Tell CNN to stop hyping fears of violence in Haiti. For shame.


I just checked the front page of CNN. The lead reads:

In the shadow of Haiti’s wrecked presidential palace lie the new homes of the capital’s 500,000 displaced residents. But with 4,000 convicted criminals on the loose, nothing and no one is safe.

They started pushing the violence meme the day after the earthquake. I was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer that evening via Skype. Part way through the interview, they cut to their correspondent for a live chat from the airport.

He spoke briefly with Mario Andreso, the chief of Haiti’s national police, who warned of out-of-control violence from all the prisoners who escaped the penitentiary the day of the quake. The CNN reporter repeated the claims uncritically.

When they came back to me, I began to explain that I had walked through the remains of the jail (here’s the video). That many of the prisoners were reportedly shot dead by police as they tried to escape. And that I had not seen or heard of violence so far.

The prison was a hellish place, with almost no medical facilities. Did it contain some genuine thugs? Yes. But it also contained many political prisoners and people who never received a fair trial from Haiti’s flawed courts. These are simple facts that CNN is too happy to overlook. I was quickly interrupted by Blitzer and they went to commercial break.

Haitians on the streets are not worried about the jail. Food, water, fuel, medicine, and shelter is all I hear. I received five calls yesterday from friends with 200 children here, 300 people there huddled in schools, with nothing to live on. I sent the info on to a few contacts in the aid community.

The linked CNN article describes no violence from eye-witnesses. It quotes the police chief again, warning of possible rape and murder in the tent camps.

To date, since arriving in Haiti in September – including the earthquake’s aftermath – I have not seen a single incidence of violence. The tent camps through the city, whether in Chanmas or near Delmas, are destitute but totally peaceful.

US Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten said that while security is a concern he knows of very little ongoing violence, in an interview last night with PBS that I helped arrange. “I think people should be aware that the vast majority of Haitians here are behaving in a calm and peaceful manner.”

The images collected here show what look like scuffles. I’ve seen a few scuffles here – they are not brawls, not like the vicious punches thrown by drunkards every night in the streets of Austin, Texas, my hometown. It’s some shoving and grabbing of what you can. You’d do the same if you were hungry.

As I ride around the city on a motorbike taxi, camera in hand, everyone is helpful. I exchanged $250 USD on the streets without incident. No Haitian I’ve spoken with has witnessed violence themselves. It may be happening but it is not widespread.

One picture shows a man killed by the National Police, not by a civilian. What the captions describe as looting looks to me like the retrieval of life-saving resources going unused.

Tell CNN, the BBC, and other media to stop being alarmist fear-mongers. They are not reporting facts. They are not authentic journalists. They are not with the Haitian people.

Update 1/21: The few times I have checked the CNN front page since then, I have not seen articles hyping security fears. Liza McAlister, a professor at Wesleyan University who is writing essays about Haiti for CNN, said she forwarded this post to her editor. Maybe it had an effect. Thanks to everyone spreading the word, keep it up.

40 thoughts on “Tell CNN to stop hyping fears of violence in Haiti. For shame.”

  1. This approach is seen here in Brazil too. Unfortunately, violence gives audience and sells newspaper. Facts, information and critical thinking, not so much.

  2. a sample letter from Toussaint Losier:

    Dear Jon Klein,

    Over the past week, I have been closely following your coverage of the earthquake in Haiti via While I have found CNN’s overall coverage of the quake’s aftermath indispensable, I’ve been deeply disturbed by CNN’s increasing focus on fears of growing insecurity…. See More

    I have family and friends in Haiti and none of them have expressed similar concern over looting or personal security. Also, I’ve followed coverage of the quake’s aftermath over Haitian radio, particularly Radio Soliel D’Haiti (New York) and Haiti Focus on WMBR 88.1 (Cambridge, MA), neither of which have raised concerns over escaped prisoners, angry mobs, or gang activity, items that have been featured prominently on CNN’s website and in its news stories, as the below lead from one story suggests:

    “In the shadow of Haiti’s wrecked presidential palace lie the new homes of the capital’s 500,000 displaced residents. But with 4,000 convicted criminals on the loose, nothing and no one is safe.”

    All of this echoes much of the flawed coverage of Hurricane Katrina, where reports of black people searching for food were portrayed as “looting” and rumors of babies being raped in the bathrooms of the Super Dome were passed of as fact. Ironically, similar fears of insecurity expressed by the Belgian medical team left your own Dr. Sanjay Gupta and his staff alone in charge of scores of gravely injured patients at an emergency field hospital (

    In the midst of this massive natural and man-made disaster, with all of the challenges it presents, I urge CNN to stop hyping unsubstantiated fears of violence in Haiti. I’m deeply worried that in continuing to do so, your news program is helping to justify the further militarization of this emergency relief operation, delaying even further the desperate effort to rescue more people and preserve the health of those who have already been rescued.


  3. Why are you reporting what might happen instead of the story?

    Why aren’t you telling us how the donations we sent are being distributed?

    Aren’t you a news station? No?

  4. Shame on you CNN for assuming that the Haitian people are violent. Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! – who is personally in Haiti – reported that the people are peacefully organizing to protect themselves and that she saw no incidents of violence. CNN, put your reporters to work distributing food and water, not vicious, untrue rumors.

