Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Haiti's Aftershock: The Media, "Looting", and the Crime of Bad Journalism

When news of this morning's aftershock in Haiti - which measured 6.1 on the Richter scale - broke this morning, hearts around the world sank. It happened at around 6AM, EST, when many folks were encamped for the night in streets , on park lawns, and wherever else they could rest. Many of us know that, "aftershock" or not, 6.1 is deadly magnitude, much more significant than a mere tremor. It's easy to imagine that another quake - like the one that struck today - is the worst nightmare of those who survived last week's monstrous event, to which at least 200,000 women, children, and men are said to have lost their lives.

In the early hours of the morning, some frightened survivors reportedly took to the street seeking safety, answers, and resources.

To put it mildly - it's disheartening when so many news organizations take this opportunity to focus on the "looting" and "lawlessness" emerging in specific parts of the country after Haitians who have been more than patient have been under-served and "under-relieved" in large part because of the militaristic, racist approach that seems dominant and rampant.

Gee, I'm not sure what folks are expected to do when staring death in the face. I suppose that the lawful, responsible thing to do would be to let your family die while you wait for the ever-elusive aid buggy. I mean, are these the same reporters who failed to report on the rape of resources and infrastructure in Haiti in recent years (decades)? Did they miss all of that "looting and lawlessness"?

Or do "looting" and "lawlessness" only come in certain pocketbook sizes and colors?

Smells a lot like Hurricane Katrina coverage - not that this is news. Maybe it smells worse, as some folks are arguing that even CNN star Anderson Cooper can't get it together. What's going on?

Not to beat a dead Fourth Estate or anything, but are these some of the same trifling reporters who haven't filed one sorry enterprise story on the history and legacy of Haiti - it's struggles, triumphs, battles with foreign powers, and internal strife?

Let me be clear. I'm not hating on journalists. I've done the newsroom thing. Truly, there's a lot of love here.

We all understand that, realistically, there will always be groups of people - including gangs, police forces, and governments - who take advantage of chaos to enrich themselves. The biggest victims of these actions are always the weakest in the society - children, elders, pregnant women, the disabled. But there certainly is a difference between criminal activity and the actions of any sane person in a dire situation hoping to secure food, water, and needed supplies.

Unfortunately, you'd think some reporters don't know the difference, to let the reporting tell it. I'm still wondering how it is that the same outlets who haven't managed to report on humanitarian aid failure suddenly have so much time, tape and copy to spend on violent, chaotic looting pieces. And many who did manage (bother) to get some coverage on the issue of increasing desperation and relief/aid challenges as recently as a few days ago missed the point (and the messaging).

You don't have to be a Haitian, an aid worker, or a journalist to understand the glaring undertones of statements about "security", "certain elements", and "these kinds of people" in answer to questions about the slow dissemination of assistance to Port-Au-Prince, Jacmel, and throughout the countryside.

You don't have to be a Person of Color to get it, either. So let's not pretend.

Funny: Folks in the news industry - particularly those in print - spend a lot of time trying to figure out why their readership is down.

Could it be that folks are looking for reporting that
  • gets to the heart of the matter?
  • avoids the trite rehashing of racist/sexist/classist stereotypes?
  • employs folks with just a little bit of cultural awareness (and maybe even a few folks of Color)?
  • actually provides a little bit of context?
Is it possible that readers keep checking out because the press keeps getting it wrong?

"No, that can't be right. We couldn't possibly be the problem. Maybe we oughtta just blame the internet."

Photo Credit: Ariana Cublios, AP


Viva Sandino! said...

Dig it. How are you feeling about Rachel Maddow? I'm watching her right now. She seems to have more together than Cooper. I saw that fool dragging some kid in Haiti to "safety." I was like, report, don't be, the news. said...

I think it's difficult for journalists right now. The lines are certainly blurry. A friend of mine remarked that many writers/reporters are beholden to the trends driving editors. I can see that, but that's no excuse for going wish-washy on standards. Thanks, Viva!