Editor’s note: In RS 1137, we published “Beyond Relief,” a report that examined the failure of international efforts to rebuild Haiti following last year’s devastating earthquake. Sean Penn, a leader in the reconstruction effort, sent us a lengthy and passionate critique of the story. His full letter is presented here. Our response follows:
We greatly respect the work Sean Penn is doing in Haiti, and the daunting scale of the task facing all those engaged in the effort to rebuild the country. His accusations of distortions and inaccuracies in our article, however, are misplaced. The writer, Janet Reitman, first reported from Haiti in 1994. Her story on the shortcomings of the current reconstruction efforts were based on nine months of intensive reporting and research, including on-the-ground visits to Haiti, Miami, New York City and Washington, D.C. Penn’s own experiences, as reported in the piece, accurately reflect what he told both Reitman and our factchecker.
It is a well-established journalistic practice to grant anonymity to informed sources who are in a position to suffer retribution for speaking out against those in positions of power. Penn’s “nearly empirical certainty” about the identity of one of our sources is completely unfounded. In addition, every anonymous quote used in the story was echoed by multiple sources with first-hand knowledge of the effort to rebuild Haiti.
Penn is correct in noting that we got Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s first name wrong in the second of three references we made to him in the piece. We regret the error, and have corrected it in the online version of the story.