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For Haiti Earthquake Coverage, Would Less Have Been More?

In the latest Global Pulse Episode, host Erin Coker looks at media coverage of the Haiti earthquake. Watch the episode and share your thoughts below!


Does the excessive coverage of Haiti’s earthquake – not to mention the questionable journalistic and medical ethics involved when doctor/reporters can’t decide whether to operate or do interviews — give the viewer a better understanding of the disaster? Or is it little more than the casting of journalists as action heroes? 

The New Republic’s Chief Editor, Noam Scheiber, in his recent article taking the news establishment to task, wrote that “in Haiti the dozens of redundant dispatches are stressing an already perilously fragile situation.”

In a follow-up interview with Global Pulse featured in this week’s episode, Scheiber says, “More information is great. But if an airport is being taxed with a volume way above its normal capacity and as a result aid workers, doctors and nurses can’t get in, then I think we have gotten to the point where one good—information—is trumping another good—relief workers…to the detriment of the people we are trying to help.”

The solution, Scheiber thinks, is a so-called “disaster pool.” Comprising a limited number of reporters in country, the disaster pool would share information with news outlets in a similar manner that White House correspondents share “pool reports” with the dozens of journalists unable to attend a briefing. You can download an MP3 of the complete Scheiber interview here.

This might preclude scenes like those we used in this episode, of Anderson Cooper and Katie Couric aiding wounded children, but it may give networks more time for in-depth stories that discuss Haiti’s tumultuous history, the roots of its abject poverty and what day-to-day life was like for the average Haitian pre-earthquake.

Journalist Marc Cooper, characterizing the coverage as “myopic” and “disaster porn”, on his blog, wrote, “It's a totally legit news story for CNN or anyone else [to] zoom in on this or that dramatic and heart-rending rescue of one or another victim trapped in rubble. But every one of those stories is also a stark and rather sickening reminder of how the daily pre-earthquake deaths, starvation and deprivation were considered SO non-newsworthy.”

This reminds me of my own trip to Haiti in the fall of 2008, as part of a disaster response team after a series of hurricanes killed hundreds of people and badly damaged the city of Gonaïves. While the storms made headlines, the fallout apparently wasn’t on a large enough scale to warrant widespread news coverage. 

Looking back, what I remember most is the darkness. There is little electricity in Haiti, and the nighttime’s dim storefronts and weak candlelight gave the impression of a city that was a relic of another age.

Will Port-au-Prince once again become a forgotten city? As this article from the Columbia Journalism Review reminds me, there was once, and is likely to be again, only one full-time American journalist in Haiti.



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Stalled START: A New Arms Race? Or Not.

In this week's episode of Global Pulse, host Erin Coker asks if the U.S. and Russia could be entering a new arms race. Watch the episode and share your thoughts below!


As a young child in the mid-1980s, thoughts of total nuclear annihilation at the hands of the Russians would occasionally prevent me from sleeping. On one family holiday to Maine, I actually wondered if we were far enough away from major cities to be safe from an atomic blast.


Looking back on the decade it is easy to see why a little kid would be so uneasy. The threat of nuclear war was ingrained in popular culture, lurking in everything from movies to songs. In 1982, Time Magazine devoted nearly 3,500 words to an article entitled, "thinking the unthinkable."


Today such fears seem nearly as dated as the all-out nuclear panic that resulted in this 1950s public service announcement that acknowledged the imminent threat of the bomb, while advocating questionable albeit, hilarious, blast survival techniques. Picnic blankets and newspapers, anyone?


However, with negotiations on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) stalling in recent months, the global media have taken notice. As Ariel Cohen points out in a New York Times editorial, the failure to agree on a new treaty by the December 5 deadline, has left the two countries in "uncharted waters."


Or has it?


Calling Cohen's argument "alarmist and misleading," William D. Hartung argues that despite the delay in sorting out the new START agreement, Russia and the U.S. are still “abiding by the basic principles of the agreement”  as they craft a new one. 


The director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, Hartung notes that even if both sides chose to ignore START's provisions, "it is absurd to suggest that either side could gain a strategic advantage in the few weeks (or in the absolute worst case, months) it will take to hammer out a new treaty."


Hartung is also quick to dismiss what he terms the "unsupportable notion that there is a resurgent Russian bear out there, and that it cannot be trusted and should not be cooperated with in any substantial way." Such thinking, according to Cohen, is obsolete—the detritus of the Cold War—and is no longer relative today.


