I don’t trust heroes. Much of America was horrified when Jon Krakauer exposed the Three Cups of Tea guy, Greg Mortenson, for self-dealing and fabricating chunks of his tale of building schools for Afghan children. I was smug. I felt like I had known it all along. White saviors don’t exist, you fools!
Neither do black saviors, and so I crowed when Wyclef Jean’s Haiti charity collapsed in a cloud of horrendous mismanagement. (The charity had paid Wyclef’s performance fees and once, for a carnival lion, but not for the Haitian kids’ meals it had promised.) “I told you so!” I told a friend, a ‘Clef fan, in a singsong voice I’d probably last used in the schoolyard.
And when Nicholas Kristof — the New York Times columnist who has endeavored twice weekly to put human rights on center stage — was exposed as a dupe, the tale was so familiar I felt like it had already been written. It hadn’t, or not exactly. Only in May did Newsweek dig into one of Kristof’s heroes, a Cambodian anti-trafficking activist named Somaly Mam, and suggest her harrowing backstory was mostly fake.