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The Grand Rapids Press Editorial Board’s Position on Haiti and Other “Unwelcome Distractions”

January 27, 2011


It seems there is a possibility someone on the Grand Rapids Press’ Editorial Board read this writer’s recent article on the mainstream media’s terrible coverage of recent events in Haiti, and mistook the list of criticisms for a how-to manual. This writer is well aware the obvious middle-school come back to this is “Don’t flatter yourself, Joe.” The obvious response is “I guess it is asking a lot of a newspaper to research an editorial before they publish it when ads don’t sell themselves.”

If the few responses on MLive’s message board are at all indicative of the level of real information the Press is able to convey to its readers, it is clear the editorial piece published on January 26, titled “What we need to do to help Haiti recover” is just the latest in a legacy of misrepresenting the situation in Haiti; this type of misrepresentation contributes to a media chorus supporting American apathy and ambivalence to tragedies in places lake Haiti that range from desecration of democracy to economic degradation to a degree that forces terrifying habits like diets dedicated to geophagy.

Before earthquakes or hurricanes even enter the picture, Haiti and discussions concerning it all have real and potentially terrifying consequences for the Haitian people. Answering questions about Haiti’s economy can effect how many Haitians starve to death while eating cakes of dirt to not feel their insides eating themselves. Talking about who is allowed in the country’s borders and what parties are allowed to run in elections ultimately will determine whether or not the world’s first successful nation-wide slave revolution has been reversed.

With so much at stake it is disconcerting to see Mlive.com’s commenters posting things like :

They” the Haitians need to learn to help theirselves and quit begging like dogs for a handout…that doesn’t do anything but go to a bunch of corrupt mobsters running things in that country. “

and:

Personally, I would withhold all aid until Haiti changes its constitution to aid a resolute protection of private property rights. With a strong protection of private property, Haiti will eventually climb out of its poverty and be able to fund hospitals and culturally-specific schools all on its own.”

The Grand Rapids Press is not solely responsible for either the ignorance or the borderline to blatant racism displayed by the people that comment on MLive’s forums, but the tragedy lies in the realization that these opinions are not far from the narrative the mainstream media has been spinning since Baby Doc’s return brought Haiti back into the news cycle’s spotlight. The easy story for the media to perpetuate is all Haitian Presidents are kleptocrats, that all aid to Haiti is tossed into a furnace of corruption, and that the free market and privatization can save the country. The problem is not all Haitian Presidents are created equal, neither is all aid, and parceling up the land and selling it off only results in foreign corporations owning all of the land and expropriating all of Haiti’s goods and resources at the expense of the already poor Haitian people.

Upon Jean-Claude Duvalier’s return to Haiti less than two weeks ago, this writer analyzed some of the initial media coverage available concerning this event. While that article is linked here, the quick version is the media has made some crucial mistakes in its overall coverage of Baby Doc’s return. The Media treats Haiti like it did not exist before the Earthquake. The Grand Rapids Press demonstrates this in the most cliché way imaginable in the first line of their editorial: “A year after a massive 7.0 earthquake, pain, suffering and death remain realities for Haitian children and families.

As a corollary to the media’s story of Haiti’s non-existence prior to last year, Baby Doc’s history as a promoter of torture, rape, murder, drug running, intimidation, thuggery, and stealing from aid marked for the poor gets glossed over as he is simply referred to as a “dictator” or “ex-president.” If his crimes are at all mentioned, they are in terms of him stealing money from aid funded by U.S. and European interests, or delivering drugs that harmed American streets. The G.R. Press calls Duvalier a “dictator” and an “unwelcome distraction.” Calling the return to Haiti of a man who ordered the Ton-ton Macoute to execute hundreds if not thousands an “unwelcome distraction” is an unwelcome moral disgrace. Glossing over the crimes he committed is an attempt to avoid uncomfortable questions concerning the support given to him and his father by the Nixon and Reagan Administrations under the guise of combating global communism.

The other corollary is former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide gets either ignored, or grouped with Jean-Claude Duvalier and rapidly dismissed. The G.R. Press does the latter and calls Aristide’s potential return an “unwelcome distraction” as well. This helps the Press ignore over a decade of U.S. meddling in Haiti that at every point championed the interest of corporations and global Capitalism at the expense of real democracy and the lives of the poorest citizens of one of the poorest countries in the world. Baby Doc is not Aristide. Aristide is widely popular among almost all Haitians, and was democratically elected in fair elections multiple times, yet the U.S. is blocking his return to Haiti, while giving the murderer, Duvalier, a wink and a nod. This writer can not determine which is worse, the fact that the G.R. Press used the phrase “unwelcome distraction” as a euphemism for “rape, murder, drug running, and torture,” or the fact that the Press grouped a democratically elected liberation theologian with that torturing, drug running, murderer.

When the editorial board declares: “The (Haitian) people deserve a legitimate, effective government to ensure a better future.” immediately after blowing off any chance at Aristide’s return, they are ignoring events that happened less then a decade ago, like the 2004 removal of Aristide from the Presidency at gunpoint by U.S. agents authorized by the Bush Administration. (See Getting Haiti Right This Time: The U.S. and the Coup) This writer can think of no reason why the Editorial Board of the Grand Rapids Press would find it necessary to comment on a situation in a foreign country like Haiti, but lack the will to follow through with a total reporting of the facts.

Yes, it goes against the mainstream media narrative to say a Haitian leader like Aristide was actually a force that promoted wonderful things like democracy, and the U.S. hasn’t always been the best help to the people of Haiti in terms of their human rights and economic well-being. But, the job of an independent press, especially in an editorial situation where more leeway is given to express an individual (and, ideally, well-informed) opinion, is not to continually go over the same knots on the counting rope. Those who get their news from independent media have no problem getting access to knowledge like the enormous differences between Baby Doc and Aristide. Why does the Press’ Editorial Board refuse to present those easily obtainable facts to its readers?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Franklin permalink
    January 28, 2011 6:24 am

    Seriously who cares about Haiti, they benefit absolutely no one. They are a backwards society stuck in the stone age just like the rest of the region. Their civilization has reached its peak. Seriously this is as good as its gonna get for them. They either refuse to accept progress or are incapable of it. Please write an article about that

  2. Out Come The Wolves permalink
    January 28, 2011 1:24 pm

    Yikes! This is scary!

    An Mlive.com reader perhaps?

  3. January 28, 2011 2:07 pm

    Franklin, if you are operating under the assumption that you should only care about that which can directly benefit you, I have very little to offer. I am not in the business of highlighting places and people to further their exploitation. If, on the other hand, you want to go out on a limb and agree that human rights, democracy, and not killing people are things that should be valued and promoted, I can show you some really good literature on Haiti. There are plenty of articles that blame the Haitian people for their way of life, most of them were written before the Civil Rights movements and are popular on sites like stormfront. I wasn’t outraged by the Press editorial because I know nothing about Haiti and was disappointed about not being better informed; I was outraged because I am aware of the neoimperialistic roots of the political and economic problems Haiti is experiencing, and the press and its readership were completely ignoring them. Please, please, please read Paul Farmer’s “The Uses of Haiti,” it might give you some indication as to the reasons why Haiti has been important to the U.S. (and Europe), and why statements like: ” Seriously who cares about Haiti, they benefit absolutely no one.” make it all too easy for lives on the ground in Haiti to be lost, and democracy desecrated.

  4. February 16, 2011 7:36 pm

    Ignoring what happens in Haiti may be an option now for the American public, but it should be a concern, because it is instructive of what happens when the U.S. government and it’s “client states” do not put a value on human development.

    Unfortunately, for Americans ignorance will not spare them the same fate as poor Haitians and the world’s poor. They are suffering at the hands of the neo-liberal ideologues who run the world’s governments and who are at the beck and call of the corporatocracy and their kleptocracy.

    Does the American population know or care that the majority of the world are living in dire poverty? It’s not a Haitian problem. In Egypt the average wage is $2 a day, which is equivalent to Haiti’s sweatshop slavery. But the most shocking statistic? The fact that the U.S. has a larger income gap then Egypt.

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