The Plot Thickens: Wyclef’s Incompetence Uncovered?

by Dax-Devlon Ross

I ran across an article published in yesterday’s New York Times entitled “Star’s Candidacy in Haiti Puts Charity in Focus.” If you read my previous post then you know I’m genuinely interested in the debate surrounding the substance of Wyclef Jean’s candidacy for president of Haiti. The article contains a number of damaging assertions of malfeasance against Yele and Jean (his $2.1 million tax bill, for example) that taken together paint a picture of an untenable candidate. However, it is also marred by hearsay, loaded language,  coded messages and material omissions. If this is someone’s first impression of Wyclef the candidate, it’s hard to see how they’ll stay interested long enough to give him a second look. This, of course, assumes the people who’ll be voting for him will ever read this or any other article criticizing Wyclef  in the first place. Nevertheless,  as someone who’s  still trying to figure out where he stands, this kind of imbalanced reporting simply has to be addressed.

Assertion #1: Yele Haiti is paying $15,o00 a month for an unused property that contains two empty homes for the homeless. The description of the “compound” included a) gated entry way, b) palm trees, and c) a swimming pool, all the more exorbitant since  it’s empty.

Coded Messaging: The foundation is wasting an exorbitant amount of money that could be better used for relief efforts.

Implication: If Yele really cared it would put people in the houses. And since Yele is Wyclef, he must not care about poor people either.

Assertion #2: One of the camps Yele is purportedly supporting, The Christ Roi Camp, says it has not received any water shipments from the organization despite the organization’s claims to the contrary. Other camp leaders say the organization has not provided of its promised support whatsoever.

Coded Messaging: The organization is taking credit for support it is not actually providing.

Implication: Yele is dishonest. And since Yele is Wyclef, he must be dishonest.

Assertion #3: “The earthquake raised the musician’s profile and brought his small nonprofit group more than $10.5 million through July 31, of which just under a third has been spent, according to the charity.”

Coded Messaging: The money isn’t being used for its stated purpose.

The Implication: Yele is incompetent. And since Yele is Wyclef, he must be incompetent.

An Alternative Reading: According to an NPR report entitled “Huge Sums Raised, Much Unspent, After Haiti Quake,” the vast majority of charities, including The American Red Cross, have not spent all of the $1.3 billion raised to support Haiti. In fact, The Red Cross, which has raised more than a half-billion by itself, has distributed less than a third of its funds. The article cites several respectable sources who repeatedly stress how difficult it is to distribute funding and how important it is to distribute monies wisely. The objective is not to just give the money away and The NY Times should know better than to suggest Yele’s not having done so represents a failure on its part. I definitely recommend reading the NPR piece for some honest, objective analysis on this point.

Assertion #4: Wyclef’s charity “paid his production company for benefit concerts featuring Mr. Jean, and paid his Haitian television station for promotions that also featured him. After the earthquake, the television station, its building badly damaged, broadcast rent-free from Yéle’s new estate.”

Coded Messaging: If he blurs the line between his business interests now then he’ll probably blur the line as president.

Implication:  If Wyclef was really about philanthropy he would never charge Yele for his performances or to have access to his privately owned enterprises.

Alternative Reading:  1. Concerts costs money. 2. Air time costs money. 3. Rent free doesn’t mean consideration free, consideration being any kind of valuable exchange. If Yele is deriving some benefit by temporarily housing the television station that is presumably performing a public service on the heels of a natural disaster, then that’s that’s valuable consideration.

Assertion #5: “On Monday, Euro RSCG Worldwide PR announced that it had resigned from all public relations work for Yéle and Mr. Jean’s campaign. The firm offered no explanation.”

Coded Messaging: Even PR firms are running for the  hills.

Implication: Wyclef must be up to something  shady.

Alternative Reading: To borrow a Jay-Z phrase: “It was all good just a week ago.”

Assertion #6: “The organization declined to provide a financial breakdown of its programs and services.”

Coded Messaging: Wyclef is hiding something.

Implication: He’ll embezzle state funds if elected.

Alternative Reading: Organizations are only required to account for their financials once a year at tax time.

The NYT article does raise some  interesting questions about the diversion of a quarter million dollars of Yele funds to pay for an extravagant carnival float, but then shoots itself in the foot by delving into lurid details about Wyclef’s carnival outfit and a rented lion’s sirloin steak diet, hearsay, anonymous accusations and downright bickering. The article also craftily backloads and undermines any of the organization’s positive achievements. The first moderately positive assertion about Yele’s efforts appears nearly three-quarters of the way through the article. And even then the authors note Yele’s food, water, tent distribution and transitional shelter efforts almost in passing and as if they are unrelated to the purported aim of the article. All of which leads me to wonder, what is the aim of the article?