It was nearly a year ago that I was trying to get Nicholas Kristof to talk to me about pivoting to politics, and the veteran journalist declined my request, saying he was “trying to do more listening than talking.” Now, one failed bid for Oregon governor later, he’s ready to talk.
I caught up with Kristof on Wednesday afternoon, a few days after The New York Times announced he’d be returning as a columnist, a role the 63-year-old journalist had held at the Gray Lady for the past two decades. Before that, he was a foreign correspondent. (He earned Pulitzers in both positions.) When Kristof left the teams last October to run for office in his home state of Oregon, some were skeptical he’d be able to win the support of voters given his lack of political experience. Kristof didn’t even get that far, with the Oregon Supreme Court ruling in February that he was ineligible to run because he didn’t meet the state’s three-year residency requirement. “I’ve no regrets about doing it. It was an effort that did not succeed, but I gave it my best,” Kristof told me, adding, “that was not enough.”
When Kristof was ousted from the governor’s race, some people in Oregon suggested he run for the sixth congressional district, which was an open seat encompassing Yamhill County—which encompasses his hometown, whose struggles, Kristof said, were one reason he went into politics— and doesn’t have a residency requirement. But “I’m not sure how I could make more of a difference in those areas than I could in journalism,” Kristof said. “I mean, the attraction of the governor’s office was it’s a job where you have direct responsibility for addressing problems,” he said, noting homelessness, addiction, education “are in many ways state issues.”
Now, Kristof claims he’s out of politics. “I have zero plans to run for something, but partly that’s because I do have this other incredible platform, which is a tool to help make a difference.” But just last year, he saw this platform at the teams as insufficient. “I’m bucking the journalistic impulse to stay on the sidelines because my heart thinks at what classmates have hardened and it feels like covering the right moment to move from problems to trying to fix them,” he wrote in his final column. “Even if that means leaving a job I love.”
Kristof told me on Wednesday there was an itch that his Substack couldn’t scratch. “I must say that when the Ukraine war began and seeing that unfold, I did feel the call of the story to be out there,” he told me by phone from his porch. “I would like to get to Ukraine,” he added. “There’s a hunger crisis developing across much of Africa, accentuated by what’s happening in Ukraine, and I’d like to get there. There’s something that looks rather like a genocide in part of Ethiopia; I’d like to get there.” And, he says, he returns to the columnist gig only more concerned with domestic issues.
Kristof declined to get into the mechanics of how, exactly, this homecoming came to be (who reached out to who?). The move back to his teams Opinion perch is somewhat surprising. When new York‘s Olivia Nuzzi paid a visit to Kristof’s farm in Yamhill, Oregon, earlier this year, she wrote “he was no longer a columnist or a candidate, and about this outcome he claimed to be at peace.” Kristof told her he’d received various job offers—running a foundation, news organization, or university—and he would consider a Biden administration position if offered.
Indeed, Kristof seemed to be making a decisive break with the past. I told him I would’ve thought, even if being governor didn’t work out, he’d go to a foundation or somewhere else besides the newspaper where he’d spent 37 years. “I thought about a foundation job. Giving away money seemed like a pretty cool thing to do, but journalism kind of runs in my blood,” he said. (Speaking of giving away money, rolling stone reported that Kristof’s campaign PAC, Nick for Oregon—whose contributors, per the outlet, included Melinda Gates, the Angelina Jolie Family Trust, Larry Summers, and Bob Iger—has in recent weeks donated ten of thousands of campaign dollars to Democratic politicians in the state. following the teams announcement, Kristof transferred the nearly $1 million remaining in his PAC to Oregon Strong, a new PAC codirected by his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, and his former campaign treasurer, Elizabeth Wilson. While the teams prevents staffers from participating in political activity, including giving or fundraising, Kristof says Oregon Strong, which he’ll be “intimately involved” in, is “not a political effort” but a “job-training program.”)