or our inserts in the nightly programming that “News at 10 will give you all of the news of the day…” It was a much different way of presenting the news than we have today and I’m glad I was a part of it.
    John W. Strobel III