Friday, August 28, 2009
Michael Deibert and Elizabeth Eames Roebling Attack IPS Journalists Writing on Haiti
By: Kim Ives
About a week ago, an IPS story reported that Amnesty International called for the release of Ronald Dauphin and described his continued detention as "politically motivated".
In response, Elizabeth Roebling accused IPS of becoming an "outlet for spin" and directed members of the corbett list to a bitter response on Michael Deibert's blog. Deibert is the author of "Notes from the Last Testament," an account of President Aristide's second term, which was cut short by the February 29, 2004 coup.
Normally, I wouldn't bother responding to a mere political difference. But Deibert makes several personal attacks on the IPS piece's authors Wadner Pierre and Jeb Sprague that warrant correction.
Deibert's allegations are irrelevant to the accuracy of the IPS article. Readers can check the facts reported (most importantly, Amnesty's appeal on Dauphin's behalf ). Good journalism, like good scholarship, relies to the greatest extent possible on sources that readers can check.
Deibert wrote that Sprague "...works as a teaching assistant at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Sociology Department, focusing on crime and delinquency, subjects with which his past behavior [sic] no doubt gives him a close familiarity."
This is a baseless ad hominem attack. Sprague's PhD studies are not focused on crime and delinquency, and, if they were, would not justify Deibert's nasty insinuation. Furthermore, teaching assistant duties are not the same thing as a graduate student's area of study, and, much less, evidence of a criminal background.
Deibert also claims that Sprague sent him an email containing "intimations of violence against my person". I asked Sprague to forward me the email from 2005. In it, Sprague merely questions the accuracy of Deibert's writings. Observing that thousands of people were being killed in post-coup Haiti, Sprague attached what he called a "photo of the suffering," which showed victims of one UN-PNH raid . To say that the e-mail "intimated" a threat against Deibert is absurd.
Deibert then accuses Haitian journalist Wadner Pierre of having a "stark conflict of interest" and that "when writing about the IJDH [The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti], Wadner Pierre is quoting his former employer without acknowledging it."
Pierre has never worked for IJDH. Pierre has provided IJDH and many other organizations in Haiti and around the world with photos taken during his time living in and visiting some of the poorest and most victimized Haitian communities. He has often done so for free or for sums barely adequate to live on in Haiti. Providing freelance photographic evidence of human rights abuses to organizations does not make him an employee or former employee.
Moreover, the ideal of an "objective" reporter or source for news does not and cannot exist. Journalism is not science. It is permeated with value judgments.
Pierre and Sprague have both been open about their sympathy for the poor's mobilization for democracy in Haiti. The IPS article cites a number of sources, such as AUMOHD, IJDH and also well-known Lavalas opponents such as RNDDH and Haiti's Ambassador to the US, Raymond Joseph. Moreover, the article was not "about" IJDH. It highlighted Amnesty International's appeal on behalf of Dauphin and reported facts that are mentioned in that appeal. In contrast, Deibert's recent IPS article on the case does not cite a single source critical of his viewpoint. 
Revealingly, Deibert makes no mention of Amnesty's appeal for Ronald Dauphin, one of the most balanced accounts of the alleged "massacre" in St. Marc. Does Deibert wish to bury the Amnesty report under his spurious allegations against Pierre and Sprague? Does he wish that IPS had buried it as well?
To close, I direct readers to a few critiques of Deibert's bias in recent years.
a) Justin Podur. 2006. "Kofi Annan's Haiti". New Left Review.
b) ___________. 2006. "A Dishonest Case for a Coup". Znet.
c) Patrick Elie. 2006. "A Few Notes about 'Notes from the Last Testament'".
d) Mark Weisbrot. 2006. "Response to Michael Deibert". The Nation.
e) Diana Barahona. 2007. "U.S. Reporting on the Coup in Haiti: How to Turn a Priest into a Cannibal". Counterpunch.
f) Tom Luce. 2007. "The Proxy War in Martisant and Gran Ravine". HaitiAnalysis.
g) Peter Hallward. 2008. "Response to Michael Deibert's Review of Damming the Flood". Monthly Review.
Readers can weigh the bias of all sources and draw their conclusions about the facts.
 Jeb Sprague University Website.
 The photo that Sprague attached to the e-mail had been taken by grassroots photojournalist Jean Ristil who lives in Cite Soleil and has himself been harassed and jailed illegally in the past (for taking photographs) by Haiti's UN-trained police. See Eric Feise, Jeb Sprague. 2006. "Persecuted Haitian Photojournalist Speaks Out: Jean Ristil & Cite Solely".
 Michael Deibert. 2009. "Haiti: 'We have Never had Justice'". IPS.
For further reading:
Hallward, Peter. 2008. Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment. Verso.
Macdonld, Isabel. 2007. "The Freedom of the Press Barons". The Dominion.
Sprague, Jeb. 2006. "Invisible Violence: Ignoring murder in post-coup Haiti". Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting.
Griffin, Thomas M. 2004. "Haiti: Human Rights Investigation: November 11-21, 2004" University of Miami School of Law.