Doubletake: First Mattathias Schwartz, Now Dan Rather. What ails Jamaican media?

After Dan Rather’s in-depth coverage of the Lotto Scam in Jamaica might it be a good time to ask why local media doesn’t produce similarly aggressive, investigative reporting?

News outlets in Jamaica this week were inundated with coverage of  and responses to the US media’s unprecedented focus on the Lotto Scam, a locally generated con game, whose victims are elderly Americans. Former 60 Minutes stalwart Dan Rather visited Jamaica some weeks ago so his in-depth exposé of the scam, Just Hang Up, which aired on March 12, complete with heart-rending interviews with some of the victims didn’t come as a surprise. The documentary was timed to air in tandem with evidence presented to the US Senate’s Committee on Ageing yesterday. At least two  other major US channels also aired stories on the scam.

The US Embassy in Jamaica obligingly posted links on Facebook with the following note:

As you are aware, there has been a great deal of U.S. media attention focused on advanced-fee fraud (also known as “lotto scams”) recently. Below are the links to the Dan Rather, CBS and NBC stories.

I haven’t yet seen the entire documentary featuring Rather (its available free on iTunes though only in the US not in Jamaica) but the excerpts shown on TV here have been riveting. The American TV team even lured a scammer, tracked down by his IP address, to a meeting in Montego Bay, showing him live and direct for all to see. Naturally the impact has been sensational especially because this well-crafted documentary was shown on prime time TV in the United States. It suddenly came home to Jamaicans that ‘Brand Jamaica’, as local technocrats and the media in general have taken to calling it, was going to take a battering.

Relying on tourism and American visitors as much as Jamaica does this could be potentially devastating.

What does it mean that serious crimes like the Lotto Scam and the Tivoli genocide (the 2010 killing of 73 plus citizens by the State in its pursuit of fugitive don, Christopher Coke) are exposed by foreign not local media I asked on Twitter yesterday. For although the media here has carried any number of stories on the Lotto Scam, many of them bizarrely claiming that most of the scammers are gay, we’ve never been given a true idea of the scale of the problem, affecting enough Americans for their political representatives to start raising the alarm about it.

Several media folk I follow on Twitter reacted negatively to my question, interpreting it as a slight or a claim that there had been no local media attention to the scam. It s true that there have been many stories about the Lotto scam here. To my mind however there’s a qualitative difference in the way the story was investigated and reported on American TV and the way it’s been carried in the local media which mainly focused on the scam when police action brought it to the forefront. Piqued by public criticism Simon Crosskill played some of CVM’s previously aired coverage of the Lotto Scam last night. It did cover much of the same ground as Rather’s documentary but the audio was poor and too many of the people interviewed had their faces obscured and voices disguised, thus robbing it of the impact it could have had.

Are there some stories local media consider too dangerous to touch? or don’t have the resources to I wondered puzzling over this variance in the quality of media coverage. In the case of the 2010 Tivoli carnage also there had been nothing in local media to approach the in-depth investigative article by American journalist Mattathias Schwartz whose exposé provided evidence that the US had given Jamaica military assistance in the May 2010 incursion into Tivoli despite the Jamaican government’s claims to the contrary. In both cases it was the American media that brought these stories to international attention, and sustained interest in them, not local media.

Let it be noted that Jamaican media are perfectly capable of executing well-researched, hard-hitting, in-depth stories when they’re ready to. In 2004 Cliff Hughes’s TV programme Impact won an Emmy in the United States for its documentary on sniper Lee Boyd Malvo called ‘The Potter and the Clay’. It was so good it not only attracted the attention of the US media, it won one of the most coveted journalism awards there. Other journalists such as Earl Moxam, Simon Crosskill, Dionne Jackson-Miller and Emily Crooks are as good as or better than their American peers.

Is it that there’s a lack of political will from the big media houses to provide the best journalists with the required resources and time to follow up the really important stories? Or are there more sinister reasons why Jamaica doesn’t have aggressive, exposé-driven investigative news outlets such as 60 Minutes and ABC’s 20/20?

