The Horror of Haiti

What the Press Coverage Tells US

It is relentless, the pictures of terror-stricken people, broken limbs, and bloated dead, and many of us cannot stand to see or hear more.

One has to ask: what are we to do with such information?

Create pressure on governments to keep the assistance flowing? Perhaps, but there is no shortage of assistance being sent to Haiti. There is however a huge problem in Haiti’s limited ability to absorb the assistance.

Whether it’s small and inefficient sea ports, one small and inefficient airport, a lack of decent roads, and a lack of government direction – all aspects of any place as poor as Haiti – it takes time for outsiders to come in, unload their cargoes, and organize a distribution network from scratch.

Certainly the disturbing reports and pictures are useless from the point of view of prevention. It was a natural disaster, not to be predicted, not to be prevented. One could argue that post-disaster investments could ameliorate events the next time there is an earthquake. But the kinds of images and reports being broadcast will be long forgotten if and when the world’s governments get around to re-building.

So the question for me remains, what are we to do with such information?

I am reminded of another disaster, one that happened in the last few years. It was not a “natural” disaster but the deliberate work of the immensely powerful.

In this other disaster, roughly a million people died, about five times the current estimate of death in Haiti. I don’t know how many were crippled, but it must have been a great number. This other disaster created more than two million refugees fleeing for their lives. Most of them fled to poor but generous countries, not being welcome by the rich and powerful, and especially not by the country responsible for the mayhem.

As far as pictures and reports, most of them seen in North America were sanitized. Many if not most of the reports were dishonest, clearly not informing people of the magnitude of the horror as it happened. There was a brave group of reporters who produced images every bit as terrible as those we see from Haiti, including scores of hideously mangled children.

But those pictures were not broadcast in North America, were not published in The New York Times or other newspapers “of record.” Indeed, the reporters taking these images and writing tough reports actually became targets of the forces causing all the horror.

I’m referring, of course, to the invasion of Iraq, an event whose toll of killing and damage easily compared to the dropping of a thermonuclear bomb on a good-size city.

Of course, the great and bitter irony is that that disaster was both preventable and could even have been stopped once it had started. One could almost guarantee that publication and broadcast of pictures and reports comparable to what’s now coming from Haiti would have stopped that demonic brutality. Here indeed gruesome, truthful press coverage could have made a difference, but not in Haiti.

And there was another, smaller disaster recently, smaller but still terrible, and it was completely preventable. In this one about 1,400 people died, including 400 children, and a great deal of the infrastructure of a relatively poor people was destroyed. The damage cannot even be repaired because those responsible for the horror maintain a siege on the victims, allowing no material assistance to be delivered.

Here too you likely will not have seen the kind of pictures or read the kind of stories coming out of Haiti. Some were available – I recall one of poor people trying to avoid stepping in a stream of blood flowing down a narrow street – again the work of amazingly brave reporters, but their work could only be found at not-widely known sites on the Internet. None were published or broadcast by the establishment press in North America. These events occurred in a place called Gaza.

If you think the press is objective, if you think the press does not slavishly serve the interests of the powerful, you just might want to think again.

John Chuckman lives in Canada and is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company. Copyright © by John Chuckman. Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.