  5. CNN maintains that ” with 4,000 convicted criminals on the loose, nothing and no one is safe.” This is not true. Most of the detainees in the national penitentiary were NEVER CONVICTED of any crime. Take CNN’s reporting here is not based on FACTS but fear-mongering

    Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network

  6. I just listened to Amy Goodman at reporting from Haiti. Amy said she and a crew went into the country to another city where 90% of the buildings are in ruins. She speaks about the peaceful, innovative actions folks there have pulled off. She has not seen any looting or other type of violence. There are refugee camps set up by the locals, as outside help is non-existent. They watch for and over each other. They are on their own.

    Mainstream Media sucks! Check out

  7. I’m glad UN doctors waved at the camera for cnn as they left on UN bus. haitians trapped in buildings did not have that luxury

  8. so much of what we are seeing now documents that the us military is not delivering aid or assistance; and they are a hinderance to aid and normalcy being reestablished. cnn has carte blanche from the military to hype up the bad to enable the us military to establish a reason to open a permanent base. we are watching the militarization of Haiti. we better start speaking up about it now before it becomes a permanent reality for the haitian people.

    1. Ansel,
      Thanks for your great work. I translated your article into Japanese and posted in my blog. Yeah, the trackback above is from me. It seems like many Japanese people got interested in your article. Here in Japan too, what mainstream media is mainly talking about Haiti is this “security” issue by showing the image of “looting”. I hope that I can help to spread your words out to the people here. And, hopefully, you don’t mind I’m doing this.

      1. Thank you Valparaiso for translating my article, re-posting, etc.. I absolutely don’t mind! We have to combat poor reporting worldwide.

        1. Ansel- Bob Nagy here, a friend of your mom’s…
          You may remember me.. I’m talking with friends in Austin
          Who want to bring down FM broadcasting stations for
          Quick deployment and use. You may even see me! Congrats
          On you surprise career launch. Great work!
          Stay well. Bob

          1. Thanks Bob.

            That said, I wish people would stop saying ‘congratulations on your career’ and other crap like that, as if the quake was a good thing for me. It wasn’t.

  9. CNN, thank you so much for all you have done to keep us, Haitians and the world informed. Nevertheless, by overblowing some isolated incidents, you are not helping our cause. We are going through one of the most difficult times of our existence. Please do not portray my sisters and brothers as violent. Who can forget how some people in New york City, had looted so many stores during the blackout in 1977. There is a big difference between looting and surviving. If you are really concerned about violence, please ask the Patagon why so many American soldirs on our soil. Is it an occupation in the making while so many are dying ? My beloved Haiti has enough, please give her a break.

    Once again, thank you for all that you have done so far. May you find courage and integrity to tell it like it is. Hat off to Dr. Sanjay gupta!

  10. Rather than ratings I suspect that the skewed reporting sets the stage for the next phase, brutal military lock down.

    If this seems implausible see here

    You have to wonder how much of the delay in getting generously donated supplies to the people is due to incompetence.

    As disastrous as things are the worst is yet to come.

    1. Thanks for linking. People should be more concerned with police operating with impunity, of which there is a long and sordid history in Haiti, in this chaotic environment than the people who escaped from the jail.

  11. I am glad to see those that have rejected CNN attempt to label the Haiti people as savages. Did Wolf take Psych 101? According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, food and water are number one in the survival hierarchy chain. People would be stupid if these needs were in sight in they were too stupid to try and obtain these needs and starve.

  12. This is yet another way that the situation in Haiti is reminiscent of Katrina. People who are struggling to survive and trying to meet their basic needs for food and water are branded as looters. False reports of violence and rapes are spread. People who soak this “news” up take away negative/prejudiced/racist ideas about people of color and it just makes it easier to see people of color as “the other” to be feared.

    Thanks for your reporting. I’m a fellow Austinite who supports your work.

  13. I’ve been disappointed in MSM for a while now. However, I’d like to thank you, Ansel, Democracy Now, and I added worldfocus, because I’ve been interested in watching the series they have shown about Haiti for a while now.

    I wish there was a way that people like me could have sent a donation directly to one of the Haitian through money transfer. I am disappointed that millions, if not, billions of dollars have been sent for aid, yet, it is probably tied up in ‘red tape’ and consumer goods are either being turned away or sitting on the tarmac.

    And yes, it doesn’t surprise me, that the MSM always say that ‘blacks’ are violent, lazy….. there was a quote someone made in reference to the wars, something to the effect of ,”they don’t hate us for our freedoms, they hate us for our occupation.” It was something along those lines. But anyway, keep up the good work.

  14. It’s great to have additional info you provide. In fairness to “mainstream journalism”, the phrase “if it bleeds, it leads” has always been the mantra.

  15. The sensationalist infotainment and shallow fluff CNN shows, for more than a week on end now, is an irritating illustration of the depths ‘journalism’ has sunk to. It reminded me of the marathon broadcast of the ocean near Martha’s Vineyard after a Kennedy youngster’s plane had not landed. Hour after hour of footage of waves (could have been any ocean, anywhere, shot any day).
    Haiti is a hell hole on a good day. Not a word about the history or underlying policies that contributed to pre-catastrophy poverty or Heritage Foundation’s eagerness to bless the survivors with some more ‘free’ market.

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