The closest thing Jamaica has had in recent times to similar hard-hitting TV newsmagazines, was Doubletake, produced by Anthony Miller and CARIMAC lecturer Yvette Rowe for TVJ in 2000-2001. Despite winning awards the programme was phased out after only 8 or 9 episodes because it was considered too hard hitting and perhaps too close to the truth for comfort. It was felt that the broadcasters’ relentless focus on corruption and calling out politicans and others without fear or fanfare was ‘mashing too many corns’. This was the perception of the hosts of the programme; the station apparently discontinued it for lack of sponsorship although it was extremely popular and well-received by the public. Why a popular, well-made documentary programme would have difficulty finding sponsors is anybody’s guess. But it reinforces the point I’m making about the lack of will on the part of those with the means to enable and sustain high quality, hard-hitting journalism.

Among other subjects Doubletake covered, were the death and funeral of Grants Pen area leader Andrew Phang in Death of a Don, colour and race issues in The Browning Syndrome, the politics of the 100 Lane Massacre and other such matters. Whatever was the issue of the day was grist for their mill and with a miller like Anthony, no holds were barred. We desperately need a show like Doubletake again.

Author: ap

writer, editor and avid tweeter

8 thoughts on “Doubletake: First Mattathias Schwartz, Now Dan Rather. What ails Jamaican media?”

  1. I suspect there may be sinister reasons, Annie, although one could never know for sure. There must be some reason for the very poor coverage of the lotto scam, which has been going on for years. As for Tivoli, I cringed at the sight of the local media being led like tame sheep through the bullet-riddled community after the massacre (the media insisted on called it an “incursion,” an odd word for an extremely violent event) – they could only keep to certain streets. Mr. Schwartz’s thorough, detailed and well-written report was better than all the local coverage put together. On the lotto scam, much of it has been going along in the background, with the occasional sensational report that actually yielded little information. And by the way, is anyone here questioning what has happened to the Tivoli report? Coming up to the 3rd anniversary, now… I don’t remember “Doubletake” at all. Must have missed it… Yes, some local journalists are certainly capable of doing more hard-hitting stuff. But they can’t…or won’t.

  2. Actually incursion is a good word in this instance, it means “1. An aggressive entrance into foreign territory; a raid or invasion. 2. The act of entering another’s territory or domain.” Which is exactly what it was.

    what i remember is that TVJ actually had footage of masked gunmen in Tivoli proclaiming their loyalty to Dudus Coke procured by one of their own cameramen but the TV station wouldn’ permit it to be played, on what grounds i’d dearly love to know, because it would have been a real scoop for them. Instead it went to one of the foreign media houses which presented it as its own scoop, heard this from a BBC reporter…

    1. You are right – “incursion” IS more hostile than it actually sounds. I thought the media were using it as a kind of tame-sounding euphemism! There is certainly some reason (or perhaps, many reasons) why the media avoided hard-nosed reporting of the Tivoli event.

  3. I don’t know. Rather’s journalism is very good. He spoke to the victims in America and even lured one of the scammers into his programme. So he got both sides of the story. Schwartz’s journalism though leaves me wondering if he has been fed a line and fell for it with the hook and the sinker too:

    As I’ve said before on your blog I think, Schwartz’s original article (and ALL of his subsequent writings) makes ZERO mention of the 3 police stations attacked (Denham Town police station, Hannah Town police station and Darling Street police station) on the evening of May 23, 2010 (about 18 hours BEFORE the security forces went into Tivoli). In fact, his “story” makes it appear as if everything was rosy until mid-day on May 24, 2010 when the security forces supposedly stormed in and killed innocent people (which is quite frankly BS – one of the main characters in his story has a very suspicious backstory and I well recall one distraught woman on television around that time from St. Thomas claiming her son was murdered by the security forces but not able to explain why her son was in Tivoli Gardens when blockades were being thrown up and police were warning people to leave and providing buses for those who chose to do so. Normal people do not go towards dangerous situations. Only people looking for trouble do so. Can anyone really imagine a scenario in the US where:

    – a wanted man ends up having hundreds demonstrate for him and then block roads with junk and debris while proudly boasting to the local papers about the setting of booby traps for the police (I remember reading The Star where residents (who I believe even gave their names!) boasted about placing gas canisters inside the barricades with the intention of exploding them and cutting JPS wires from the poles and leaving them strewn around the barricades and claiming that any policeman who dared to come in would have gotten electrocuted) AND then having 3 police stations attacked (with 2 of them burnt to the ground)?

