As Nicholas Kristof and crew rode into an impoverished community in Congo, children with hunger-strict faces and dirty clothes chased after his jeep. I don’t remember what color the car was, but if I had to guess, I would say it was white.
If you have never seen “Reporter,” you should. Regardless of how you feel about Kristof (disclaimer, I’m a fan), you’re in for an incredible documentary that raises important moral questions for the journalist and average-joe alike.
I’m going to try to touch on just one of these issues from the perspective of an aspiring journalist. Probably the hardest part of the film for me was watching the mental process behind one of my journalistic heroes. As a columnist for the New York Times, I knew that Kristof doesn’t hesitate to tell the gruesome stories in order to shock the American public into action. I respect that method, even. Take this column about Malawi, a country I knew nothing about until I started reading Kristof’s columns. Kristof is well-known for starting his columns with a human face and voice, a human that is suffering. In “Reporter,” I watched Kristof seek out the worst case senario he could find, deciding finally on a dying woman named Yohanita Nyiahabimama.
As I followed Kristof across Congo in search of his Yohanita, honestly I felt a little queasy. And a little mad. Was Kristof exploiting Yohanita to write the most powerful column possible? Was he deceiving the American public by finding the worst example of the turmoil in Congo he could? But then a different thought entered my mind. Is there something as “too much” or “too far” when it comes to genocide? Because genocide was what Kristof was witnessing. It’s what America wasn’t seeing. Is it really a terrible thing if Kristof goes and finds the saddest story he can because he knows that’s what is needed to soften our disaster-hardened American hearts?
A part of me stills feels uneasy about his process. But I can’t argue with the results Kristof has brought about through his writing. You see, I have this crazy notion that journalists have the power to show the world that change can be brought about with words. Not guns. Not violence. Not political manipulation. Just words that inspire public response. Kristof has proven that’s possible. And I think that’s justification enough.