Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Darfur, Nicholas Kristof, and Bill O'Reilly

There is an angry debate going on right now between liberal columnist Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and conservative television host Bill O'Reilly. Kristof has devoted an entire column yesterday to attacking Bill O'Reilly and launching a fund to pay for Bill O'Reilly to travel to Darfur. "[M]aybe Mr. O'Reilly's concern is cost, so I thought my readers might want to give him a hand. You can help sponsor a trip by Mr. O'Reilly to Darfur, where he can use his television savvy to thunder against something actually meriting his blustery rage." On Kristof's blog (yes, NY Times columnists now have blogs) he reports that he has raised over $75,000 to fund an O'Reilly trip to Darfur.

Bill O'Reilly has responded with a nasty post about how Kristof cares about troubles abroad but not problems at home. In this article entitled Darfur vs. Vermont he criticizes Kristof for ignoring the light sentence imposed on a teenage rapist in Vermont. "The 60-day sentence for a child rapist came to light. Because Kristof had referenced teenage rape in his criticism of me, I fully expected to see him and The New York Times all over the Vermont story. After all, this human rights violation happened just a few hundred miles north of New York City.But The New York Times did not cover the Vermont story--did not even mention it. And there was not a word from my pal Nicholas Kristof, the human rights guy." Of course, O'Reilly is simply ridiculous to suggest that we should care about teenage rape in Vermont, or genocide in Darfur, but not both.

The Kristof-O'Reilly exchange highlights one of the things that is most disturbing to me about mainstream media. There is lots of heat but very little light. Lots of shouting but very little dialogue. The hidden message behind the debate is that conservatives don't care about human rights and that liberals don't care about law and order. It makes for good ratings, but of course neither are true.

One of the greatest living human rights activists in America right now is Gary Haugen at International Justice Mission. IJM is a Christian human rights organization that garners tremendous support from evangelicals and other conservatives. They are doing amazing work to combat sex trafficking, bonded labor, and other human rights abuses in numerous countries. I know because I have been to India with IJM and seen their work on bonded labor first hand. Their summer overseas internship program draws law students from the best law schools in the country. How did it all begin? As you can read here, Haugen started IJM after covering the genocide in Rwanda.

Or take Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom. Spend just one hour with Paul Marshall, a Senior Fellow at the Center and author of the best-selling book Their Blood Cries Out, and you will walk away terribly impressed with his religious conviction and breadth of knowledge regarding the global threat to religious liberty.

Having watched this conservative embrace of human rights for decades, I could give far more examples if space and time allowed. We could talk about John Paul II and the fall of communism, or Rick Warren's work on poverty in Africa, or Fuller Theological Seminary's government grant to promote Muslim-Christian dialogue, or Advocates International's global effort to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. I could also give very personal examples of conservative law students I mentor who desperately want to work in the human rights field.

Suffice it to say that Kristof is doing great work highlighting the genocide in Darfur. I deeply admire and respect those efforts. But to the extent that in attacking O'Reilly Kristof is attacking conservatives by proxy, he is a doing a great disservice to the current movement of human rights. Please don't alienate conservatives and pretend they don't care about human rights. Please don't encourage those on the left to believe that those on the right don't care about genocide. Let's not make Darfur a political wedge issue.


Blogger KA said...

Roger, I'd be very interested to see you write more on this very interesting topic. I've grown very interested in how the human rights field is expanding beyond simply Human Rights Watch and AI, and how these new organizations are similar and different from the existing model of human rights groups. Say more.

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