    – When the police and national guard then cut off electricity to the area (to prevent themselves from being electrocuted) and punch holes into the walls to go around the barricades with gas canisters (Western security forces are no strangers to this – they have a term for it: mouse-holing) and break down the barricades that afterwards no mention of this is made in a report by a New Yorker correspondent? And that later the entire affair gets termed as “massacre” and “genocide”?

    I certainly can’t. Americans by and large tend to respect law and order. Blockading roads, setting booby traps for the police and burning police stations to the ground generally is not considered to be lawful or orderly.

    In fact had this event occurred in an American, British, French, German or Russian town I would bet that:

    – many of these “victims” would in fact be questioned (quite rightly) as suspects or persons of interest to ascertain their role in an insurrection.

    – a lot more people would be dead. The security forces in those countries don’t put up with the kind of rubbish the Jamaican security forces have to from disorderly citizens who wish to claim benefits from the society (via the state) without contributing to the society and at the same time actively rebelling against society and pretending as if they are citizens of a different country. Believe me, if 3 police stations were shot up and torched in say….a neighbourhood in Baltimore following the blockading off of an entire neighbourhood in Baltimore..the police and national guard would NOT be using kid-gloves. Anybody who threatened the police would most likely be shot dead.

    – a lot more people would be imprisoned and charged. At the very least a number of them would have been imprisoned for violating a curfew and possibly willfully obstructing the security forces in their duties.

    And this is probably why we are doomed to repeat this. Because we champion criminals and their friends as “victims” of “massacres” and “genocides” and forget about those who are tasked with putting them behind bars so the rest of us can go about our business.

    I really wish Schwartz would interview the family of the soldier who reportedly had his head more or less blown away to see what they think of the supposed “massacre”. In fact, I wish Schwartz would interview ANYONE who happened to witness events from the other side (like any doctor at KPH who could probably tell him about the gunmen reportedly seen running across the property). His interviews with only people from Tivoli and with Mr. Golding (and the fact that he edited the video from the P-3 quite a bit down from over 5 hours of footage to less than 4 minutes) to me seems as if he has fallen for narrative (with a kernel of truth in it no doubt) and has been subsequently trying to cherry-pick facts to fit the narrative instead of to tell the entire truth.

    1. Buses were provided for women and children to leave, not men. Why should residents of a community have to explain why they’re there? They live there!

      The problem is clearly that the security forces assumed that all Tivoli men were criminals and therefore deserved death, no matter that there is little evidence of furious gunfire on the armed forces when they entered Tivoli and the number of guns recovered were miniscule, six, to be precise.

      Do you also have a comforting explanation for the brutal murder of Keith Clarke in uptown Kingston, an accountant by all accounts who wasn’t involved in any way with criminals?

      1. Buses were provided for women and children??? That is definitely not what I remember being broadcast on the radio. Do you have a source for that claim (and please don’t tell me the source is Lloyd D’Aguilar)? Because I remember the radio broadcasts saying that buses were available for residents who wished to leave to do so (and of course residents = women, children AND men).

        Also Annie, read over my post again. I never said that a resident of the community had to explain why they were there. I noted that a woman who was resident in St. Thomas (or it might have been another “Saint” something or other parish) was raising a ruckus about her missing son but would not and could not explain why her son went into Tivoli around that time. The son was not a resident of Tivoli and unless he was slow in the head it’s very hard to think up a reason why a person (who resided far from Tivoli) would go there when from days before it looked as if a confrontation was in the making.

        And the security forces clearly didn’t assume that all Tivoli men were criminals, otherwise in a community of around 4,000 people we wouldn’t see only around 70-80 dead men. If they did do that then we would more likely seen at least 300-500 dead men. And there was plenty of evidence of gunfire on the armed forces. What on earth are you talking about? Having you been past Tivoli at any point since then? Firstly there are still bullet holes in the walls of the Denham Town police station just across the street from Tivoli. And secondly along Industrial Terrace one can still see bullet holes in the walls of some of the properties across the street from Tivoli, especially close to the intersection with Spanish Town Road (i.e. bullets were fired from within Tivoli out onto Industrial Terrace). Thirdly a soldier was killed (a bullet to the head reportedly) in Tivoli. How is that “little evidence”? Are we suggesting the soldier shot himself? If not then who shot the soldier? And who shot the other dozens of soldiers and police who were injured in Tivoli itself? Fourthly in the lead up to the events on May 24, reporters for the paper (the Gleaner I believe) even reported on a JDF armoured vehicle being shot at after it attempted to clear one of the numerous blockades around the area. SOMEBODY shot at them and this shooting happened days BEFORE the security forces entered Tivoli.

