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Universal Disorientation: Reading Newspapers, Watching TV and Listening to Radio


Look at the front page of the New York Times (Jan 17)… and you’d swear that chaos and violence are running rampant in Haiti, that everyone from journalists to relief workers must be risking their necks just to venture out into the streets… Then listen to the audio feed from the same Times reporters… It turns out there are just a few pockets and a small number of vandals at work. The overwhelming majority of Haitians are attempting to survive without trashing their stores and knifing each other over welfare supplies. Even more ironic, the Times audio report says that fears of such violence are playing a part in  delaying the aid effort, with relief workers leery of possible danger. Unfortunately the Times itself, by playing the sensational photos…is itself putting out a badly distorted picture of what is actually going on.

Barry Lando Blog, Jan 17, 2010

I also read in the NY Times that Haitians not only died and suffered – but also looted. Later, I joined tens of millions to watch two NFL playoff games on TV. As Haitians waited to receive a dribble of the tens of millions of dollars of food and medical aid pledged but not yet delivered, Fox News commentators Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly ranted about Obama — that socialist (Ojala!).

On radio, Rush Limbaugh, an alleged Christian, advised listeners not to send one dime to undeserving Haitians. Pat Robertson offered his tube flock a religious analysis of the Haitian earthquake, since 200 years ago former black slaves "made a pact with the Devil – under Napoleon III" (sic) and God seismically punished them. Funny?

Thirty years ago, my wife and I visited her Grandmother’s house in Rising Star, Texas (near Blanket, for those of you who don’t know West Texas). She rocked in her chair to the cadence of a televangelist named Roberson who serendipitously — timed with my arrival? — pontificated (oops, wrong religion) on the nature of Jews. "God does not hear their prayers," he claimed. How did he know? "And you don’t want to do business with those folks, neither."

That evening a Fort Worth Rabbi accused the preacher of anti-semitism. Roberson responded in a press conference to answer the Rabbi. Displaying a Star of David that he wore around his neck, he announced: "Menachem Begin [Prime Minister of Israel] gave it to me." "We agree in principle that all Jews should be in Israel." A skeptical reporter returned to the Rabbi’s charge of anti-Semitism. Roberson explained: "an anti-Semite is someone who hates Jews more than he’s supposed to."

Back in the present, I switch to the Jets game and see cheerleaders shaking their perfect butts after a touchdown. More pleasant than facing the decline of the local school and hospital! On C-Span, a global warming show features scientists forecasting doom  because of global warming. They couldn’t scare the world leaders, however. At Copenhagen, the great power chiefs haggled fearlessly over who should cut a small quantity of atmospheric poison.

Last December, I vaguely recall, Congress passed a $626 billion "defense" budget (not including Iraq and Afghan war allocations or intelligence costs) without debate. Legislators did, however, accuse each other of "wasting money" on health care.

On the internet, during a commercial, I am reassured to find that millions remain  unemployed, hundreds of thousands were recently foreclosed, and growing numbers of homeless populate U.S. cities. This has not fazed the politicians who chant about the virtues of American freedom. They don’t mention freedom to eat, have housing or medical care. What logically results when "life" is removed from the famous sentence about liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

Last September 20 (in an interview with author) Fidel Castro said modern media helps produce "universal disorientation." The "24/7 news" and "ubiquitous Reality" shows glue tens of millions to TV screens presumably to escape their own rather grim reality.

I imagine a media appealing to millions of indignant citizens who regularly take to the streets and offer solidarity with suffering Haitians – demanding not U.S. military-conducted aid programs (after they have "secured" the areas) but empowerment of Haitians and  of themselves. I am dreaming of course – an American dream?

I awaken. It is January 21. CNN features "Saving Haiti." The camera pans to doctors treating white patients at emergency field hospitals. The dark-skinned Haitians – kids and grandparents – apparently posed security threats. One UN field hospital director ordered black Haitian patients to leave; if not, he threatened, the UN medical team would be removed. One doctor bemoaned the fact that he knew of large quantities of medicine at the airport but the humanitarian aid teams still had not distributed it to those in the greatest need. A real reality show?


Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. His films are on DVD from roundworldproductions.com

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