This past weekend, the editorial boards of both the New York Times and the Washington Post wrote about the current electoral crisis in Haiti, though the solutions recommended differ greatly. Unlike the Times, which backed calls from Haitian civil society and political parties for further verification of the vote, the Post editorial pushes a line decidedly in tune with the U.S. State Department.
Both the Times and the Post acknowledge that “the balloting, which featured 54 candidates, was marked by fraud, vote-buying and repeat voting,” as the Post wrote. The Post editorial continues:
With the runoff to elect a president set for Dec. 27, significant parts of Haitian civil society, including human rights organizations and the clergy, have called for a postponement to recount and verify the first-round results. So has the second-place finisher, Jude Celestin, who says he will not take part in the runoff without an independent review of the first-round results.
But while the Post concedes that the concerns are “partly justified,” the editorial authors conclude that actually having a verification of the vote could lead to the process starting from scratch or delaying the December 27 vote. This would be a “recipe for ongoing upheaval and more violence,” the Post writes. Rather, the Post suggests a “better way out of the impasse is to proceed with the runoff with guarantees of enhanced scrutiny by international election observers from the Organization of American States [OAS] and elsewhere, including the United States.”
Of course, both the OAS and the United States have hailed the vote as successful, and have yet to denounce the fraud and other irregularities that took place, according to Haitian and U.S. observers. Last week, U.S. State Department Special Coordinator for Haiti Kenneth Merten traveled to Haiti to seek a solution to the crisis. The route forward that the U.S. is pushing is remarkably similar to what the Post suggests. Rather than a verification commission, the U.S. and other actors in the international community are instead recommending a “warranty” commission that will work to ensure the next election is better than the first.
On the other hand, the New York Times, after diagnosing many of the problems with the previous election, backs calls from Haitian civil society and political leaders, calling for the U.S. to “instead be pressing for an independent, Haitian-led inquiry to examine the October vote.” The U.S. “should know that it’s impossible to build a legitimate government on a rotten foundation,” the editorial states. It concludes:
But anyone who cares about democracy in a country whose fate is so closely tied to the wandering and sometimes malign attentions of the United States and the rest of the world should pay attention. Haitians deserve better than this.
So, with similar acknowledgements of the magnitude of the problems, why such divergent suggestions from these two leading newspapers?
A look through the most recent batch of e-mails released from the private server of Hillary Clinton may provide some answers. In July 2012, Deborah Sontag of the New York Times wrote a front-page article on U.S. relief efforts in Haiti, focusing on the flagship reconstruction project, the Caracol industrial park. The article was critical of the efforts by the U.S. and by the U.S. State Department in particular, led at the time by Clinton.
A top aide to Clinton, Cheryl Mills, wrote to a number of State Department employees just days after publication, forwarding a message from a contractor about the article and the need for an organized pushback effort. Mill’s comments are entirely redacted, but she then forwarded it to Clinton, whose response (PDF) illuminates the sometimes nefarious connection between the government and our news media.
“What's been fallout and how's our pushback working? Can we use WPost to respond …?” Clinton wrote. It wasn’t just hypothetical; Clinton continues: “… the way we did on summer work program?”
Perhaps it is of little surprise then that the Washington Post is pushing such a decidedly State Department line regarding the elections in Haiti.