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Nicholas Kristof’s last column for The NYTimes

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Nicholas D. Kristof - Davos 2010.jpg
nytimes.com
Opinion | A Farewell to Readers, With Hope
A columnist offers lessons learned from decades on the front lines of reporting and explains why he is leaving to run for office.
Nicholas Kristof@NickKristof
After 37 years at the @nytimes, my last column is in today’s print edition, with lessons learned — and a measure of hope. We know how to address (however imperfectly) social ills, from homelessness to addiction, if only we can summon the political will.

My life was transformed when I was 25 years old and nervously walked into a job interview in the grand office of Abe Rosenthal, the legendary and tempestuous executive editor of The New York Times. At one point, I disagreed with him, so I waited for him to explode and call security. Instead, he stuck out his hand and offered me a job.

Exhilaration washed over me: I was a kid and had found my employer for the rest of my life! I was sure that I would leave The Times only feet first.

Yet this is my last column for The Times. I am giving up a job I love to run for governor of Oregon.

It’s fair to question my judgment. When my colleague William Safire was asked if he would give up his Times column to be secretary of state, he replied, “Why take a step down?”

So why am I doing this?

I’m getting to that, but first a few lessons from my 37 years as a Times reporter, editor and columnist.

In particular, I want to make clear that while I’ve spent my career on the front lines of human suffering and depravity, covering genocide, war, poverty and injustice, I’ve emerged firmly believing that we can make real progress by summoning the political will. We are an amazing species, and we can do better.

Lesson No. 1: Side by side with the worst of humanity, you find the best.

The genocide in Darfur seared me and terrified me. To cover the slaughter there, I sneaked across borders, slipped through checkpoints, ingratiated myself with mass murderers.

In Darfur, it was hard to keep from weeping as I interviewed shellshocked children who had been shot, raped or orphaned. No one could report in Darfur and not smell the evil in the air. Yet alongside the monsters, I invariably found heroes.

There were teenagers who volunteered to use their bows and arrows to protect their villages from militiamen with automatic weapons. There were aid workers, mostly local, who risked their lives to deliver assistance. And there were ordinary Sudanese like Suad Ahmed, a then-25-year-old Darfuri woman I met in one dusty refugee camp.

Suad had been out collecting firewood with her 10-year-old sister, Halima, when they saw the janjaweed, a genocidal militia, approaching on horseback.

“Run!” Suad told her sister. “You must run and escape.”

Then Suad created a diversion so the janjaweed chased her rather than Halima. They caught Suad, brutally beat her and gang-raped her, leaving her too injured to walk.

Suad played down her heroism, telling me that even if she had fled, she might have been caught anyway. She said that her sister’s escape made the sacrifice worth it.

Even in a landscape of evil, the most memorable people aren’t the Himmlers and Eichmanns but the Anne Franks and Raoul Wallenbergs — and Suad Ahmeds — capable of exhilarating goodness in the face of nauseating evil. They are why I left the front lines not depressed but inspired.

…MORE

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