The right-wing media react to Haiti

››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

While many news organizations have done a commendable job of covering Tuesday's earthquake in Haiti, Fox's top-rated shows have virtually ignored the tragedy. But maybe that's for the best -- if the reactions of Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson to the earthquake are any indication of the way the conservative media think about Haiti, I'd hate to see what Glenn Beck has to say about it.

Tuesday's devastating earthquake in Haiti continues to bring grim news. Estimated death counts range from the tens of thousands to more than 100,000. Haiti's capital and largest city, Port-au-Prince, sustained massive damage: its hospitals -- all of them -- destroyed or rendered unusable, the presidential palace and a United Nations mission flattened. Damage to Haiti's airport, seaport, roads, power supplies, and other utilities has exacerbated the suffering and hindered relief efforts.

Public and media reaction to the tragedy has been swift and in many cases admirable. Record-setting donations have poured into the Red Cross -- $4 million via text message alone. Some 30,000 people contributed another $2.6 million to Clinton Foundation relief efforts in just 24 hours. Much of this support can be attributed to the quick and powerful distribution -- by both old media and new -- of news, information, and photos relating to the earthquake. Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have been a valuable source of information, as have news organizations that scrambled to cover the tragedy. (The Business Insider has a good round-up of those efforts, with links to several useful resources.)

But much of the conservative media elite has reacted quite differently.

Fox News Channel's highest-rated shows, for example, all but ignored the disaster, according to a new Media Matters study:

On January 13, Fox News' three top-rated programs for 2009 -- The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, and Glenn Beck -- devoted a combined total of less than 7 minutes of coverage to the earthquake in Haiti, instead choosing to air such things as Beck's hour-long interview with Sarah Palin, Bill O'Reilly's discussion of Comedy Central host Jon Stewart, and Sean Hannity's advocacy for Massachusetts candidate Scott Brown's Senate campaign.

Fox News never hesitates to boast that its prime-time lineup draws more viewers than its competitors. But that success comes with a responsibility -- a responsibility to bring people important information in times of crisis. Fox fell far short of meeting that responsibility, instead inflicting upon viewers Sarah Palin's fumbling, bumbling attempt to answer a question about which of America's founders she most admires and continuing its attempts to elect Republicans to the Senate.

Not that O'Reilly, Hannity, and Beck were alone in dropping the ball. Christian Coalition founder and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson, host of the Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club, had a rather unusual response to the devastation in Haiti:

ROBERTSON: [S]omething happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, "We will serve you if you will get us free from the French." True story. And so, the devil said, "OK, it's a deal."

And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other. ... They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God.

Got that? Haiti was hit by a crushing earthquake because it made a deal with the devil to escape the French.

Robertson's reaction may seem bizarre, but it really isn't -- not for him, anyway. This is a man who "totally concur[red]" that the September 11 terrorist attacks could be attributed in part to "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians." A man who linked Hurricane Katrina to the legality of abortion. A man who suggested that then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was the result of God's "enmity" against those who "divide" his land. A man who said Disney World's annual Gay Days event would bring "earthquakes, tornados and possibly a meteor."

At least he acknowledged that the meteor was only a possibility. Apparently Robertson's ability to divine the will of The Divine is limited to terrestrial events. Hey, he's only human.

Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh did his best to convince us that he isn't.

First, Limbaugh said President Obama would use the Haitian tragedy to enhance his standing with the "light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country." Then he seemed to dissuade people from contributing to relief efforts, complaining: "[W]e've already donated to Haiti. It's called the U.S. income tax."

As with Robertson, this really isn't anything new for Limbaugh. He has long been contemptuous of U.S. efforts to help Haiti -- particularly when there is a Democrat in the White House.

In 1994, when Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was expelled by a military coup, Limbaugh opposed and ridiculed U.S. intervention, and claimed the only reason for restoring Aristide was to please the Congressional Black Caucus:

LIMBAUGH: As you know, we're invading Haiti simply because the Congressional Black Caucus wants it. Now the Congressional Black Caucus has got to be given a safe escort once the battle is over because they're going to go in there and plant their flag as in Iwo Jima. The Congressional Black Caucus will then capture Haiti and conquer it from the rest of the world. [9/1/94, via Nexis]

LIMBAUGH: The democratically elected government of Haiti is Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This guy -- I think he blinks once every five minutes. You know, he's -- he's -- he's not -- he's like a cup and saucer short of a full place setting according to all the psychological profiles. But the guy's a Marxist, ladies and -- I mean, he's a Marxist. He's a -- he's a Communist. He has written books, one of them entitled, I think, something like "Capitalism: The Mortal Sin," and so this is the democratic regime that we are implementing down there, or reinstalling because of the Congressional Black Caucus. [11/24/94, via Nexis]

If you're more interested in compassion than conspiracy theories, The New York Times has a list of relief efforts that can use your help.

In 1994, Limbaugh ridiculed Haiti, suggesting our only interest in the nation is "the fact that baseballs are made in Haiti" -- which he deemed "irrelevant" because of the baseball strike going on at the time. This week, he again ridiculed Haiti, saying the nation produces "zilch, zero, nada."

If Limbaugh and Robertson are any indication of the way the conservative media think about Haiti, maybe it's for the best that Fox's top-rated shows are ignoring the tragedy. I don't even want to think about the bizarre claims Glenn Beck would come up with. Probably something about the Obama administration faking the earthquake so they could funnel billions of dollars in funds to ACORN, just like Hitler would do.

Jamison Foser is a Senior Fellow at Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog and research and information center based in Washington, D.C. Foser also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the Web, as well as original commentary. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook or sign up to receive his columns by email.

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