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Haiti: Was Wyclef Shot or Cut by Glass?

Early on Sunday 20 March, 2011, while Haitians headed to the polls for the second round of a historic and controversial presidential election, a story about Wyclef Jean, the Haitian-born hip hop star known the world over for being one third of the now-defunct group The Fugees, monopolized the mainstream media news about Haiti for a good portion of the day.

While Haitian voters waited for voting supplies for as long as four hours in some voting booths, many news outlets reported that Wyclef had been shot in the hand in Haitian capital Port-au-Prince’s Delmas neighborhood on the Saturday night.

Sloppy journalism?

Image of Wyclef's injury, tweeted by his cousin and former bandmate @PrasMichel.

Image of Wyclef's injury, tweeted by his cousin and former bandmate @PrasMichel.

Among Haitian tweeters, many supporters of presidential candidate Mirlande Manigat were skeptical of the shooting story. Possible reasons for their doubt may include the fact that Wyclef endorsed her opponent Michel Martelly in the race and because, up until election day, those killed in the course of campaigning had been Manigat supporters.

Jean-Junior Joseph (@jeanjuniorj), a Manigat communications attaché, questioned the Wyclef shooting story on Twitter on March 20:

@jeanjuniorj: Regarding Wyclef Jean, I just spoke to Gary Desrosiers the Police Depart[ment] spokesperson, he said Wyclef refuses to see police investgator [sic]

@jeanjuniorj: Wyclef Jean at his hotel does not allow the police dept investigator examine his hand. He can't confirm whether or not it's about “shooting”

Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles corroborated these points on the same day, having herself called the National Police:

@jacquiecharles: #Haitian National Policespokesman Garry Desrosier tells @miamiherald“police can't confirm #Wyclef shooting. He refused 2 meet.” #elections

Joseph's tweets went on to imply that CNN published the initial news without first interviewing local authorities:

@jeanjuniorj: In Port-au-Prince, Media commentators still wonder why CNN is reporting the Wyclef Jean's news while the Police Dept can't confirm it

@jeanjuniorj: CNN needs to call the Police Department now. No counter balance in the News for Wyclef. International media needs to contact police sources

@jeanjuniorj: Reuters saw Wyclef Jean. Wyclef is fine. CNN needs to stop propagating the news that Wyclef was [s]hot in hands.

Enter Pras

In a flurry of tweets on March 20, Pras Michel, Wyclef’s cousin and former Fugees band mate, implied that the alleged shooting was an attempt to thwart Martelly’s presidential bid.

@PrasMichel: Thanks for all your support Wyclef is fine one bullet is [not] going to stop us, we going out today to Vote for 8

In a tone reminiscent of gangsta rap lyrics and in the same vein as his previous declaration [kr] that Martelly supporters would burn Haiti in case of defeat, Michel added:

@PrasMichel: Mess with me, I'll fight back. Mess with my friends, I'll hurt you. Mess with the ones I love, and they'll never be able to identify you.

Jean-Junior Joseph fired back:

@jeanjuniorj: Just saw Pras Michel's tweet about Wyclef. I want you to know PrasMichel is liying [sic]. Guy C Delva, friend of Wyclef says it's a lie

In fact, Guyler C. Delva, Reuters correspondent in Haiti, corrected CNN’s account after speaking to Wyclef’s doctor, stating that the initial report was “false” and that the police chief of the area in which Wyclef was staying confirmed “that he had suffered only a minor cut to his hand from glass.”

The New York Daily News and others echoed the correction, but news outlets the world over continued to report as late as Monday evening that Wyclef had been shot.

A tendency to ignore local authorities

The alleged failure by CNN to contact the Haitian police chief and corroborate the story, underscores recent observations by Bajan-American blogger and journalist Carla Murphy. The founder of When the Diaspora and Development Industry Meet, a citizen media project that empowers the voices of Haitian diaspora in Haiti’s reconstruction, Murphy recently highlighted a tendency by foreign journalists to ignore the accounts of Haitian authorities:

Snow wasn’t removed on time after a huge storm this holiday season and within hours every New Yorker knew the name of the head of the department of sanitation.  No reporter would’ve covered that story without answering the main question: ‘Who f%$ked up?'—and that’s just snow.

Unfortunately [the] ‘no one’s in charge’ message regarding Haiti is the norm. Foreign journalists and bloggers rarely name officials below the level of Bill Clinton, René Préval, Jean-Max Bellerive or Nigel Fisher. (I recall being pleasantly surprised last year when a real-life mayor of Port-au-Prince appeared during a 60 Minutes segment.)

But bureaucracies—as broken, inefficient, corrupt, overwhelmed, under-resourced, under-staffed or disparate as they may be—exist in Haiti.

Camps have residential leadership structures [...] Then of course there is local government, police and Haiti’s women’s and health ministries as well as the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC).  Journalists undercut any possibility of public pressure on the cogs within the above bureaucracies when we write them out of our stories. [...]

But these omissions happen again and again, as is to be expected, when parachute journalists write for parachute readers.  [...]

The diaspora is looking for the same ‘naming’ function in Haiti articles that domestic U.S. readers take for granted.

When Hollywood meets Haitian politics

Haitian Twitter user of all political affiliations had a few laughs about all this drama, often referring to the influence of Hollywood on Haitian-American rappers with political ambitions:

@Twitjako: La police rejette la these d'attaque armee contre Wyclef Jean. La blessure aurait ete causee par un verre.#hollywood #lie #movie #wyclef

@Twitjako: The police rejects the thesis of an armed attack against Wyclef Jean. The wound seems to have been caused by a glass. #hollywood #lie #movie #wyclef

@MasterSunBC: System lan chanje vre,men kounya Haiti tounen Hollywood…Big movie!

@MasterSunBC: The system really must have changed. Haiti has turned into Hollywood now… Big movie!

@MasterSunBC: Gade yon film … LOL… Mesye respekte pèp la tande!

@MasterSunBC: What a movie… LOL… Folks, a little more respect for the people!

@SeTawTaw: Kibo wycleff te ye le yo tire bal la? Machine lan blende e vit machine blende paka desann! Kibol te ye?

@SeTawTaw: Where was Wyclef when the bullet was shot? The car was armored and windows of armored cars cannot slide down! Where was he?

@ThirdWorldGirl: If Wyclef lied about that shooting all credibility he had is now out the door.

@melindayiti, who was incredulous about the fact that news of Wyclef's injury seemed to be eclipsing the “more important” story of the Haitian election process, summed it up this way:

@melindayiti: @IonError didn't mean to be flip or rude, I just really hate Wyclef's antics and the way they detract from more important Haitian stories

  • jim

    this guy is a liar and a joke and the so-called candidate unqualified martelly and his supporters behave like a bunch thugs no experience no education if this guy gets elected it’s going to be a another disaster for that poor country and the citizens in haiti keep elected the same crap over and over again that’s one of the reason that country will never changed

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