So are the media overreacting, then? Is it only a matter of time before the U.S. and Russia iron out the details of the new START, or is Hartung being cavalier about the whole thing? In today's world, how crucial is U.S.-Russia arms control to global security?





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10 Bright Spots in a Pretty Bad Year

In this week’s special edition of Global Pulse, host Erin Coker reviews 2009 news stories that will matter in 2010. Watch the episode, and share your thoughts, below!


Between the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an upsurge in violence in Pakistan, Iran’s political upheaval and the global financial crisis, 2009 has been tumultuous to say the least. Even for someone immersed in global media, it was difficult at times not to hit the cheap (and the not-so-cheap) wine just to get through the daily barrage of bleak news.


Which is why I took it upon myself to drum up 10 of the year’s more positive stories. Some were widely reported, others warranted only a fleeting mention, but all stand out as bright spots on an otherwise challenging year. A good reminder that even in the darkest of times, a silver lining can be found if you look hard enough. I’ll drink to that!

1. A Different Kind of Hotel Rwanda
Following the instability and brutal civil war that plagued the central-African nation in the late-1990s, tourists are returning to the country to marvel at its mountain gorillas and lush landscapes. Tourism revenues rise 11 percent in the first quarter of 2009, compared to the same period last year. Even better, the Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World announces that Rwanda is officially “landmine free” – a distinction that is doubtless welcomed by tourists and residents alike.


2. Afghanistan and Pakistan Get More Schools
Non-profit activist Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute (CAI), continue to build schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan, even in Taliban areas. Because CAI schools rely heavily on community involvement, militant groups have largely avoided destroying or damaging what are perceived as locally-backed projects.  To date, the CAI has built 130 schools in the two countries. To learn more about CAI or to get involved, visit


3. Aceh Rebuilt
Five years after the Indian Ocean Tsunami devastated communities in Aceh, Indonesia, rebuilding efforts in the hardest-hit province are wrapping up. In November, aid group CRS announces that it has met its reconstruction goals in Aceh.


4. Karadzic Faces the International Criminal Court. Sort of.
Although the alleged Bosnian Serb war criminal boycotts the opening of his trial, claiming that he did not have sufficient time to examine the evidence against him – 10 years on the lam wasn’t enough time? – Radovan Karadzic does appear in court on November 3. The trial is expected to resume in March of next year.


5. Kidnapped Aid Workers Released
After being seized by Somali gunmen in Kenya, three aid workers with Action Against Hunger are released three months later. In a similar bit of good news, assailants also free kidnapped aid workers snatched in Sudan’s Darfur region.


6. U.N. Demands Halt to Rape as War Weapon
Unanimously voted in, resolution 1888 reflects the 15-member body's "demand for the complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence with immediate effect." Plans are in the works to create a special U.N. post to front the effort.


7. Detained Journalists Freed in Iran, Iranian Writers Honored
Following domestic and international protests, jailed U.S./Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi is released from a Tehran prison. Saberi had been originally sentenced to eight years in prison for “having collaborated with a hostile state.” Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari is also released after being held for nearly four months following Iran’s June elections. In November, Human Rights Watch honors four Iranian writers with prestigious Hellman/Hammett awards for their courage in the face of political persecution.


8. Latin America Takes Steps Towards Equality
Mexico City backs a gay marriage bill, making the city the first in Latin America to legalize gay marriage. In another first, Uruguay passes a same-sex adoption bill, granting same-sex couples the right to adopt children.


9. Zimbabwe Slowly (Very Slowly) Improving
Following political instability, runaway inflation and a devastating cholera outbreak, Zimbabwe is making some inroads to recovery. HIV prevalence rates continue to fall and inflation is dropping. After months of fruitless negotiations, Zimbabwe’s rival leaders reach an agreement on commissions for human rights, election and the media, possibly putting an end to ongoing political deadlock.


10. Child Brides Take a Stand
A Saudi court rules in favor of an 8-year-old girl seeking to divorce her 47-year-old husband. Soon after the decision, the Saudi justice minister announces plans to enact a law protecting young girls from marriages. In rural India, young girls follow the lead of Rekha Kalini, who attracted widespread attention after refusing a forced marriage.


For more news highlights from 2009, catch the Global Pulse year-end special Once and Future News 2009-2010.


