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.
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.
@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:
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.
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.”
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:
@MasterSunBC: System lan chanje vre,men kounya Haiti tounen Hollywood…Big movie!
@MasterSunBC: Gade yon film … LOL… Mesye respekte pèp la tande!
@SeTawTaw: Kibo wycleff te ye le yo tire bal la? Machine lan blende e vit machine blende paka desann! Kibol te ye?
@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: