NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof thought it was just fine to hand over his column to Dylan Farrow so she could vilify filmmaker Woody Allen with her allegations of sexual impropriety from 22 years ago. So what are we to think when Kristof then holds a contest and picks a beautiful 20-year-old college girl to go on an international trip with him?
In today’s NY Times Kristof announced the “winner" of his self-promoted “Win A Trip with Nick” contest. According to the column, the winner is Nicole Sganga, a 20-year-old journalism student at the University of Notre Dame. Here is her photo and her video submission to the Times' contest.
From the first flirty batting of her eyes in the video’s opening frames to the shots of Nicole in a form-fitting t-shirt and tight jeans seen from behind bending down to “paint” her story (with a flash of midriff seductively exposed), to the ending where she implores “Dear Mr. Kristof...I would love nothing more than to travel to Africa with you,” the video oozes an implied sexual availability that any man will immediately grasp. It plays like the journalistic version of Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President."
Yet Kristof sees nothing wrong with “awarding” this under-21 college student an all-expense paid international vacation with him sans a chaperone of any kind. He is even funding the trip himself.
I understand that Kristof has been sponsoring this trip since 2006, and it is probably a very innocent, selfless effort to promote his chosen field of journalism to young college students. And I don't doubt for a moment that Ms. Sganga is a dedicated journalism student and talented photojournalist who entered the contest with the best of intentions.
But the appearance of impropriety is still there. And Kristof has done little to dispel the awkwardness of a middle-aged married man traveling abroad alone for ten days with a single 20-year-old female that he barely knows.
“I’m not sure yet where we’ll travel for our reporting together on neglected issues. Perhaps Congo. Maybe Myanmar,” Kristof writes. “In past years, I’ve sometimes taken along a teacher or older person, but I’m afraid this year it’s just a university student.”
It smacks of an episode of “To Catch A Predator” and is unethical at best.
Maybe Kristof’s wife will be traveling with them (his columns don’t say). Maybe there are other built-in safeguards that will lessen the suggestion of impropriety (though the contest rules don’t suggest any).
But as a man who let his NY Times real estate be hijacked by Farrow to sully the reputation of a man who has not been charged with any crime, and whose sexual allegations grew out of an acrimonious custody battle, Kristof should know that he is not immune from the same glaring public spotlight of doubt and unsubstantiated suspicions that he so easily cast at Allen.
(Let’s be clear: no one is equating Kristof with the allegations against Allen. Traveling alone with a 20-year-old woman does not make Kristof a pedophile. But the fact that Allen dated 20-year-old Soon Yi Previn does not make him a pedophile either, though you wouldn’t know that from the intensely unfair, inaccurate media coverage Farrow’s accusations have generated.)
If Kristof’s editors have any journalistic ethics, they will immediately cancel this year’s “Win A Trip with Nick” contest and apologize publicly for their employee’s dubious journalistic standards. They can honor their offer and send Ms. Sganga to Africa on her own or with a parent. But they should not lend the venerated name of the New York Times to a contest which can easily be interpreted as predatory sexual behavior masked as a free giveaway.
And should Kristof find this column somewhat unfair in its insinuations, well, he can consider that in the context of his own hypocrisy. A man in his mid-sixties who offers to escort a college-age woman on an all-expense paid vacation under the guise of an educational grant should not be casting the first stone.
Middle-aged journalists should not be “awarding” free trips with them to young, ambitious college girls, regardless of the sincerity of their intent.
And middle-aged journalists should not be using the spotlight of their national column to malign the reputation of other middle-aged men.
Especially when it’s done with the same broad brush strokes of malicious insinuation that I have quite purposely employed here.