On February 29, Richard Boucher from the U.S. Department of State released a press release claiming that Jean Bertrand Aristide had resigned as president of Haiti and that the United State facilitated his safe departure. Within hours the major broadcast news stations in the United States including CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, and NPR were reporting that Aristide had fled Haiti. An Associated Press release that evening said “Aristide resigns, flees into exile.” The next day headlines in the major newspapers across the country, including the Washington Post, USA Today, New York Times, and Atlanta Journal Constitution, all announced “Aristide Flees Haiti.” The Baltimore sun reported, “Haiti’s first democratically-elected president was forced to flee his country yesterday like despots before him.”
However on Sunday afternoon February 29, Pacific News network with reporters live in Port-au-Prince Haiti were claiming that Aristide was forced to resign by the US and taken out of the Presidential Palace by armed US marines. On Monday morning Amy Goodman with Democracy Now! news show interviewed Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Waters said she had received a phone call from Aristide at 9:00 AM EST March 1 in which Aristide emphatically denied that he had resigned and said that he had been kidnapped by US and French forces. Aristide made calls to others including TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson, who verified congresswomen Waters’ report.
Mainstream corporate media was faced with a dilemma. Confirmed contradictions to headlines reports were being openly revealed to hundreds of thousands of Pacifica listeners nationwide. By Monday afternoon mainstream corporate media began to respond to the charges. Tom Brokaw on NBC Nightly News, 6:30 PM voiced, “Haiti in crisis. Armed rebels sweep into the capital as Aristide claims US troops kidnapped him; forced him out. The US calls that nonsense.” Fox News Network with Brit Hume reported Colin Powell’s comments, “He was not kidnapped. We did not force him on to the airplane. He went on to the airplane willingly, and that’s the truth. Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call added, “Aristide, …was a thug and a leader of thugs and ran his country into the ground.” The New York Times in a story buried on page 10 reported that “President Jean-Bertrand Aristide asserted Monday that he had been driven from power in Haiti by the United States in “a coup,” an allegation dismissed by the White House as “complete nonsense.”
Mainstream media had a credibility problem. Their original story was openly contradicted. The kidnap story could be ignored or back-paged as was done by many newspapers in the US. Or it can be framed within the context of a US denial and dismissed. Unfortunately, the corporate media seems not at all interested in conducting an investigation into the charges, seeking witnesses, or verifying contradictions. Nor is the mainstream media asking or answering the question of why they fully accept the State Department’s version of the coup in the first place. Corporate media certainly had enough pre-warning to determine that Aristide was not going to willingly leave the country. Aristide had been saying exactly that for the past month during the armed attacks in the north of Haiti. Aristide was interviewed on CNN February 26. He explained that the terrorists, and criminal drug dealers were former members of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), which had led the coup in 1991 killing 5,000 people. Aristide believed that they would kill more people if a coup was allowed to happen. It was also well known in media circles that the US Undersecretary of State Roger Noriega for Latin America was a senior aide to former Senator Jesse Helms, who as chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs committee was a longtime backer of Haitian dictator Jean Claude Duvalier and an opponent of Aristide. These facts alone should have been a red flag regarding the State Department’s version.
As a former priest and liberation theologist, Jean Bertrand Aristide stood for grassroots democracy, alleviation of poverty, and God’s love for all human beings. He challenged the neo-liberal globalization efforts of the Haitian upper class and their US partners. For this he was targeted by the Bush administration. That the US waited until the day after Aristide was gone to send in troops to stabilize the country proves intent to remove him from office.
Mainstream media had every reason to question the State Department’s version of the coup in Haiti, but choose instead to report a highly doubtful cover story. We deserve more from our media than their being stenographers for the government. Weapons of mass destruction aside, we need a media that looks for the truth and exposes the contradictions in the fabrications of the powerful.
PETER PHILLIPS is a Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University and Director of Project Censored a media research organization.