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Pulitzer winner Nicholas Kristof talks journalism in speech at Gonzaga

November 6, 2018

New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof remembers feeling dispirited while reporting on Darfur in the early 1990s.

His stories on the genocide there were barely getting attention, he said, while many back home were consumed by buzzy coverage of some red-tailed hawks that had settled down in New York City’s Central Park. One of the birds was given a catchy name: Pale Male.

“All New York was up in arms about these two homeless red-tailed hawks, and I couldn’t generate the same outrage about hundreds of thousands of people being slaughtered,” Kristof said. “And I thought, what is wrong?’”

This was one of many anecdotes that Kristoff – the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes – told before a packed ballroom Monday night at Gonzaga University. His talk, titled “Moment of Truth: Journalism and Democracy in an Age of Misinformation,” was presented by Humanities Washington and Gonzaga’s Center for Public Humanities.

In an opening speech and a question-and-answer session with Gary Stokes, the general manager of Spokane’s KSPS public television station, Kristof argued that American media must do a better job of reporting on serious issues, without getting too absorbed in the latest political frays or, say, cat videos on the internet.

Just as he was dispirited by the all-consuming coverage of the hawks in Central Park, Kristof said it’s disheartening to hear that journalists are enemies of the people – not from a foreign dictator, but from the president of the United States. He said he’s disappointed, too, by the administration’s actions so far regarding the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The United States is complicit in the coverup of the murder, he said, if it does not take stronger actions against the Saudi crown prince.

And yet Kristof said he is heartened by stories of human hope and resilience, even when he travels to report on places ripped apart by war, famine and poverty. Stories of people helping one another make the broader, grimmer stories easier to process, he said.

“I end up coming back from places like Congo feeling better about humanity,” he said.

Kristof’s byline has appeared in the Times since 1984. He’s covered Asia extensively, having served as the paper’s bureau chief in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Beijing, where he and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, covered the Tiananmen Square democracy movement – work that won them the Pulitzer in 1990.

Kristof, who was raised in Yamhill, Oregon, has written from Africa and Europe, too, and he covered the 2000 presidential election with a focus on George W. Bush’s campaign. He’s been an opinion columnist for the Times since 2001, covering politics, international affairs, health, human rights and women’s rights. He won his second Pulitzer, for commentary in 2006, for his deeply reported columns about the genocide in Darfur.

He and WuDunn have written several books, including “Half the Sky,” which centers on the oppression of women and girls in the developing world, and “A Path Appears,” which looks at strategies for solving the world’s great problems, such as poverty, sex trafficking and violence.

Spokesman-Review features editor Carolyn Lamberson contributed to this report.

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