- Human Rights
- January 27, 2010
- 5 minutes read
Haiti’s Finest Hour
Just before Haiti was devastated by the most powerful earthquake to hit the island in more than 200 years, when, that is, it was only devastated by the hemisphere’s worst poverty, there were but one or two full-time foreign correspondents in the country. No longer.
Within days, the networks, CNN, and Fox had more or less transferred their news operations (already slimmed down by years of attrition) onto the island. CNN’s Anderson Cooper made it first on Wednesday morning. Katie flew in later that day. By the time Diane made it out ofKabul and into Port-au-Prince, Brian had already long since hit “the tarmac.” (All but Anderson were gone again by the weekend.) Along with them, in a situation in which resources were nearly nonexistent, went at least 44 CNN correspondents, producers, and technicians, a crew of 25 from Fox, and undoubtedly similar contingents from CBS, NBC, and ABC. Other than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Los Angeles Times, this was “the biggest US television news deployment to an international crisis since the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami” — at a cost that can only have been obscene.
In the process, as happens on our obsessionally eyeball-gluing, single-event, 24/7 media planet, “world news” essentially became Haiti with the usual logos, tags, and drum rolls (“Earthquake in Haiti”). The three networks even briefly expanded the length of their half-hour news shows to an all-Haiti-all-the-time hour, with just bare minutes leftover for the rest of the planet. In a sense, as the earthquake had blotted out Haiti, so the news coverage blotted out everything else with an almost religious fervor and the language to match.
In place of the world came endless stories of a tiny number of riveting rescues from the rubble (“miracles”) by international rescue teams — less than 150 saved when possibly tens of thousands of buried Haitians would not be dug out and conceivably up to 200,000 had died. Along with this went the usual self-congratulatory reporting about American generosity and the importance of American troops (they secured the airport!) in a situation in which aid was visibly not getting through, in which people were not being saved.
And of course, with the drama of people pulled from the rubble went another kind of drama: impending violence — even though the real story, as a number of reporters couldn’t help but notice, was the remarkable patience and altruistic willingness of Haitians to support each other, help each other, and organize each other in a situation where there was almost nothing to share. It might, in fact, have been their finest hour, but amid the growing headlines about possible “violence” and “looting,” that would have been hard to tell.
The coverage has been beyond massive, sentimental, self-congratulatory, and not anyone’s finest hour — and a month or three from now, predictably, Haiti will still be utterly devastated and there will be but one or two foreign correspondents on hand. Anderson, Diane, Brian, Katie? They’ll be somewhere else, 24/7.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), an alternative history of the mad Bush years.