At Haitian Horror Nursing Home, An AP Journo Dilemma: Report or Help?

By: Mark Fitzgerald

When Associated Press writer Alfred de Montesquiou first reported Sunday on a Port-au-Prince nursing home where 84 elderly residents were trapped by the earthquake in horrific conditions, he surely believed his reporting, including a video of the scene, would have mobilzed aid.

Yet, the main aid had yet to reach the victims, Montesquiou reported Thursday.

Every day since coming upon the nursing home – where many are barely clinging to life, including one man discovered Sunday and described as lying “as rats pick at his overflowing diaper” – Montesquiou has returned to it, delivering water. The residents, he reports, still have little to eat.

The episode is one of many in Haiti where journalists constantly face the dilemma of aiding the injured and dying — or reporting their plight to the world.

After posting the Sunday story on Facebook and Twitter, AP’s Social Media Team has touched off an emotional online discussion of that dilemma at Facebook

“Should a reporter drop his pen and pad and look for food, water and medicine? How do you balance victims’ need for help with the importance of telling the world the story of a disaster?” are some of the issues discussed.

AP Senior Managing Editor John Daniszewski joined the discussion with this observation:

“Of course, journalists are human and normally in such situations will set aside their cameras and notebooks to offer help, giving away whatever food or water they have on them. But that misses the larger point that by doing their jobs they have a more effective way to assist people in need.

“Alfred did that. Through his journalism he alerted the authorities, including noting exactly where the group of 84 people was located. He did not have any food or water when he first found the awful scene, but he returned later to check on them and hand out a case of water. To do that, he had to push through a large throng of thirsty refugees with the water in hand – not easy – but he managed to hang on and deliver it. The elderly patients said it was the only water they have received from anyone since the crisis began.”

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