“The question is whether privileged elites should dominate mass communication and should use this power as they tell us they must, namely to impose NECESSARY ILLUSIONS to manipulate and deceive [whom THEY believe are] the stupid majority and remove them from the public arena.” -Noam Chomsky
I once argued with an Associated Press reporter about whether his bureau does more to aid and comfort foreign power-brokers in Haiti, like those who work out of the massive US Embassy in Port-au-Prince, than to investigate and hold them accountable. (I did not contend that every single AP report is slavish propaganda. They do some very good reporting at times.)
I said that the AP makes political choices to pay attention to certain stories and people, but not others (at the time, it was the remarks of Ricardo Seitenfus). On a few important issues, especially those surrounding former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his political party Fanmi Lavalas, its reporting often toes the line of the US government.
Distortions of the truth, regardless of their political slant, don’t serve the public well. Here’s an unfortunate example of exact convergence between propaganda from the AP and the US Embassy itself.
On Friday, at least a thousand people took to the streets in Cite Soleil to commemorate the bloody 1991 coup d’etat against Aristide. I’m being conservative when I say at least a thousand.A Haitian friend (not a Lavalas supporter) viewed the video and said it looked like 3000. To me, having been on the ground, it looked like 2000. The Haitian journalist who shot the video on my camera said it was 1500. Other Haitian journalists walking down the street in the afternoon said they were coming from another march in Bel-Air, apart from Cite Soleil, that disbanded before I could get there.
Trenton Daniel, the AP correspondent, appeared to arrive way late to the Cite Soleil march, after most of the marchers had gone home. He reported: “Thousands of supporters greeted Aristide upon his return earlier this year, but a crowd of only about 200 people showed up for the rally.”
This is simply factually inaccurate. The AP needs to make a correction. I’ve tweeted and emailed since Friday – no response.
But it also betrays poor editorial judgment. As a friend pointed out:
What on earth compelled Trenton Daniel to compare the turnout at Aristide’s arrival after YEARS of exile in another continent with the possibility of seeing Aristide in person to a neighborhood-organized rally based around the commemoration of the 1991 coup?! That’s the real point here–even if there WERE only 200, how can that give anyone a meaningful indicator as to the dynamics of the movement, whether support is waning, etc.?! That’s an editorial decision to link those two events to each other, and is specious.
This is to say nothing of how the AP regularly describes Aristide as being ousted by a “rebellion,” rather than using language that at least acknowledges the well-documented allegations that the US forced him from power in a second coup d’etat.
Almost two years ago, in December 2009, I covered a demonstration by Aristide supporters calling for his return to Haiti and decrying exclusionary elections. The video I shot of the protest is on a hard drive in the States at the moment, but photos can be viewed here. Reuters reported, “Several thousand protesters joined in the protest march, which marked Aristide’s rise to power as Haiti’s first democratically elected president in December 1990.”
The next day, Kenneth Merten, the current US Ambassador to Haiti, described how a “small” “crowd of approximately 150 persons marched around downtown before heading to the electoral authority’s offices” in a cable to State Department headquarters entitled “Fanmi Lavalas Fails to Mobilize Its Base.”
Maybe it’s willful self-delusion. Maybe he just showed up late. But like Trenton Daniel of the AP, Merten seized on the artificial crowd estimate to make to make political claims about Fanmi Lavalas’ lack of popularity.
“This demonstration was markedly different from the late 1990s when Lavalas could easily fill the streets with thousands of protestors, and indicates the extent to which the party has lost its power. Even two years ago, party organizers could count on two thousand supporters to take to the streets.”
At least triple of “two thousand supporters” took to the streets that day.
Videoblog sidebar: UN Troops Go After An Alleged Thief (And Their Own Interpreter)