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On Climate Change: An Open Letter to World Leaders

In this week’s Global Pulse Episode, host Erin Coker asks whether Africa deserves reparations for climate change damage from the developed world. Watch the episode, see how others responded and share your thoughts below!


To the world leaders en route to Copenhagen for the U.N. Change Conference –


Today, December 2, climate change resulted in the deaths of some 1,000 people. By the end of the year, the figure will be around 300,000. To put this in perspective, this is equivalent to the number of people killed in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and 100 times the number of people killed in 9/11. Each year.


If you haven't already, I suggest reading through the Global Humanitarian Forum’s (GHF) Human Impact Report on climate change – perhaps on the plane to Copenhagen – to get a sense of the human cost of climate change.


Next, I suggest some face time with Maldives president’s envoys. President Nasheed is among the more vocal supporters of carbon neutral development, a position I imagine many of you would likewise adopt if rising seas threatened to wipe your entire country off the map.


Speaking of rising seas, Greenpeace’s mock IHT article on Italian Prime Minister Burlusconi’s new sweeping climate change initiatives would have been funny, if these images of a severely flooded Venice did not offer a real glimpse of what could become of Italy’s historic city a few decades from today.


As the leaders of two of the world’s largest polluters, international focus will be on U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. Both Washington and Beijing have been slow to act on climate change, and the U.S. refusal to sign the Kyoto protocol is an embarrassment. I am aware as no doubt you are, of the arguments in favor of inaction – the loudest among them citing the high cost of emissions reductions.


Before your arrival in Copenhagen, I recommend reading a recent National Commission on Energy Policy report [PDF link] analyzing the risks, economic and otherwise, of unmitigated climate change. The 36-page report recalls a similar publication put out by Tuft’s University a few years ago that likewise confirms the frightening cost of inaction. [PDF link]


In the several hours it takes to read through these documents, climate change will kill another 150 people. An estimated 5,000 more will die between now and the opening session of the Copenhagen Climate Change summit. This is unacceptable. To do justice to their memory and to the future of our planet, you must embark on a cohesive international agreement to slow and reduce global warming.


As Kofi Annan remarked in GHF’s impact report, "If political leaders cannot assume responsibility for Copenhagen, they choose instead responsibility for failing humanity."



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In the Shadow of a Wall

In the latest episode of Global Pulse, host Erin Coker looks at global media coverage of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Watch the episode and share your thoughts below!

I remember a talk I had with Danuta Pawlowska, the Polish grandmother of a good friend of mine, in her Warsaw apartment several years ago. A member of the Warsaw resistance during the Nazi occupation, Danuta was closely monitored after the communists took over in the mid 1940s.

She recalled a long gossip-filled phone conversation with a close friend. Two hours into the conversation, a booming male voice suddenly burst through the receiver. "Would you just shut up already?" the man groaned. "How much more of this must I listen to?!"

I had laughed at the time. For a young American with roots in Warsaw, the idea of a government agent listening to a banal chat with a friend was amusing – something fit for a dime store spy thriller. In Warsaw's meticulously reconstructed Old Town, today's foreign tourists purchase T-shirts and shot glasses; bursts of bad American pop music filter out of the same fashion chain stores that line Paris' Rue de Rennes or Copenhagen's Strøget. The stylish, boisterous students crowding the bars and cafes have no memory of life in pre-1989 Warsaw. 

Yet, if you venture outside of the city center, the medieval architecture gives way to monotonous tenements, the color of diesel exhaust. Passing by some of these buildings at dusk is an unnerving, somewhat melancholy experience, and I'll admit that I glanced over my shoulder more than once. For Danuta and millions of others, that reality was life.

I was a child when the Berlin Wall came down.  I remember the now-iconic images of jubilant Berliners  rushing the wall with pickaxes, but I was too young to grasp the larger significance of the event and what it meant to Germany, Europe and the world.

I would like to say that I left Poland with a greater understanding of what day-to-day life must have been like for Europeans, such as Danuta, who had lived under the Soviet regime. Like Warsaw's younger generation, however, that second-hand knowledge can only resonate so much.  The generation gap in Poland has resulted in a new type of barrier, between those who remember and those who came of age in a different time.

In the flood of anniversary coverage this week, the most telling, perhaps, is a BBC special report.  Amidst the frenzy of anniversary festivities, Walls Around the World is a sobering reminder of the barriers, from North Korea to Botswana, that have yet to topple.

I think of Danuta and of the magnitude of what she witnessed. I wonder which other walls will come down over the course of my lifetime.




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