Nicholas Kristof writes in The Compassion Gap about the nasty responses he got from a lot of his readers to the plight of a woman he profiled recently. Says Kristoff:
SOME readers collectively hissed after I wrote a week ago about the need for early-childhood interventions to broaden opportunity in America. I focused on a 3-year-old boy in West Virginia named Johnny Weethee whose hearing impairment had gone undetected, leading him to suffer speech and development problems that may dog him for the rest of his life.
A photo of Johnny and his mom, Truffles Weethee, accompanied the column and readers honed in on Truffles’ tattoos and weight.
“You show a photograph of a fat woman with tons of tattoos all over that she paid for,” one caller said. “And then we — boohoo — have to worry about the fact that her children aren’t cared for properly?”
On Twitter, Amy was more polite: “My heart breaks for Johnny. I have to wonder if the $$ mom spent on tattoos could have been put to better use.”
“This is typical of the left,” Pancho scolded on my Facebook page. “It’s not anyone’s fault. Responsibility is somebody else’s problem.”
To me, such outrage at a doting mom based on her appearance suggests the myopic tendency in our country to blame poverty on the poor, to confuse economic difficulties with moral failures, to muddle financial lapses with ethical ones.
Apparently, Nick Kristoff doesn’t read his own paper. A few years ago, I noticed something extremely unsettling about the way the NYTimes was portraying the unemployed. There were a number of articles for the front page that made the unemployed look like trailer trash, slovenly and asleep at their computers. I don’t know what message that was supposed to send but it didn’t match ANY of the unemployed I knew, who consisted of R&D professionals with multiple degrees, publications and patents to their name. There were hundreds of thousands of those people who certainly deserved compassion who didn’t get it. And now those same hard working professionals have a very hard time finding jobs because for some reason, employers have this image in their heads that they’re obese, lazy, slovenly and depressing to be around.
Get your head out of your ass, Nick, and you will see that you are sitting in the middle of the source of the lack of compassion. The NY Times is a world leader when it comes to inducing stereotypical and harsh Pavlovian responses to people who have fallen from middle class grace.