Journalists who have reported from Haiti know that it’s not an assignment for the weak of heart. Parts of the country — particularly the capital, Port-au-Prince — are tough places to work and even tougher places to live.
This is especially true for poor Haitians who were made homeless by the earthquake last year, who don’t own cars to help them get around, who don’t have jobs to help them make ends meet and who don’t have the means to do anything about it. For American journalists working in Haiti, who live in relative luxury compared with most Haitians, the burden is more existential: how to cover a place wracked with economic problems, crippled by an earthquake, weighed down by never-ending social challenges and political turmoil — and not be consumed by it.
Most of us develop coping mechanisms and push on. We try to tell stories that capture the nuances and complexities of the country. We try to give voice to ordinary, powerless people. We try to chronicle their daily struggles without robbing them of their dignity. We try very hard to keep our emotions in check.
Many of us avoid making sweeping generalizations that stereotype the entire country and marginalize its citizens because we know that even after many years or decades of covering Haiti, it’s a complicated, fluid, still-evolving place.
Then there are journalists like Mac McClelland, who has reported on Haiti for Mother Jones, who parachute in for a couple of weeks; are horrified by what they see; form quick, uninformed impressions; and then return home and write breathtakingly self-indulgent stories about how terrible their experiences were on the ground.
While she isn’t the first journalist to do this, and certainly won’t be the last, her recent piece that ran in Good magazine, titled “I’m Going to Need You to Fight Me on This: How Violent Sex Helped Ease My PTSD,” was way beyond the pale. A short summary: She goes to Haiti and is so traumatized by the sight of guns and violence that the only way she can feel whole again is to solicit and engage in a sexual assault upon herself.
Needless to say, others who have written about Haiti for far longer than McClelland, and who know the country far better, were very disturbed. We promptly took her to task in an open letter issued Friday.