Underwhelming coverage in Haiti

It probably either feels like "eternity" or "just yesterday" when we first read reports of Haiti's devastating earthquake that has left over 200,000 people dead.

It's been one month, in fact, and the country marked the anniversary on Friday with a prayer service. I hoped to read specific details about the service; instead, I am mostly underwhelmed by coverage from the Associated Press, The New York Times, and the Washington Post.

First, let's look at the AP report, where the reporter spent more words on what people wore than on what was said. I guess I expected basic coverage, like what the religious leaders said and what the service structure was like (were there sermons? prayers? singing?).

Further down in the story, there's a random, unattributed piece of information:

Since the quake, some Voodoo followers have converted to Christianity, some enticed by steady aid flows through evangelical missions, others out of a fear of God.

"The earthquake scared me," said Veronique Malot, a 24-year-old who joined an evangelical church two weeks ago when she found herself living in one of the city's many outdoor camps. "Voodoo has been in my family but the government isn't helping us. The only people giving aid are the Christian churches."

It's good to see the reporter examining the impact of foreign aid, but I wish it was explored more than one woman's example.

There's also this strange list of religious groups that have sent relief:

Since the quake, Scientologists, Mormons, Baptists, Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses and other missionaries have flocked to Haiti in droves -- feeding the homeless, treating the injured and preaching the Gospel in squalid camps where some 1 million people now live.

In many of them, trucks with loudspeakers blast evangelical music while missionaries talk to families under tarps.

It's probably unnecessary to attempt to list every religious group represented in Haiti, but I'm left wondering, what about the Lutherans, Presbyterians, or the unaffiliated groups? It seems odd to describe very diverse groups as all "preaching the Gospel" as if they are all preaching the same religion. Also, what specifically is the "evangelical music" they describe. Christian top 40? Gospel? Hymns?

The Washington Post story is a little bit better, describing one speaker's address in the service but not really giving a clear picture of what happened overall.

Finally, the Times's story reflects a general concern I have that reporters tend to see the world through a political lens.

With all due respect to Haiti's head of state, I care more about what the religious leaders said at the prayer meaning than this meaningless quote: "Haiti will not perish. Haiti should not perish," President Rene Preval said.

The AP story and the Times's stories both end with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's visit to Port-au-Prince. It reminds me of Michael Kinsley's recent piece for The Atlantic on news writing.

There's an old joke about the provincial newspaper that reports a nuclear attack on the nation's largest city under the headline "Local Man Dies in NY Nuclear Holocaust." Something similar happens at the national level, where everything is filtered through politics. ("In what was widely seen as a setback for Democrats just a year before the midterm elections, nuclear bombs yesterday obliterated seven states, five of which voted for President Obama in the last election ...")

Instead of quotes from politicians' bland statements, perhaps the final paragraphs of the stories could had been devoted to more details of said prayer service.

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