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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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Swine Flu: Time to Panic?

We're feeling a bit calmer about the swine flu today. Planes are flying empty to Mexico and 30,000 restaurants lie quiet across the Mexican capital. But as the first week of swine flu hysteria draws to a close, the Mexican death toll appears to have stabilized and fears of a mounting global apocalypse have yet to materialize.

 

We're more prone now to heed the words of pandemic skeptics, like virologists that contend the swine flu mortality rate is likely to be not far off the typical seasonal flu death rate. We are also swayed by histories of the epic false alarm that was the last swine flu outbreak in 1976.

 

Still, for panic-watchers we do note the beta launch of Google Flu Trends for up-to-date tracking of swine flu spread across Mexico. And for those who opt to don a face mask when venturing out of home, recognize that a mask can fast become porous as it absorbs humidity.

 

Does the arrival of swine flu constitute real reason for alarm? Or like SARS and the avian flu before it, is this more a minor local than major global tragedy?

 

Watch the Global Pulse episode on swine flu here.

 
 

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Mexico's Drug Wars

Beheadings, assassinations, gun battles on the street - Mexico is ground zero in the global war on drugs. U.S. media focuses on the spread of violence north of the border, as drug cartels spread fear and intimidation south of it. What will it take for Mexico to beat the drug lords?

 

Sources: Once Noticias, Mexico; TeleSur, Venezuela; TVE, Spain; Galavision, Mexico; Al Jazeera English, Qatar; NBC, U.S.; CNN, U.S.; Fox News, U.S.; BBC News Online, U.K.; Stratfor Global Intelligence, U.S.

 

 
 

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Could the Drug Wars Take Down Mexico?

This week, Global Pulse examines rising drug-related violence in northern Mexico that threatens to spread across the U.S.-Mexico region. Is U.S. anti-drug policy contributing to this new crime wave? And what options do Mexican and U.S. authorities have to limit drug warfare at the border?

 

In the Wall Street Journal, former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo co-authors an editorial calling for a drastic re-evaluation of anti-drug policies in the U.S. and Latin America. "The war on drugs has failed," Zedillo's editorial states, imploring President Obama to work with current Latin American heads of state to remake drug policies in the interest of public health. At the RAND Corporation, Brian Michael Jenkins similarly calls for treating drug consumption as a public health issue.

 

But the bloody standoff in recent weeks between elected officials of Ciudad Juarez in northern Mexico and local drug cartels has escalated fears that Mexican and U.S. leaders will fail to intervene appropriately to end the cycle of violence. At the Huffington Post for instance, Sandy Goodman notes the "prospect of this uncontrolled violence crossing the border" in spite of law enforcement efforts.

 

Can effective government intervention put an end to the Mexican drug wars? Watch the Global Pulse video and let us know your thoughts in the comments section above.

 
 

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