In its first tenet, the ethics code for journalists states journalists should not only be fair and honest in reporting and interpreting information, they must also “seek the truth and report it.” In this age of public relations ploys masquerading as news, and personal and political agendas disguised as newsworthy “leaks,” it is imperative that readers, writers, and editors apply critical thinking before jumping onto the information bandwagon.
A news “leak” implies that the disseminated information is being purposely withheld from the public and that the release of the information will benefit the public good. Protection of the source is expected, because the source of the information may suffer retaliation. Leaks differ from an “embargo” of information, which is an agreement not to publish until a particular time frame has passed, or until certain conditions for publication have been met.
A USAID draft report,”Building Assessments and Rubble Removal” (BARR), in earthquake ravaged Haiti was cited on May 27 by Agence France-Presse (AFP) and promptly picked up by the Associated Press before it went global. Generated on March 15, the 40 page graphic-heavy report contains a potential bombshell in a conclusion contradicting the official Haitian death toll of 200-250,000. The BARR report says, “The number of fatalities that resulted from the earthquake is estimated at 46,190 to 84,961.”
The report, conducted for USAID by the consulting firm, LTL Strategies, also reduces the United Nations figure of 680,000 homeless to 68,000. The premature release of this non-peer-reviewed report serves no one, and the State Department has already distanced itself from the findings. According to HaitiLibre:
Mark Toner, spokesman for the State Department says “the first draft of the report contained internal inconsistencies with its own findings,” adding “we are reviewing these inconsistencies with LTL Strategies to ensure information we release is accurate.”
“The first draft of the report contained internal inconsistencies with its own findings,” Department spokesperson Preeti Shah echoed Toner.
She would not elaborate or say whether the report could change significantly once the inconsistencies are resolved. Haitian government officials said they had not seen the report and could not discuss it.
This document should never have been promoted to the public. “Promoted” is a carefully chosen word here. The question that has not been answered is “what is the possible motivation” for the release of this document?” Was it motivated by political expediency? Let’s rebrand the “leak” and call it “Public Relations” for the sake of this discussion.
There is a public record of a timeline that might be useful here.
At a Senate hearing on May 11, Republicans, led by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), described U.S. relief efforts in Haiti as “pathetic” and said USAID had failed to track its spending and appropriately monitor outcomes.
USAID administrator, Rajiv Shah responded, “You can’t judge the effort in Haiti in one or two years.” “Haiti has been a very poor country for a long time.” With those words Shah effectively erased the impact of the January 2010 earthquake. It is the same line of reasoning used by the United Nations in it latest report on the cholera epidemic, which effectively blamed Haiti for not having the sanitation infrastructure necessary to slow the spread of the contagion introduced by United Nations troops. The final UN reportblames a “confluence of circumstances” instead of the reality of a confluence of contaminated effluents introduced by Nepalese troops into the Artibonite River system.
If USAID is behind the premature release of the flawed and unscientific BARR report, the report serves Shah’s denial very well.
There is another story that unfolded a few days before the release of the embargoed BARR report. It was not widely reported or dissected in the media, but it should have been.
In another AP report, Daniel-Gerard Rouzier, who is nominated to be the new Haitian Prime Minister by President Michel Martelly, said he wanted to do away with the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC), chaired by former US President Bill Clinton and the outgoing Haitian prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive. On May 25, Rouzier said he wanted to eliminate the commission because of slow progress, called it “dysfunctional,” and indicated he would replace it with anew government agency. “What I can tell you is that the (commission) as it exists today will not continue,” Rouzier said in an interview. “I don’t mean to crucify the people who came up with the concept. But sometimes when something doesn’t work you have to fix it.” This was two days before the BARR report was released. cont’d on page 2