Back in December, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a piece about the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, in which he challenged Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly to join him on a trip to the war-ravaged African country. "You'll have to leave your studio, Bill," Kristof wrote. "You'll encounter pure evil. If you're like me, you'll be scared ... and you'll finally be using your talents for an important cause." O'Reilly refused the offer a few days ago. "I do three hours of daily news analysis on TV and radio," he wrote in his syndicated column. "There's no way I can go to Africa."
Undeterred, Kristof extended the offer again Tuesday and added a gimmick: He asked Times' readers to cough up cash pledges to pay for O'Reilly's travel expenses to Africa.
"If you want to help, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or snail mail to me at The Times, and tell me how much you're willing to pay for Mr. O'Reilly's expenses in Darfur," Kristof wrote. "Offers will be anonymous, except maybe to the N.S.A. Don't send money; all I'm looking for is pledges. I'll post updates at nytimes.com/ontheground. (Note: pledges cannot be earmarked. It is not possible to underwrite only Mr. O'Reilly's outgoing ticket to Darfur without bringing him home as well.)"
Most of the knowledge I've gleaned about the atrocities in Darfur come from Kristof. A column he wrote in November still haunts me. It was about the Sudanese government's systematic use of gang rape to "break the spirit" of certain African tribes. "This policy is shrewd as well as brutal, for the exceptional stigma of rape here often silences victims even as it terrorizes the entire population and forces people to flee," he wrote. Kristof talked to three women on the record who had been gang raped, including one who was eight months pregnant. "Rape leads to particular injuries in Darfur because many girls, as part of female circumcision rites, have their vaginas sewn shut with a wild thorn," he wrote. "The resulting physical trauma from rape also increases the risk of H.I.V. transmission. In addition, the attackers sometimes rape women with sticks or bayonets, causing internal injuries that leave the victims incontinent."
This morning I sent Kristoff an e-mail with a $20 pledge because, hell, if he thinks getting Bill O'Reilly on a plane to Darfur will help the situation there, then sign me up. A few minutes ago, I checked out the updates page on the Times Web site. As of 8:17 a.m. Tuesday, the drive had raised $92,024.
Will O'Reilly take me and thousands of other readers up on our offer? Will he stand with Kristof, whom he calls a "liberal ideologue," and use his very influential bully pulpit to tell thousands of Americans that our government needs to act now if we're going to halt a mass slaughter that has already killed hundreds of thousands of people? Probably not. Still, many of Kristof's readers have suggested that if O'Reilly bails, then the money should be redirected to charities and aid organizations working to end the genocide.
It's a start.