'Looting' or 'Surviving': The Words and Images of the Haiti Coverage

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Since last Tuesday, Americans have been bombarded with daily media coverage of the earthquake in Haiti. TV networks show image after image of death and destruction, while newspapers feature grave details. But the words and images that media outlets choose can themselves prove controversial. We take a moment in the midst of our coverage on Haiti to examine how the media has been covering the earthquake.

Washington Post culture critic Philip Kennicott believes the images coming out of Haiti are too graphic. Natalie Hopkinson, media and culture critic for The Root, believes the media makes an implicit social judgement when they write that Haitians are "looting" for food and supplies.


Natalie Hopkinson and Philip Kennicott

Hosted by:

Miles O'Brien

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja

Comments [10]


I'm a teacher in the greater Boston area and the majority of my students are from Haiti. They would not object to the term looting. Haitians tend to be realistic about their country and the situation. Kayne West is not Haitian and should not speak for Haitians in America. It's not a racial issue.

Jan. 19 2010 09:36 PM
John from Rhode Island

I limit my listening to NPR. I'm therefore somewhat biased. But, I am hearing less calm reporting and more sensationalism. Words like "looting" and "anarchy" paint a picture that, tied with images we see, contribute to impressions that those who are trying to survive are bad people. And because they are the "action" their activities get covered, and repeated and repeated in CNN-like loop even though they are a minority of the population suffering.

I've been relieved to hear from heads of the various organizations explain just how huge this relief effort is. In a day when everything is so instant, too many people have trouble understanding why can't be providing food and water to everyone in a day or two. I know people are suffering. But we and the media shouting why aren't we moving faster to help doesn't help. Help by contributing, not chastising.

Media types - please think before you start trying to get colorful with your verbage. Tell us the facts without hype and cover the full spectrum of the story. NPR usually does a good job of this - but what I heard on this show this morning had me wondering what station was on.

Jan. 19 2010 11:38 AM
JB from NYC

Thanks for this thoughtful show on media coverage. More than the racism-tinged presentation of the "other," I think the problem is that the media are often the first to rush into disaster zones where the chaos is so great that professional relief organizations can't be everywhere or are pausing to develop useful plans. So they end up practicing a kind of stunt journalism. It's easy to find images of misery and congratulate oneself on one's caring feelings. But it's hard to know what one is actually seeing. And with no one to accompany the journalist, no one to serve as a reliable source, (MINUSHA destroyed, government offices destroyed, etc.) journalists just jump from shallow observation to shallow observation.

Jan. 19 2010 10:56 AM
Susan from Midland Park, NJ

As usual the MSM (cable as well) report with seemingly good intentions at the beginning of a catastrophe and then---I agree with most of the listeners that we are not watching looting, we are witnessing desperation. I wonder how people in a white, wealthy community would react after 1 week of terror (Yes, I used that word), 90 degree heat, no water, no food, no home and not knowing what will become of them. I agree with other listeners who have called this type of reporting sensational racism.

Jan. 19 2010 10:05 AM

Seems pretty obvious to me: anyone who's taking things for personal gain rather than to fulfill their basic needs. A person stealing food and water for them and theirs is one thing. A person stealing TVs, or food and water to sell to others at exorbitant prices is a looter for sure.

Jan. 19 2010 09:54 AM
Laurie Robertson-Lorant from So. Dartmouth, MA

I am a native-born American of Anglo-Scottish-
German ancestry. Media coverage of Haiti displays much more than a "racial tinge." That's a euphemism for down and dirty racism, racism, racism! We have photographs and news stories showing that in post-Katrina New Orleans, whites who took food and water from stores were described as resourceful people looking out for their families, while African Americans gathering food and water for their families were called "looters." In coverage of Haiti, where people are starving and dying of dehydration, amid unimaginable death and destruction, we see the same damnable stereotyping, prejudice and bigotry. Thank you for raising the issue.

Jan. 19 2010 09:49 AM
Bryan Langdo

I think it's just wrong for anyone in the U.S., where we live in relative comfort, to sit back and judge people who are in a horrible, desperate situation. Most of us can't even imagine what it would be like to live in a country as poor as Haiti, even before the earthquake.

Jan. 19 2010 09:37 AM
FM from Brooklyn

The real looting is going by the people who are not distributing the relief goods at the airport-all these great brians can not figure out a way to get the packages to the people!All over the world people are giving to help those without food and water now--not to rebuild the same old,same old as before!

Jan. 19 2010 08:59 AM
Fran M. from Brooklyn,N.Y

The police should be helping the people not shooting at themPeople ran from their homes-no money,no possessions-nothing!!Who began calling attempts to survive "looting" The gov. of Haiti has shown its inability, even in such a dire time,to even try and function as a resposible entity!

Jan. 19 2010 08:25 AM
John from office

Like when the L A Riots occured, many activist called it an uprising. Looting is stealing goods, not food and water. The pictures from Haiti show people stealing goods, not taking food. There is no excuse for taking advantage of a bad situation, to steal a television, or sneakers.

Jan. 19 2010 07:02 AM

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