Occupational hazard

It isn’t only the hard-liners or the true believers on either side of the political divide who think in terms of black or white. Sometimes, or perhaps even more often than we would like to think, headline writers and desk editors think that way too. Not as a matter of ideology or partisanship, I hasten to add, at least for the professional journalist, but because that is the way the bias for story drives both the headline and the narrative.

Consider the case of the "retired generals" (many of whom have already called on President Arroyo to resign or are associated with her political opposition). After they met yesterday, they  issued a manifesto of support for Marine general Francisco Gudani and Marine colonel Alexander Balutan.

The headline of the Manila Times story was: "Retired generals all praise for Gudani." That of the Star’s was more emphatic: "Retired generals rally behind embattled Marine officers." The headline of the story in the Inquirer was similarly phrased, but with a "defiant" twist:  "46 retired officers rally behind defiant general."

The Inquirer story sticks essentially to the tone set by its headline, except for the following by-the-by:

[Ex-Commodore, ex-coup plotter, current security consultant Rex Robles] said that while he supported the imposition of military procedure and following the chain of command, there was the “higher law of moral imperative.”

Both the Star and the Times carried the following quote:

"How can we not support a person who wants to tell the truth? What’s wrong with that? But I support the chief of staff in punishing superior officers who deliberately disregard orders," said Robles, a member of the Feliciano Commission that investigated the Oakwood mutiny in 2003.

And this one too:

"My stand is that the chain of command, from the chief of staff down, should be maintained. Whatever political problem we have now, let it be solved by the Filipino leaders. I hope the chain of command will hold," [former Armed Forces chief and close Estrada ally Joselin] Nazareno said.

I note that these gentlemen actually hold a more nuanced view (cf this previous post) than the headlines themselves imply. But the news narrative framework, and the limitations of space, required a stronger headline than, say, "Retired generals take nuanced position" [I jest, of course] or "Retired generals back both Gudani and AFP" [two decks; that should fit].

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Filed under Readings in Media, Readings in Politics

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