‘It’s Tough to Be Haitian, Isn’t It?’ (Extra!)

With Haiti starting to drop out of the news again (despite continued problems there for earthquake survivors, not least of which is the rain), it’s an apropos time for my article to appear on how the media covered the Haitian earthquake and its aftermath:

One of the most striking images from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was of poor New Orleans residents crowded together outside that city’s convention center, days after the floodwaters had receded, chanting, “We want help!” It was a scene that shocked viewers and reporters alike, who had not realized that a major U.S. city could be home to so many people who lacked the economic means even to flee in the face of oncoming danger–though the promised national conversation about poverty that was supposed to result never really arrived (Extra!, 7-8/06).

Such images couldn’t help but come to mind in the aftermath of the January 12 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti, where crushing poverty greatly worsened the devastation wrought in Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns. In TV news coverage, Haiti was described as “underdeveloped, overpopulated, and incredibly poor” (Nightline, 1/12/10), “extremely poor” (CBS Evening News, 1/12/10), “desperately poor” (CNN, 1/12/10) and, over and over, “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.” Reports focused particularly on the lack of building codes that had helped lead to such widespread destruction when the ground shook, and on the lack of government emergency services to rescue quake survivors and bring them supplies.

In many ways, the TV news coverage of Haiti paralleled the round-the-clock attention to Katrina–down to the ubiquitous presence of Anderson Cooper on CNN, asking why it was taking so long for aid to arrive. But if grinding poverty in New Orleans was seen as cause for outrage (however short-lived), in Haiti it was presented more as a natural state of affairs. …

The article is print-only (for the time being, at least), but you can find the latest copy of Extra! on newsstands, if you can still find any newsstands. Or drop them a line and ask how to send them $3.95 for a copy by mail.

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