As deaths in Haiti approach a quarter of a million and misery, violence, sickness, homelessness, and pestilence rule the streets of Port-au-Prince, only CNN doesn't avert its eyes. Americans would rather watch aid concerts, a few happy orphans being brought to the United Sates, and the occasional individuals rescued from the rubble that covers much of the city.  But kudos to CNN - we need to confront the reality of the situation "on the ground."


The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, January 24, 2010. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at

The Unbearable Heaviness of Truth

If you watch network and cable news, you see the rescue of a few survivors from the rubble in Haiti, the smiling orphans brought to the United States (along with press conferences by the politicians and orphanage executives who brought them here), the resilience of the Haitian people, the generosity of Americans, the devotion of international aid forces.

But that's not the truth - or certainly not the majority of the truth. We know this because the Haitian government now estimates that there have been over 100,000 deaths due to the earthquake - and the dying continues. For the truth, you must watch CNN, most notably Cooper Anderson and medical director Sanjay Gupta (whom the Obama administration wanted to serve as Surgeon General)

It's as though CNN occupies a different reality from NBC, Fox, et al. Their coverage is almost unbearable. Cooper has covered rioting and looting - in one incident, a boy was hit by a rock thrown from a rooftop, and Cooper carried him, bleeding heavily, to safety - otherwise it appears the boy would have died in the street. Cooper describes watching the dead being carried to graveyards, where crypts are broken open and bodies stacked in piles.

Sanjay Gupta describes at first being unable to register the sight of dead bodies everywhere upon entering Port-au-Prince. Both he and Cooper have been shocked at the "stupid deaths" - people dying who could readily be saved by basic medical care. Gupta and his crew watched - unbelievingly - as doctors simply deserted a facility they had set up, leaving the injured and dying patients to their own devices! (Gupta and his crew stepped in to do what they could.)

"My faith in humanity has been completely trashed," Gupta declared. He noted miserably, "There is so much medical aid in the city - but it's stuck at the airport." He and his crew actually went to the airport to fetch and distribute supplies themselves.

Other CNN correspondents have presented no less unflinching reports. One heard shots, and saw two police shooting two young men they had in custody. But one boy, as he lay dying (was his life less valuable than the young man recently rescued from building debris?), denied the accusation that he had looted, and a bystander supported his claim. This reporter showed some of the families (600,000 Haitians have been displaced) with their few possessions, their lives entirely destroyed, wandering like zombies through the streets.

Another CNN reporter described bringing water to a girl whom he watched die from her injuries and resulting infections. "I'll always wonder if there was more that I could have done." Yet another described children crying at the sight of the dead on the street. He also showed sick and dying survivors of a collapsed nursing home, demented elderly people living in the street in soiled diapers.

As we watch celebrities perform at concerts and donate money for supplies to be sent to Haiti, CNN shows that, when food is delivered, strong young men push women and children to the ground and take food from the trucks. A CNN reporter saw a distribution truck abandon starving people to escape the violence - a symbol of the futility of our happy delusion that we are helping Haitians.

What's the matter with CNN - don't they know Americans are sensitive souls who don't like to watch suffering? We want to focus on happy events.  Of course, no one is immune to the charm of the man emerging after 12 days buried in a collapsed building.  Keep in mind that he was only saved because his brother, who heard his voice, persisted for days in seeking help - which finally was made possible when a Greek reporter took up his cause.

Is there a better way to do this?  Gupta's - and CNN's - wrenching honesty is hard for any human being to watch.  But it is a necessary precursor to improving how we deal with this tragedy and future ones - because what we're doing isn't working well.  Thank God he - and CNN - remain to do this thankless, horrifying reporting.