Thursday, February 26, 2009

George Clooney's New Movie Co-Stars Nick Kristof. Frankly, We Preferred "Michael Clayton."

We love George Clooney as much as the next NYTPicker. And we get Nicholas D. Kristof's point -- that people who might not ordinarily click on a NYT video of starving children shot in Eastern Chad will do so for the star of "Leatherheads."

But what exactly is the value of this four-and-a-half-minute video, posted this morning? Watch and you'll learn almost nothing about the issues Kristof supposedly wants us to care about. Instead, you'll see shots of the columnist and the actor tossing a Frisbee, trading witty references to Brad Pitt, chuckling about private jets, and discussing who got which side of the tent.

Should celebrities be front-and-center for the causes they support, or work behind the scenes? That's a dilemma we don't have any desire to resolve right here. Clooney has always happily hogged the spotlight for good causes, and capitalized on his fame to bring attention to world problems -- and there's nothing wrong with that.

But it seems to us that if Nick Kristof and the NYT is going to shamelessly feed off the fame machine, they ought to do it in a more sophisticated and educational way than this goofy, worthless video.

Kristof has always played both sides of this issue. He clearly relishes the personal attention he gets for focusing on third-world issues others ignore, like poverty and oppression. But at the same time it's hard to quibble with that concern; he uses his NYT perch to pressure world leaders into action.

It seems highly doubtful to us, though, that any world leader would watch this Clooney video and gain any respect for Kristof. If, as he claims, the only way to get people to learn about genocide is to put Clooney in front of it, then he ought to use Clooney as a teaching tool, not as a comedy prop or talking head. Listening to Clooney and Kristof talk about themselves doesn't do much for any cause except their own.

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