One week after the earthquake, as three million survivors anxiously awaited water and other aid while the U.S. prioritized getting security teams in place first, Secretary Clinton sent a cable – made available by Wikileaks through The Guardian - to all U.S. embassies instructing diplomats to “push back” against “distorted” media coverage of the U.S. response to the quake:
I am deeply concerned by instances of inaccurate and unfavorable international media coverage of America's role and intentions in Haiti. This misinformation threatens to undermine the international partnership needed to help the people of Haiti, and to damage our international engagement across the range of issues. It is imperative to get the narrative right over the long term. Where you see ill-informed or distorted perspectives in your host country media, I direct you as Chief of Mission to personally contact media organizations at the highest possible level - owners, publishers, or others, as appropriate - to push back and insist on informed and responsible coverage of our actions and intentions, and to underscore the U.S. partnership with the Government of Haiti, the United Nations, and the world community. It is important that you and other members of your Embassy team engage opinion-makers in setting the record straight on America's commitment to assist the Haitian people and government in recovering from this disaster.
There were very serious problems with the U.S. effort that were not merely “distorted perspectives” or “misinformation”, however. The cable is dated the same day that Doctors Without Borders reported that one of its "plane[s] carrying 12 tons of medical equipment, including drugs, surgical supplies and two dialysis machines, was turned away three times from Port-au-Prince airport” in two days. The U.S., in control of the airports, also turned away other planes carrying relief supplies to Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. A USA Today report that day stated that the U.S. had only airlifted 70,000 bottles of water into Port-au-Prince in the week since the earthquake. NGO’s engaged in the relief effort at the time said "Right now the U.S. is blocking aid.”
The cable is notable for its lack of mention of any actual shortcomings in the U.S. relief effort. Considering the nature of the directive, one might expect some tempering of the desire for improved PR with acknowledgment of areas in which the U.S.' operations could be improved, or in which criticism – which at the time was coming from various foreign governments as well as NGO’s on the ground, and innumerable quake survivors themselves – might be understandable. Instead, the cable will likely contribute to the image of a defensive, commandeering, uncooperative U.S. government role during Haiti’s greatest hour of need.
Asked about the cable, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley stated simply, "I’ve been doing a fair amount of work on this issue, and I’m not familiar with that cable." It is of course, highly unlikely that Crowley – whose job, after all, is State Department PR – would be unaware of the cable. More likely, it reflects a policy not to discuss cables released by Wikileaks.