Dingus of the Week: Nicholas Kristof

Lord grant us the confidence of a New York Times op-ed writer

Hi! Welcome to the Weekly Dingus, my Friday newsletter, where I round up my internet reads, share a drink, and yell about a dingus. Is that dingus a politicianA boat in a canalMy dog? Or maybe it’s just pants. You can read about past weekly dinguses in the archives.

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Oregon is in trouble. And the only person who can save it is New York Times op-ed writer Nicholas Kristof. Kristof has made a name for himself as a savior of women, but now he’s gonna save you, Oregon.

On Thursday, the New York Times reported that Kristof is leaving his job as he explores a run for governor. Kristof grew up in Yamhill, Oregon, and recently wrote a book about the town’s economic decline.

In a statement to the Times, he noted, “I’ve gotten to know presidents and tyrants, Nobel laureates and warlords, while visiting 160 countries. And precisely because I have a great job, outstanding editors and the best readers, I may be an idiot to leave. But you all know how much I love Oregon, and how much I’ve been seared by the suffering of old friends there. So I’ve reluctantly concluded that I should try not only to expose problems but also see if I can fix them directly.”

There are many ways to help fix a state. And running for governor is not even in the top 10. The others are, of course, harder and messier. Like supporting local candidates, canvassing, feeding the hungry, becoming an activist to end homelessness. He could run for mayor or city council. Both thankless jobs that do the grunt work of local governance. But Kristof is skipping all those steps and jumping straight to the top. After all, he’s had experience, doing literally none of the things that governors do. But he has talked to people. And one time he ran a morality campaign to get The Village Voice to shut down its Backpage, accusing them of aiding human trafficking. Except, according to Backpage, it didn’t even exist when Kristof accused them of helping to sex traffic an underage girl.

Kristof’s pearl-clutching over the purity of poor ravaged girls has gotten him into trouble. He’s written columns about women who have been accused of fabricating their stories. Kristof also wrote fawningly about Greg Mortenson, the author of the memoir Three Cups of Tea, which was billed as, “the astonishing, uplifting story of a real-life Indiana Jones and his remarkable humanitarian campaign in the Taliban’s backyard.” Except, it was fake. But don’t get mad at Kristof, Thomas Friedman fell for it too. You know who didn’t, though? Jon Krakauer.

After all, when has the lack of formal training, experience, or aptitude ever stopped a man from attempting to grab hold of power and ruining our country in the process? Never. In fact, it’s a tale as American as the KFC Doubledown. 

As an aside: My favorite Kristof column was the time he lamented that we discriminate against lady hurricanes and accused forecasters of naming deadly hurricanes after ladies and the milder ones after men. But it was based on a debunked study. The column, published in 2014, has a correction, but only about misspelling the name of a Vanderbilt professor.

Look, does Kristof have two Pulitzers? Yes. Is he a talented writer? Some would say so. Does he have any relevant experience to be a governor? No. And in fact, there are quite a few women in Oregon who have been working in politics a long time who would be far more qualified. 

But nevertheless, he’s gonna persist. You can’t hold an unqualified man down. After all, when has the lack of formal training, experience, or aptitude ever stopped a man from attempting to grab hold of power and ruining our country in the process? Never. In fact, it’s a tale as American as the KFC Doubledown. 

Blair Stenvik, a very qualified arts and culture editor for the Portland Mercury, wrote on Wednesday:

And the thing is, we really don’t need another fucking sir-this-is-an-Arby’s political leader. We didn’t need one before Donald Trump, or before Arnold Schwarzenegger won the California recall, or before a B-list actor named Ronald Reagan took office and dismantled the social safety net. We certainly don’t need one now.

It’s easy to argue that Kristof at least has more expertise than those men, considering his job requires him to stay up on the news of the world. But you know who he doesn’t have more expertise than? Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek or Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read, both of whom are already running in the Democratic primary. Ask yourself: What does Kristof have that those two lack? The answer: A national profile, and a mountain of yellowing newspaper columns about how the world should be.

Listen, we may not be able to talk Kristof out of this. And Oregon, I am sorry, but I lived in Minnesota while Jesse Ventura was governor. I think you’ll survive somehow.

But maybe we can all take a lesson here. That maybe that thing you are nervous about doing because you aren’t qualified? You know what? Just go do it. Go. Go forth with the bold, brazen, unearned confidence of a New York Times op-ed writer quitting his job to run for governor.

What I Am Reading:

This week, I read The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy and PHEW. What a book. What a beautiful, marvelous book about breaking and divorce and life. It’s written so perfectly, each sentence strikes a vibrating perfect note, like a well-tuned piano. I don’t even know what I am saying. I can’t play the piano. Please read the book. I saw the author Joanna Rakoff recommend it on her Instagram page and now every lady writer I know of a certain age, who has lived a life or two, is gobbling the book up and sobbing over the perfect passages.

A post shared by Megan Stielstra (@meganstielstra)

Hedge funds are gutting local newsrooms. But not if we don’t gut ourselves first!

This week, I wrote about professional jealousy. And wolves. 

Also, hi, AMES! I will see you on Saturday at 2pm at Dog Eared Books. A reading and a signing.

What I Am Drinking:

I am very tired this week. I did a lot of writing and parenting. And more writing. I mean, that’s literally my job. But it means that I am mostly drinking water and coffee. And this weekend, I’ve got no plans beyond just naps and more work. Fortunately, this newsletter has an editor, Kim. Kim is wonderful. We’ve worked together for the past year and I adore her. Anyway, she gave me this tip last week. It’s not a drink, but it’s not NOT a drink. I’m calling it the KimTonic.

One of my old faves, which is not actually a drink but I loved it, was to pour a shot of Jim Beam in a glass, splash a shit-ton of Ango bitters into it, and then hit it with a splash of warm ginger beer. It’s cozy.

Also, a reader (hi, Hilary!) sent in these suggestions, which I will list now.

Wanted to suggest two variations on an old fashioned (since I also love those) in case you hadn’t tried them. The first is an old fashioned made with rum, preferably a nice dark rum like those from plantation or ron zacapa… I love those, and if you play with the sugar cube / bitters ratio you can end up with something that’s not too sweet.

The second is an old fashioned made with a specific type of scotch that I find very easy drinking, whether by itself or in cocktails - Auchentoshan American oak. I also really like their 12 year and three wood varieties if you feel like being fancy. Makes a great Rob Roy too.

Orrrrrr you could explore the very specific Wisconsin style brandy old fashioned and it’s many variations (very different than your standard old fashioned but extremely easy drinking). Also if you like beer I love getting a bunch of Miller high life, putting it in a pitcher, and dropping some lemonade ice cubes in. More of a summer thing though.

I meant to try the rum old-fashioned this week, but I didn’t. I promise I won’t fail you this week, Hilary. I probably shouldn’t promise that. But look, I never promised I was going to be good at this all the time. Even a newsletter takes a village. So thank you to this specific village of boozy humans.

Men Yell at Me is a newsletter about the places where our bodies and politics collide and yes, the occasional yelling man. Learn more about it and me (Lyz) here. You can sign up to receive the free weekly email, which includes interviews, essays, and original reporting. The Friday email is a weekly round-up of dinguses, drinks, and links. On Monday I have a subscribers-only open thread where we discuss politics and our bodies and more.