New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is often accused of trying to save the world. It happens when you write about Tiananmen Square (Pulitzer), Darfur (another Pulitzer), and international sex trafficking.
But the farm boy from Yamhill, Oregon, simply spent his summer hiking Washington’s Pacific Crest Trail and bracing for the September release of his book A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, cowritten with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn. We caught the globe-hopper fresh off the trail. —Allison Williams
Is your PCT adventure about pulling a Cheryl Strayed and finding yourself a la Wild?
Not really. I’ve been hiking the PCT since, oh, I was about 13 years old and have gotten the kids engaged. This year we finished off Oregon and Washington.
I have an Oregonian’s slight sort of disdain for Washington—a more crowded version of Oregon. But hiking through Washington I’m fearing being a little disloyal to my native state. Wow, Goat Rocks and the North Cascades? They are some of the most beautiful places in the world.
Your column tends to focus on individual victims to tell the story of an issue, but sometimes those victims lie. How do you deal with that?
Mistakes are an inevitable part of everything we do. You try as much as you can to get things right, both the big picture things and the details. It’s important to be skeptical of victims as well as of perpetrators. And victims tend to be unhappy with that kind of scrutiny, and it’s kind of weird. I think I encountered that for the first time covering the Chinese massacre on June 4 [in Tiananmen Square], when the victims were exaggerating the scale of the slaughter. The killing was real, but it was not at the scale they were sometimes describing.
You’re often accused of trying to save the world. Is that your goal?
I certainly wouldn’t put it that way. A lot of us went into journalism with the hope of making a difference. But on the other hand you can’t cover every city council meeting with the aim that
you’re gonna change the world doing it.
Your new book is all about how to have an impact. What’s the best way to make a difference?
One of the mistakes we make is trying to intervene too late. One of the great lessons of experience and of biology is that it’s a lot more cost effective to try to help a 15-month-old than it is to help a 15-year-old. And that’s true whether you’re talking about kids in Seattle or kids in Sudan.