        And I really wish people would stop repeating that inaccurate number of 6 guns recovered. It displays a complete lack of understanding of how such situations can unfold. When US rangers were busy engaging armed gunmen in Mogadishu they witnessed women and children scampering out and picking up weapons from the dead men. Why on earth are we to assume that the same never happened in Tivoli? Is it that there is something inherent in Somalis that makes them different from other people around the world? Or are we saying that in a community where only 3-4% of electrified households were actually paying for electricity that no woman or child would ever, ever do such a thing like that? And if we are only going to focus on the 6 guns recovered in the immediate aftermath, perhaps someone can explain how it is that guns were recovered buried in a church yard in the either Denham Town or Tivoli (I would have to find the television news report again which showed the unearthing of the guns themselves). Certainly those guns didn’t bury themselves. And the guns in question (AK-47s) are actually made tough so that they COULD be buried in sand, dug up and fired without jamming or needing cleaning (Mr. Kalashnikov definitely designed a brilliant weapon). By June 3, 2010 there were 52 guns recovered (with many recovered in Tivoli itself) and over 10,000 rounds of ammunition.

        Keith Clarke’s death was definitely mysterious and tragic. Given that he was living in the same area as Dudus’ business partner O’Gilvie (and in the same general area where Dudus himself lived) it is quite possibly that the security forces acted upon incorrect information. To illustrate, let me tell you about a time when the police once attempted to raid Dudus’ house in Red Hills but ended up going to the wrong house. The house they went to was near to Dudus’ actual house. Apparently the address for that house was returned when the police searched for the address to the house to which Dudus had his title (whether that was some accident in the system or by design due to some corrupt cops I do not know). So they raided that house and frightened the poor residents (nobody was killed) before the police realized they had the wrong house. Subsequent to that they weren’t to make the same mistake again when it came to Dudus’ house and Dudus was detained in a 2005 raid on Tivoli and his own home. Now given the situation at the time (gunmen shooting in Spanish Town, along Red Hills Road and in downtown Kingston generally including Tivoli) and with 1 soldier and 2 police officers already killed and dozens injured; it is not quite possible to imagine that the security forces got information that Dudus might be hiding out in a house of an associate in Kirkland Heights (it might even be possible that they were fed the wrong information by someone detained during the events of May 24-26), went to that house and once a shot went off (even if it was only one trigger happy soldier) that everything would go to hell from there (that is after all how police shootings of protesters in places like South Korea or even the United States generally happens. Some incident (a rock throne, a shot fired off accidentally or by a trigger happy fellow) basically sets the ball rolling for sustained gunfire after that. Should the soldiers have acted better? Definitely.

        It’s also not about comforting explanations. It’s about the truth. And the truth is that SOME innocent people were killed in May 2010 (including Keith Clarke and undoubtedly SOME people in Tivoli). What I find disturbing is that Schwartz’s research basically cherry picks facts and evidence to support a narrative that EVERYONE killed on that day was an innocent person going about their normal business when the police and soldiers just barged in without reason.

      2. SIX guns were recovered. the army had access to all the premises and the terrified inhabitants yet they only recovered 6 weapons. sorry there’s no getting around that.

        you see different truths from me, that is all. if you want to spend more time embellishing my blog with your lengthy explanations and rationalizations be my guest 🙂

  4. I just read Jon’s lengthy comments. I’m personally not really interested in what “would have happened” had this situation arisen in the U.S. or somewhere else. This is Jamaica we’re talking about. Yes, only six guns WERE found and that is noted in the Public Defender’s report I believe. “Some innocent people” were killed? How many, roughly, do you think, Jon, give or take a few? And it was OK for the remaining “guilty people” to be shot dead, was it? I don’t think you mention the mortar fire, either. Which rather reminded me of Syria on an average day… bombing civilians. Oh dear.

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