BOB GARFIELD: Sometimes it seems that being a columnist may actually shrink your influence, even at the Times. Columnist Nicholas Kristof, freshly elevated from the paper's reporters ranks recently filed a series of columns from the Philippine island of Basilan. There a gang of about 80 criminals called Abu Sayyaf is being targeted by the U.S. military as a terrorist group, this following a series of assassinations of suspected members and other civilians by local militias. Kristof's op-ed pieces have been chilling but largely unnoticed or at least unfollowed-up on by other news organizations. Nick, what about the Bush administration? Any word from them?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: No, there's been a tremendous amount of quiet from them on that. There was a, a certain amount of a stir in, in the Philippines and I heard privately from various people in government or in the military but-- I haven't heard any kind of official comment on it.
BOB GARFIELD:Well you know you're a very good writer, and these columns are quite stylish in ad--in addition to being appalling. Is there any difference in your approach in writing an investigative column as opposed to writing a fairly shocking story for page one of the New York Times?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: What is different and what I've found kind of awkward to get used to is just this freedom to, to throw in opinions. I, you know, especially at first I found that each time I was writing I would kind of more or less write a, a news analysis. At the New York Times we call them Q-Heads [sp?] and, you know, there is this sort of established pattern of, of doing something that's a little more edgy than a news story, and so I would do kind of a news analysis and then I'd show it to my wife who is also a long-time foreign correspondent here, Cheryl Woodun [sp?] and she would say you know but Nick, this isn't an opinion piece -- there's no opinion here. And I would sort of look up and grimace and then go back and you know throw in some more opinions, and I found that it really took some getting used to, to move from the neutrality of, you know, news journalism to this incredible license to say what we think on the, on the op-ed page.
BOB GARFIELD:Well I don't ask the question for no reason, and this is strictly my view, but the injection of your opinion in a funny way actually reduced the story's impact for me, because had these been news stories, they're so appalling on their face that it's like government death squads are bad - I get that.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: I, I mean I, I take your point that-- in the column where you had a young man who was tortured and executed by government troops who we are now giving extra fire power to, then there's not much need for kind of extra commentary on it; it kind of speaks for itself. I mean fundamentally stories are broken mostly on the news pages. Occasionally it happens on the editorial or op-ed pages. I must say that the constraints I found in this case were not just the issue of length, and, and I suppose page placement -- I mean it's always nice to have a story on page one, but also art. If this had been a, a regular news story, then we would have had photos. Indeed I, I had photos of the man who was killed -- a before-photo --as well as some more grisly post mortem photos. Then often it was my experience that what brought readers into stories about remote places was the art as much as the writing.
BOB GARFIELD:Hm! Well I, I guess where all this is leading is I think most -- for many, many print reporters, the idea of someday becoming a columnist just-- seems to be Valhalla, and I'm wondering if the New York Times is the one place on the face of the earth where to get an op-ed column -- especially the sort of column that you're writing -- is actually an invitation to more obscurity.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: I don't think so. I mean I must say it really - I do have to pinch myself an awful lot of mornings, you know, when I realize the, the real estate that I'm given, the license to go and dig and to draw conclusions and to put them on the op-ed page -- it's as good a job as I've ever had at the Times.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Well, thank you very much.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Nick Kristof is an op-ed columnist for the New York Times. [MUSIC]