The American way

The heavy media coverage of the earthquake-wrought destruction in Haiti in recent weeks has done more than simply show the world the true nature of the calamity as it unfolds. Light has also been shed on the sensationalist practices of such media giants as FOX news and CNN, as they rush to jam microphones under the noses of anyone with a teary eye or maimed limb, ostensibly in the name of fair and balanced journalism.

Both stations have been providing extensive coverage of events in Haiti, right down to the minutiae. Unfortunately, in doing so, they have begun to blur the line between presenting hard facts and needlessly seeking the most tragic angle on the aftermath possible, in order to rake in the ratings.

Videos have surfaced on the FOX website of corpses bloating in the sun, being stacked in front of morgues, and being buried underneath piles of rubble in freshly dug pits in order to deal with the loss of life suffered by the Haitian people. Camera crews are routinely staking out the extractions of trapped civilians from the remains of their former living spaces, pouncing on them with lights and microphones at the moment their shoulders clear the rubble.

Further evincing the fine journalistic practices of FOX, a video available on the network’s Youtube channel depicts an unidentified female reporter standing outside a supposed “mass grave,” which is in actuality an office building reduced to rubble by the quake. She proceeds to spin a questionable tale of, “finding people sitting upright at their desks, arms up in the air,” and glibly examines the bodies of Haitians nearby, providing dispassionate comments such as, “right on other side of this bag you can see an arm or a leg, I’m not sure what it is, with the bone sticking out of it.”

Following the same tack, CNN has released a one minute and thirty second video from inside a home in Port Au Prince, which shows a woman running from the room in terror, followed by over a minute of darkness punctuated by a cacophony of human cries and building materials crumbling. This video contains no narration, nor any valuable information whatsoever concerning the earthquake. Instead, it appears to be a blatant attempt to pull in viewers to the CNN website, without any regard for the dignity of those portrayed in the footage.

The counterargument may be made that it is necessary to provide people the world over with an accurate representation of the present conditions in Haiti, but it is clear that no one stands to benefit from close up shots of lifeless bodies trapped beneath tonnes of concrete. Coverage on other networks such as the BBC, and in various print media outlets, has been decidedly more tasteful.

The British Broadcasting Company has long held higher standards than its American counterparts, and this has been shown amply in their contrasting coverage of the disaster in Haiti. Any footage of the destruction wrought by the quake released by the BBC has been accompanied by intelligent discussion of humanitarian efforts being made, or the causes of the poor infrastructure that exacerbated the quake’s effects, rather than comments on the amount of Vick’s Vapo-rub one must smear beneath their nose to block the stench of death.

Further, print media outlets in multiple nations, such as Macleans magazine, The National Post, and your very own Capilano Courier have managed to cover the fallout of the quake without sensationalizing the facts, nor seeking the most shockingly gruesome images possible to accompany their headlines.

Whereas the above sources find it adequate to mention a death toll, or make reference to the suffering experienced by the victims of this unprecedented natural disaster, these major American networks are posting videos of orphans mourning the death of their parents, entitled, “Orphans wail at their loss.” This is unnecessary and cruel, no matter how many viewers it might pull away from The Jersey Shore and American Dad for a half hour.

Presenting events in this manner leads to a detachment from the horror that should be engendered in someone witnessing such travesties, rather than an emphatic reaction to the suffering of others. The editors at FOX and CNN should be soundly shamed for their blatant exploitation of the people of Haiti by the journalistic community, and I for one feel compelled to implore the members of the aforementioned professional class to let their voices be heard in the weeks and months to come. This burgeoning school of sensationalist journalism must be abolished before morbid voyeurism overtakes our capacity for empathy entirely.

// Max Mackay,

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