Anderson Cooper's Haiti Reporting: Better Than Nothing, but Still Not Great

It’s been two days since Anderson Cooper resumed his coverage of the crisis in Haiti. The CNN news anchor has taken great pains to explain his decision to return to the earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince, nearly a month after the quake. “No one should die in silence, and no one’s struggle to live should go unreported as well,” he said—two, three, four times in the space of an hour. Then he had the camera pan to his colleague Sanjay Gupta, who spent several minutes echoing the same sentiments. On Tuesday's show, Sean Penn, who has been in Port-au-Prince helping earthquake victims with his own team of aid workers stopped by—not to detail his organization’s efforts so much as to engage in another round of mutual and gratuitous back-patting.

Don’t get me wrong, as a reporter who's struggled to cover the situation in Haiti from a desk in New York, I’m both thrilled and heartened to see any journalist so determined to keep a spotlight on the issue, let alone a journalist as prominent as Cooper—especially given that we are a full month past the initial quake and now amid a Super Bowl, a series of blizzards, and the coming Winter Olympics.

But as a viewer I was frustrated to see that the show’s reported segments were about as long as the touchy-feely interludes, and they weren’t terribly revealing at that. At one point Cooper wandered through a tent city narrating the scene with only the briefest of exchanges between himself and the city’s inhabitants. At another, Gupta visited a makeshift TB clinic and tried framing this particular public-health threat as a new one for the people of Haiti. It isn’t. Gupta went so far as to stick his microphone in the face of a TB patient—a 20-year-old woman in obvious pain. After explaining that the woman had lost her entire family in the quake and had run out of medicine for her illness, he asked, “How are you feeling?” and then, “Where will you go after this?” After considering those questions, the woman erupted into tears. I mean, come on. How does that help anyone?

It’s tough to keep stories like Haiti in the spotlight for more than a few weeks. Not because the story isn't important or doesn't deserve sustained coverage. It is and it does. But invariably, audience interest wanes, reporters grow weary, and fresh angles start to seem few and far between. And with most newsrooms constrained by budget cuts and staff cuts and the pressure to write only zillion-click stories, consistent in-depth reporting in another country can seem like a mere yesteryear relic from journalism’s glory days. But if you’re actually in Haiti? Instead of running through a list of clichés about the resiliency of the Haitian people (even if you admit that they’re clichés, as Cooper has done on air), how about looking into what the Haitian government and international community are doing to clear the rubble or prepare for the coming hurricane season? I’m actually a big fan of Anderson Cooper: he’s got a special report coming up on child trafficking, and I hope that work will render this criticism superfluous. (I also contacted his team for reaction to this story, and will post it as soon as I hear something.) I think that by returning to Haiti long after most reporters have left, he has brought a powerful spotlight to one of the world’s dark corners. In the days ahead, I just want to see him put that light to better use.

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