Friday, March 18, 2011

Democracy Now's Coverage of Aristide's Return to Haiti

NPR's weekday radio show, Democracy Now (DN), is a heavily left-leaning program that discusses issues throughout the world and tends to favor those issues that affect the United States (I thoroughly enjoy the program too). It's left-leaning slant is the antithesis to Fox's heavily right-leaning news programs. Regardless of NPR's political favoring, their programs like DN tend to showcase examples of excellence in journalism and discusses issues that rarely receive coverage by other more mainstream news agencies; for instance the recent massive demonstrations in the state of Wisconsin have received virtually no mention.  However, a black spot has emerged on the quality of DN -the coverage of former president Aristide's return to Haiti -they forgot that every story needs CONTEXT!

Aristide in Haiti (2011)
My context to the story: Beginning earlier this week (March 14th), DN has been covering Aristide's return to Haiti. Back in 2004 Aristide was exiled from Haiti during a military coup that the United States have been accused of backing. Aristide fled to South Africa, where he has stayed ever since. DN staff reporter Amy Goodman traveled there to document Aristide's return which was allowed as the current Haitian government had recently lifted his exile status but the American government had vocally protested such a move and asked that Aristide postpone his return until after the pivotal Haitian elections. The reason is that the previous election that had followed the brutal earthquake that decimated the country was rocked by extreme violence and accusations of election fraud. This latest election is to replace the previous one and it is hoped it will be more peaceful. The American government has said it worries that Aristide's return could jeopardize this peace. Aristide insists that his return has nothing to do with this election and that it is his right to return. Further, Aristide commented that following the election there might be a new ruling party that would maintain his exile. Both of Aristide's comments come from DN's program and reading between the lines suggests a contradiction in his opinion on how his trip is or is not connected to the election.

The Problem: The primary problem with DN's program is that throughout it there is no mention of WHY Aristide was forced out of Haiti and instead only vague innuendo that the US was involved in this somehow. Goodman repeatedly suggested that the US was and is interfering with foreign politics and Aristide's personal freedom. That there was no reason for Aristide's exile is far from the case as he has been cited by Human Rights Watch for his brutal treatment of the political opposition during his run as president. It is true that Aristide was the first democratically elected president of Haiti, but that does not mean he is perfect or saintly as Goodman would have you believe -similar to many other democratically elected leaders I can think of! Instead, Aristide has been also accused of embezzling millions of dollars from an already poor country. This has never been proven, and of course Aristide has vehemently denied it as well.

The Weird: I can also smell something fishy that Goodman has not explained: Aristide has a good friend in a well known American actor, Danny Glover. Danny Glover flew to South Africa this week to escort his friend back to Haiti. He is a known advocate and has been a speaker at a many anti-war rallies. What is odd is that in 2007 president (or dictator if you prefer) of Venezuela Hugo Chavez gave Glover 18 million dollars to film a movie about Toussaint Louverture who in 1791 had led a slave uprising in Haiti (photo on right is of Glover and Chavez in 2007). Chavez has never been known as a humanitarian, and this large sum of money came from the hands of a man who runs a rich country filled with poverty stricken citizens. Glover took that money and considers himself a spokesman for issues of liberty. I smell something fishy

Context is Important Folks: I don't claim to know why the US wanted Aristide out of the country, and that is what is wrong with DN's coverage. It did not give the entire story. Where is the CONTEXT? What US state department spokesman Crowley said back in January was that “We do not doubt President Aristide`s desire to help the people of Haiti. But today Haiti needs to focus on its future, not its past.” I suppose this means Crowley does not see Aristide as a part of this focused on future, but this misses the point. Miss Goodman is a better reporter than this and she should have added context to this story. A good story should encourage a listener or reader to search out more information out of interest and not out of confusion from not having the story properly explained.

NPR /DN story(s):
Haiti: Aristide Should Uphold Rule of Law (2004): 
Govt Corruption Suit Stalls for Lack of Funds (2006):

Hugo Chavez, Movie Mogul (2007):,8599,1624992,00.html

US diplomacy embraces Twitter amid global crises (2011):

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