Journalism in Haiti

Westbrook Pegler

Rome News-Tribune/February 4, 1954

As a visiting fireman in Haiti, I naturally took professional observations on the techniques of the local talent, discovering thereby points in which Caribbean journalism bears a nostalgic resemblance to that of rural Arkansas in my youngling days and to the storied personal commentaries of Virginia City in the time of Mark Twain. I have to say, however, if you can bear a slight disillusionment, that I have never come on anything done by Mark Twain himself in the brittle papers of that season of tumult which justified his reputation as a literary landmark of the time, place and tempo. To be sure, there were editors who kept firearms handy and Marquis James, in his biographical treasure called “The Cherokee Strip,” wrote a stirring story of a frightening personal experience when he was a cub in Oklahoma.

Similar Story

Jack Neylan, the California lawyer, a tall, gangling man with a frame built of old lumber, has a similar reminiscence of his term as city editor of the Bisbee Review, then published up beyond the Copper Queen in Brewery Gulch, where houses of ill-repute were and come-uppance often was swift and personal. Some reporter, plainly a bounder and no credit to his profession, had disparaged a lady of that which Henry Mencken once called the resident faculty. The dean of women of the institution called in person on Mr. Neylan, holding something under her apron, to wage controversy in the presence of the printers and other indifferent help. Mr. Neylan had a trying half-hour, but that is an episode fitter for a book on Damon Runyon which Clark Kinnaird is raking together and I will get back on my course.

On page one of the Haiti Sun of Jan, 17, there was an item flatly accusing Senator Leon Baptiste of calling at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Marcel Volel in the town of Jacmel and committing “unequalled acts of brutality on Mme Volel and Albert Volet, a boy under age.” Residents of Jacmel “were shaken with indignation” by this conduct of that illustrious senator, but the affair nevertheless was subordinated to an incident of a woman who had been attacked with a machete by her former lover and robbed by a bad Samaritan, One wondered then if this might not be more or less normal conduct by a Haitian senator and followed the jump to page 9. There it turned out that the item had been lifted whole and seemingly without verification from another paper called Le National, and apparently published without submission to the legal department for libellous implications. Moreover, under a quaint subhead reading “Senator Baptiste Precloes,” there ensued a denial of guilt signed “Leon Baptiste, senator of the republic” lifted from another paper called Le Jour.

Accusing Piece

The accusing piece in Le National had said:

“After a fight of no importance between the son of the senator and young Albert Volel, Leon Baptiste with revolver in hand rushed into the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Volel and, after beating successively Madam Volel and 14 year old Albert, threatened the latter with his weapon. The boy had saved his life only through the intervention of friends who prevented in time a mishap which would have been irreparable. The affair has been referred to the justice.

“When he was first questioned the senator reiterated his intention to kill the boy under age. We shall give more ample information on the incident which is on all the lips of Jacmel.”

Le Jour, however, said that reading the account in Le National, M. Le Senator had called on Le Jour and made a statement as follows: “Le National was led into error by its Jacmel reporter. After an insignificant quarrel between children, the parents agreed to forget it. My astonishment was great on reading in newspapers reportages of assassination which are but the product of a plot people would like to lay against me.”

In short, the Haitian version of McCarthyism.

Returning now to the case of the lady attacked by former lover with machete I quote:

“Early Monday morning, a sailor, driven by jealousy, attacked his ex-concubine with a machete as she lay sleeping among merchandise in the gallery facing the Croix de Bossales market. The woman may lose a leg and arm, doctors report. An eye-witness under the pretext of giving assistance to the bloody victim, stole 105 gourdes, 70 centimes from her person,” or about $20.

“Police have apprehended the would-be assassin and the lowly thief.”


I am mystified by an account of the birth of a baby boy to a lady, apparently of some prominence, presented as follows, with the names omitted:

“We have heard with much pleasure that Mrs. _______ gave birth to a big baby boy who has not yet received his first name because of the absence of his father. We were right when we told of the ‘accouchement’ of Mrs. _________, who was led to jail in the conditions that everybody knows was but a matter of days. Thanks to God, the mother and the child are enjoying good health.

“We sincerely share the joy of the family who has been augmented with a new member and wish him long life.”

That one has been lifted from Le Constitutional.

An item slugged “Manifestation Casualty” revealed that a patriot named Gerald Leger had “received a piece of wood on the forehead” during a grand “manifestation” on the palace lawn where a “seething mass of government employees, political and social groups” gathered to “reaffirm their loyalty and collaboration to President Lieut. Gen. Paul Magloire,” as rebuttal to some expressions of disloyalty by two deputies, one senator and five printers, all of whom, except the senator, had been locked up. The senator was still at large.

It appears that a “manifestation” is a patriotic display but that a “demonstration” is the contrary. Thus Gerald Leger’s injury had been suffered pro patrie and he might draw blood money and disability.

(Source: Google News,