What the Press Coverage Tells US
by John Chuckman / January 22nd, 2010
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
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
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
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
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
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