Monthly Archives: November 2005

Notes on the coming war

My apologies for the melodramatic, even somewhat inaccurate, title; I couldn’t resist.

1. The return of Dante Ang, or at least Ang’s "Ina ng Bayan" image for the President. Her "bad boy" speech before KBP executives on Thursday assumes that there is a mother figure to set the bad boy of media straight. (It is the President, of course, who gets to do the spanking.) This is all of a piece with her "chasing the bully around the schoolyard" speech the other month; that one assumes a stern schoolmistress — another mother figure — with the disciplinary rigor to lay down the law.

2. The return of Bobi Tiglao’s "strong republic." Bobi may be headed for Greece, but the President’s crisis of legitimacy has given new life to the policy-slash-image-slash-strategy he put together when he was on study leave in Japan. In her "bad boy" speech, the President used "strong state" (apparently the version she prefers now) almost like a mantra.

3. The reemergence of ABS-CBN as broadcasting industry leader, with Gabby Lopez’s speech in the same KBP conference in Baguio hitting the right high notes; it was a gracious but firm assertion of the truth on the Julius Babao case. It isn’t only that GMA, the ratings leader in the country’s dominant broadcasting market,  has its own problems with admittedly problematic KBP; it’s also because media leadership is not and cannot be a matter of ratings alone. It also comes from taking a stand. 

4. The confirmation (if confirmation were needed) of Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye as a spokesman who would say anything, even lie outright, to extricate his principal from problems of her own making. His comments after the President’s KBP speech mark a new low.

PS. I must say, though, that I was rather put off by the "initial reaction" statement issued, on behalf of NUJP, by one of its directors, Rowena Carranza. As I teased Joe Torres in a text message, what was the ontological status of that initial reaction? Does the NUJP, among whose leaders I count several as good friends indeed, issue collective statements? If it does, why is there an "initial reaction," purportedly for the entire NUJP, from one of its directors, followed a couple of hours later by the official statement (under Joe’s name)? I have no quarrel with either statement, as a matter of fact. But consider the example of the most recent post of NUJP secretary general Caloy Conde. It is right on the money, but there is no doubt that it is his own position. Of course other NUJP members share his view, but the post is all his. (And still newsworthy on its own.) Just wondering.

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Shoulda, coulda, woulda

Still on the Julius Babao case: Ricky Carandang asks the threshold question.

If the story was so flimsy, why did PDI run it on page one without itself checking if there were reason to believe it?

Then he adds for good measure: "Shouldn’t they have checked it out before running it?"

Mylene Suaco repeats the question, but with a slightly different twist:

Why did Inquirer give the story the prominence it did not deserve?

I hesitate to answer the question, because as I have said more than once before, I do not speak for the Inquirer, and this blog, such as it is, cannot serve as the venue for fielding questions about the newspaper. I hesitate, because in answering I might give the wrong impression: that this blog speaks for the paper, or that somehow it is the role of this blog, simply because it is kept by an editor of the Inquirer, to speak for the paper.

Let me put it this way. I am sure the wrong way to treat Ricky’s thoughtful blog is to ask him questions about why, or how, ABS-CBN ran a particular story; it would be to miss the point of his blog.

I do realize, however, that journalists (again, such as we are, meaning to say given our limitations) do have a certain responsibility to explain the news or at least the news process itself. Perhaps, or at least in certain cases, it would be possible to answer questions like those of Ricky and Mylene in a way that does not make one question the whole point of keeping a personal (as opposed to an institutional) blog.

Ellen Tordesillas has in fact already pointed the way, when she posted the following comment:

The intelligence report is flimsy but not the story that the president is leaking an unverified report that a reporter is a terrorist-coddler. That was the story and it’s solid.

That, in sum, is the answer. And I’m happy to note that it’s an answer that works without me going into the details of the editorial decision-making; in other words, it’s an answer that will work for ABS-CBN or any other news organization.

The President said it. She said it on the record. She said it as an accusation against a prominent journalist. She said it in the context of her own struggle for political survival. Any which way you look at it, it is a solid story.

Is there need for a verification or at least corroboration? No, because the President and other such prominent newsmakers are the exception to the two-source rule. It was the editor’s responsibility to run such a story, only making sure that the prominently accused party could defend himself. As Ellen also pointed out, the first-day story did carry a denial.

Thus: The President’s basis for accusing Julius was "flimsy," but the story about her accusation was not. It was as solid as front-page stories go. 

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Missing

Missing in action, that is. It’s been almost a week since my last, rather cursory, post. And it’s been about two weeks since I’ve posted with any frequency (the last regular one, on Julius Babao, was a doozy; former boss Dan Mariano wrote it up, and I got calls even while I was in Hong Kong; it isn’t a dead issue, either, because as the Acsa Ramirez experience showed, this particular administration does not do gracious well).

Some of my time has been devoted to a new initiative which I cannot talk about just yet; I was, for instance, in Legazpi last week, and Mt. Mayon was kind enough to show itself to me on the day I left. My PC monitor at home also went blank on me; turns out the contact points were dirty. The result: Blog-less days.

I did have time to surf the Net, but only sporadically. So I actually missed the pyrotechnics in the so-called blogosphere on the Babao issue, the PCIJ TRO, the Kumander Putol snafu. I caught a bit of the People’s Court, but I missed out on most of the theatrics. (The drama, I see now, was the point of it all.)

And here’s something I missed too: Cathy de los Santos’s bracing website, which I used to read regularly. It was certainly provocative, but much of what it provoked, like in certain of Milan Kundera’s sensual passages, was thought. I guess it’s been pulled; I guess that’s what happens when you push.

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Diplomacy

This should be interesting: A woman, the first woman, as US ambassador to the Philippines.

Having been slightly burned only a few months ago, when officials of the Department of State assured me, over a tasty lunch with other journalism fellows, that "conflict resolution expert" Cameron Hume was a sure thing as the next ambassador to Manila, I could not help but be skeptical at first. (My story came out on May 14.) But Kristie Kenney looks like the real thing: a White House "personnel announcement," plus a story in the US embassy website.

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No margin for error

Back in the country, and the first thing that strikes me is the Palace digging in its heels. I would have thought a straightforward retraction on the Julius Babao allegation (the spinmeisters could have called it "a clarification") would have been the better part of presidential valor. But perhaps we’ve reached a point where even the gracious admission of a mistake is now itself mistaken (by both the President’s supporters and her critics) for vulnerability or weakness.

The paranoid style in politics, Philippine style.

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