‘You Can’t Write These Things About People You Respect’

Amy Wilentz has a strong critique of the media in her column in the new issue of the Nation (2/8/10). Starting with the New York Times‘ David Brooks (1/15/10; see FAIR Blog, 1/15/10), she demolishes his facile comparison of Haiti and Barbados (“Why is Haiti so poor? Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. But so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well”) and then moves on:

Brooks goes on to discuss the Haitian family, seemingly basing his argument on a book by Lawrence Harrison, a conservative cultural critic who also knows nothing about Haiti. “Child-rearing practices” in Haiti, Brooks writes, “often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.” I don’t know where this assertion comes from, but it reminds me of nothing so much as Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s controversial and misguided report on the black family in the 1960s. I’ve never seen either of these child-rearing practices in my two decades of living in and covering Haiti. In fact, I see more parents carrying small children around in Haiti’s markets than I do at the farmers’ markets in Los Angeles. You can’t write these kinds of things about people whose culture and nation you respect. Nor would an editor permit you to say such things blithely about people who are considered our equals or are able to respond in equally august publications. Right now, the Haitians cannot–they’re too busy getting water for their neglected children.

Wilentz then turns to the Washington Post‘s Anne Applebaum (1/18/10):

She opens her piece (as she so often does) by telling us about herself; her reactions are important to her: “For the past several days, I have found myself unable to look at the photographs from Haiti. I have also found that when I start an article datelined Port-au-Prince, I have to force myself to read to the end.” Although she doesn’t like to read about it, she knows what’s at the heart of her reluctance: “I have no illusions about anyone’s ability to help, for this…is a man-made disaster first and foremost, and so it will remain.” She goes on to fault the weakness of Haiti’s public institutions for the physical collapse of buildings, including the Presidential Palace (constructed by the Marines during the 1915-34 U.S. occupation of Haiti) and many other public edifices built by perfectly well-educated architects using the best practices of their day. It’s a stunningly heartless argument.

I’m tempted to quote much more, but that’s what links are for.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.