Gaming the system

I agree with Manolo Quezon: Ricky Carandang’s surprise interview with Virgilio Garcillano’s wife was "the mother of all scoops." The actual series of interviews with Garcillano that came after, however, were obviously "handled": They followed a script and a schedule. Or in Sheila Coronel’s pungent take: Media organizations were "actually being led by the nose."

Savvy handlers know how to "game" the system, how to make it work to meet their own purposes. Sometimes, they only want to delay publication; this they can do (as I learned first-hand, on two different stories) by simply showing up at the newsroom and insisting on telling every nuance, every complication, of their version of events. (On one occasion, I had to be relieved of my copy-editing responsibilities for the night when a group of representatives, led by an extremely suave lawyer, talked for literally hours, to give me, yet again, the benefit of their side; as a result, the story was delayed, by a day.)

Other times, handlers bury reporters under an avalanche of information, in the hope that the amount of work needed to sift through the material will deter even the hardiest of reporters, or at least delay them.

And then there are those  times, of course, as in the recent Garcillano revelations, when sophisticated handlers use media’s own conventions to tell their charges’ story — from their point of view, according to their timetable. They can do this when they exercise almost full control over either the source or the story; in other words, when they have what the media desperately wants.

Does this make the recent "somewhere in Mindanao" stories on Garcillano invalid? Only if we have an extremely limited view of how media works.

Those stories carried essential information; in the deepest sense, they met the public’s right (and need) to know. I think Tina Monzon-Palma struck the right tone, of skepticism balanced with sympathy, when she interviewed Ricky and Henry Omaga-Diaz several days ago. The notion that major media organizations (including the newspaper I work for) can land a major interview without knowing the identities of the key links in the long chain (who put the blindfold on, who drove the van, who escorted them from point A to point B) is hard to understand and harder to believe. As I remember Tina saying, with some alarm, It was possible then that, say, Henry and his crew were actually being driven around in circles. And yet, there is the fact that the most wanted man in the country was at the end of that chain, speaking on the record.

And then there is also the this-is-good-enough-to-take-to-the-bank certainty that the Garcillano story does not and will not end there. The stage-managed, scripted stories dictated by Garcillano and his handlers are only one act  (or to change metaphors, only one round) in the continuing drama. The media organizations Garcillano reached out to have more resources than his resourceful handlers can even hope to handle. In the same way that Garcillano’s pre-Congress testimony "conditions" are essentially meaningless the moment he shows up in Congress, the media arrangements that governed his reappearance became inoperative the moment the first stories aired or were printed.

When he shows up in Congress on Wednesday, or perhaps even before that, he will find a media raring to swing the pendulum the other way. 

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Filed under Readings in Media, Readings in Politics

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