With Jane Clayson
With Trump getting all the headlines, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof says other important issues at home and abroad are ignored. He joins us.
Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist for the New York Times who write on human rights, women's rights, health and global affairs. (@NickKristof)
On the media's complicated relationship with Trump
Nicholas Kristof: "Well, boy, it's awkward, isn't it, since we criticize him nonstop, justifiably, and yet he is crucial to it to our business model. You know, back in 2016 I remember some anxiety in newsrooms, because at that point we had huge audiences because of the election. But there was considerable concern that Hillary Clinton would win and then the world would become boring again, and her audiences would drop and the business model would erode. And, well, that has not happened.
"We have to cover President Trump. We the news media generally are crucial to providing that kind of accountability, and I don't think there's been a time in my lifetime when this kind of accountability journalism is as important. But I think we also have to liken this to a multi-front war. And one front is President Trump's assault on institutions and norms in the country. But there are all these other fronts too."
On how coverage of Trump boosts audiences for media organizations
NK: "As a journalist, you know, I know that I can just about hit an F5 key and a anti-Trump column will pour out. It will get huge traction and a lot of readers. Or I can travel halfway around the world to, for example, try to cover the genocide against the Rohingya, and my audience will decline. And you know I'm at this point I'm at a stage in my career when I'm perfectly happy to do that to lose audiences...But I do think that there is a real challenge, and maybe especially for cable television — partly because they have real metrics about exactly how many people are watching at any one moment.
"Frankly, if you're the executive producer of a cable TV show, you know that you can send a camera crew off to cover opioids in West Virginia, or some crisis further afield — but if you do that, your audience will drop compared to a rival network that puts a Democrat and a Republican in a studio together and has them yell at each other. And that is particularly problematic at a time when the business model for much of journalism is collapsing and we're not really sure what is going to replace it."
On the news stories we should be paying attention to that don't have to do with Trump
NK: "I think there is a a growing evidence that we took kind of a 50-year wrong turn in the U.S. on some crucial policies. We were the leader in the world in terms of high school graduation rates as recently as the 1960s. Now we rank twenty-third. In healthcare we were among the leaders in the 1960s. Now we are way down the pack...There is some profound dysfunction going on, and some of the things that would address it are the kinds of issues that aren't getting attention because they're not particularly politicized.
"I do think that there is a systematic pattern that the issues that we in America are worst at developing policies toward are those that are hardest to talk about, for one reason or another. Maybe it's because they involve sex, which always is kind of an awkward conversation, or sexual violence, or because they involve a certain amount of shame — mental health, for example. Domestic violence. And the news media should be trying to break some of these taboos, should be trying to cover some of these difficult issues."
The New York Times: "Our Addiction To Trump" — "As president, Trump is enormously important, but there’s so much else happening as well. Some 65,000 Americans will die this year of drug overdoses, American life expectancy has fallen for two years in a row, guns claim a life every 15 minutes and the number of uninsured is rising again even as a child in the U.S. is 70 percent more likely to die before adulthood than one in other advanced nations. Those issues are rather more important than the question of whether Stormy Daniels slept with Trump."
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is frustrated with his profession — and a bit with himself. In a recent op-ed, he writes, “In America today, it’s all Trump, all the time. We’re collectively addicted to him.” Kristof warns we’re losing sight of what else is happening around the globe and here at home — gun violence, opioids, genocide and more.
This hour, On Point: Nicholas Kristof's battle cry to take off the Trump blinders and look around.
This program aired on May 8, 2018.