Keeping It Real: Charlie Rose Asks CNN’s Anderson Cooper About Haiti
On February 22, CNN’s Anderson Cooper appeared on PBS’s Charlie Rose. The show was titled “Update on Haiti” and it also featured other guests: Robert Maguire, Dr. Dean Lorich and Dr. Louisdon Pierre. Cooper covered Haiti since day 2 of the earthquake. He was on the ground for three weeks, then after a week back in US soil, Cooper ventured out again, on February 12 to cover the one-month anniversary of the earthquake.
Charlie Rose asked the tough questions about Haiti in the 49-minute show, including why there was such a lack of response from the Haitian government while the country laid in pieces. And, what will the Haitian people have to do to help themselves.
“Where is the [Haitian] government,” Rose asked sternly. Cooper stuttered a bit, saying that he didn’t see one police officer digging through the rubble. “I’ve never seen them actually involved doing rescue operations… You never saw President Preval going out in the back of a pick up truck trying to rally the people.”
Rose zeroed in Cooper’s reply and asked about the whereabouts of President Preval. Cooper brought up two good points about why Preval’s government wasn’t visible to the people after the catastrophe. First, Cooper said, Haitian people are not accustomed to seeing their leaders. And second, that Haitians don’t even have the expectation that their leader would come out to comfort them.
“I think their president was pretty shell-shocked,” answered McGuire from Trinity Washington University. “The government of Haiti is a weak institution and I think we can’t expect too much from them.”
“That was the biggest problem we saw though,” said Dr. Dean Lorich, who traveled to Haiti to provide medical aid to the survivors. “There was nobody in charge… Their government never stepped up at least in the period that we where there. There was no coordination of efforts and I ask the experts now, who is in charge now? Who is going to coordinate the reconstruction of Haiti?”
Dr. Lorich also wondered why after so many years of an NGOs presence in Haiti, the people where still unable to come ahead. “It’s like they never taught them how to fish.”
Cooper came in defense of the Haitian people, not blaming them about their country’s disarray, but pointing out how action-oriented the people actually really are.
“I have confidence in the Haitian people. In the midst of absolute horror, there was business being conducted,” Cooper told Rose. “You would walk through these makeshift camps and there were little restaurants opened up. There people selling, buying goods… It just seems like they could use some support from their own government!”
Furthermore, Cooper said that for the world to throw up their hands and give up on Haiti wasn’t fair. “These are adults, they are not children,” he said. “Many of them own homes and can sign a mortgage. They are capable when taking care of their own needs. Basic leadership doesn’t require lots of money, but the desire to actually lead.”
But Dr. Lorich, disagreed a bit with Cooper’s last point. To him, the Haitian people are in need more guidance.
“They need to be taught how to lead moving forward. This is a potential reset for Haiti, as a society,” Dr. Lorich said. “As devastated as it is, can Haiti be a better society at the end of the day after this earthquake?”
Aside from the politics of the nation, Cooper gave his first witness account to what he saw and experienced. He seemed upset when he told Rose that someone in the park in front of the now-destroyed Presidential Palace, kept yelling out, “tsunami, tsunami” thinking that a huge title wave was coming as a result of the earthquake. The incident caused people to stampede, dropping all their belongings. In truth, no tsunami was coming, the intention was to steal people’s belongings as they ran to seek cover. Cooper was appalled by that behavior.
Cooper answered questions about the lack of basic things like electricity. He mentioned that there were certain places like the hotel he was staying in that had a generator which ran for a limited amount time. He also commented on how scary it was when darkness fell and city was in total darkness.
The veteran journalist talked about the people who feared for their lives during the night: the looters, the dead bodies piled on top of each other, the horrifying cries of people who were buried under rubble waiting for help. He talked about how hard these horrible sights were to the people who had to report on it.
At the end of the conversation it all boiled down to what is most important: how to rebuild the country and how to build better buildings so they’re not vulnerable to other earthquakes. Also, how to establish an agricultural basis so Haitians are economically self-sufficient.
Millions of dollars have been raised and even higher amounts have been pledged around the world. Haiti will need every penny of it. But questions remain. Once the media attention shifts to other crisis points, which it already has, will the same amount of concern continue?” And, will the public be interested in how that money is spent so that it doesn’t end up in the pockets of corrupt Haitian officials?
“What is the role of journalism today, on Haiti,” asked Rose before the show ended.
“I think it’s important to keep telling the story,” Cooper answered looking down, “This is not something that happened 5 or 6 weeks ago, this is something that happens every single day. It’s changing and it’s becoming more difficult to tell… As journalists we’re not good at following up on things.”
Charlie looked straight at Cooper and asked, “how do you characterize your commitment?”
Cooper stuttered. “Ah hum, ah, I’m committed to it,” he said not making eye contact with Rose. “All of us there have an obligation. We saw what we saw and we know what we know.” Cooper looked at Rose as if checking if he was going to believe him. “We have an obligation to go back and continue telling it. Luckily I work for a company, CNN, who has reporters there even though I’m here now. We’ll continue.”
Dolores M. Bernal contributed to this story.