After the first wave of reporting, Fatton said, when attention will be on efforts to save lives and how the relief program meets its enormous logistical challenges, this is a story journalists should focus on. “You need to go beyond the tragic, emotional situation,” he said, to explore why the Haitian government was “utterly” unprepared to respond. (On this last point, there’s little dispute—an indicator, perhaps, that the different analyses are a matter of perspective. “It seems that the earthquake kind of decapitated the place,” said Perito. “It’s a place with no redundancy and very little capacity.”)
In fact, just as Perito saw the response to the tropical storms in 2008 as a crucial moment, Fatton thinks the earthquake will be a turning point. If Haitian society and its political leadership, with help from the international community, can’t respond effectively, the country will be facing a “truly Hobbesian world,” he said. But he is hopeful that the disaster might produce a new social pact. “Could it lead to a very new way that Haitians look at each other, talk to each other, treat each other” he asked, and at the same time rebuild their nation? “I can’t think of a better moment than this moment.”
Unsurprisingly, CJR wasn’t the only media outlet to call the experts quoted in this story on Tuesday. So what were the other journalists who reached out to them asking about?
Robert Perito of USIP’s Haiti Working Group said reporters asked about three things most frequently: Will there be political unrest? Will Haitian refugees flee for the U.S. in boats? And what’s going to happen to UN peacekeeping presence, which has been the key factor providing domestic security? “I think those are good questions,” Perito said. “They capture the likelihood of three things that are most critical, particularly to the United States.”
Meanwhile, Robert Fatton Jr., who was born and raised in Port-au-Prince, said he had fielded questions about his personal experience—when he had first heard about the quake, how he felt upon hearing the news, and whether he’d been able to contact family and friends living in Haiti.
And Henry Carey said he’d been fielding questions about how humanitarian relief missions work, what NGOs will be involved, and what logistical challenges will have to be overcome during the relief effort. “They haven’t asked me anything about Haiti,” he said, though that’s perhaps not surprising: “a humanitarian emergency has very little to do with state-building.” Speaking Wednesday afternoon, Carey also noted that “the media’s not there for the most part, because there’s no political crisis.” If more media members had been present, he said, they “could have been a great help showing where some of the worst situations are.”