The Inquirer vs Binay

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The drop in satisfaction and presidential-preference ratings of Vice President Jejomar Binay has been invariably reported by media and even by our purported social scientists who do the surveys as due, to use Pulse Asia’s explanation as an example, to “the senate’s continued investigation into allegations of corruption against” the leading presidential candidate for 2016.

That is grossly wrong. The usual 1,200 respondents interviewed by the polling firms obviously weren’t in the Senate hearings. What they know about the investigation against Binay totally, completely come from the media. We always forget that the source of what people know, or think they know, is usually the media.

Unless one deliberately, and often with much effort, adopts a critical or scientific view, our perception of society and politics is manufactured, or passed off as reality in the modern age through the prism of media.

It is amazing, indeed, that many bigoted people post their views on Facebook and in the “comments” section of newspapers as if their views were their carefully considered opinion, when most of the time, it is obvious that they merely acted like robots in accepting uncritically false or misleading press accounts, and aren’t even aware of it.

Unless you were there yourself, or at least watched the live proceedings, what you’d know about the Senate investigation and the corruption charges is totally what the media has fed you.

We have a huge media industry, and print media is dominated by three broadsheets, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), the Manila Bulletin and the Philippine Star. Broadsheet articles are also believed to be uncritically repeated in radio stations all over the country.

At least in the case of Binay’s ratings, the PDI has demonstrated its awesome power in molding people’s perceptions and assessments of political personalities.

I have analyzed the coverage of the Binay issue, particularly on his so-called Batangas estate from October 8 to November 20 last year. The reason for these dates is first, it was on Oct 8 that PDI started its remarkable, nearly unbroken, series of banner stories and front-page photos on the allegations against Binay.

Secondly, the major poll, that by Pulse Asia, which obviously was positioned to determine the impact of the investigation (or that of media coverage), was undertaken from Nov 14 to 20. (Banner stories are those in very large letters across the first page of a newspaper. These are normally what the editors consider to be the most important news that happened the previous day. Some newspapers though, the PDI most prominently, devote such banner stories to their scoops or to articles that the editors want their readers not to miss.)

This is how you brainwash people. Inquirer’s Binay barrage: In its 44 issues from October 8, 2014 to November 20, 29 had banner headlines on the accusations against the VP. In the same period the Manila Bulletin had only two, and the Philippine Star, four.

The results of my analysis are astonishing, maybe shocking, but not really unusual for the PDI, as they have launched similar campaigns against Chief Justice Renato Corona and the three senators now in jail for alleged plunder involving pork barrel funds. There was actually a less intensive barrage against Binay a few weeks earlier involving the alleged overprice of Makati City Hall Building II in September.

In the 44 issues from Oct 8 to Nov 20, PDI had 29 banner-stories on the allegations against Binay.

On four consecutive days starting Oct 8, PDI had such screaming headlines that virtually convicted Binay of corruption: ‘Binay farm a 350-ha. estate’; Binay’s P1.2-B estate behind overpricing; Village folk readily say Binays own hacienda, (with a huge photo of the mansion allegedly owned by the Vice President); and ‘P4B shared by Makati execs.’

Note that the editors didn’t even bother putting the second headline between single quotation marks to indicate “as alleged.”

What were the banner headlines of the two other broadsheets with the biggest circulations on those days? The Manila Bulletin had the following: Ombudsman probing Purisima’s wealth; Yolanda victims cry out for help; Widespread Ebola contagion feared; and Aquino abandons term extension bid.

The Philippine Star, on the other hand, had the following banner headlines: Ratings plummet but Binay still the most trusted; 4 out of 5 MM police chiefs sacked for crime rate; Noy wants better China ties.

Are they covering the same country?

Compared with the PDI’s 29 banner headlines that reported on the Senate investigation on Binay’s corruption charges, how many did the other two papers have?

The Bulletin had only two: 79 percent want Binay to face Senate, and, Binay snubs Senate probe.

The Star had only four: Binay wants to face Senate; Binay snubs Senate probe; Binay backs out of debate; and PNoy told to keep hands off VP probe. The Star had more banner stories on the Ebola epidemic scare (8) and the killing of a “Subic transgender” (11).

It was as if the three of our biggest newspapers were covering different countries. The two newspapers, of course, did report the Senate investigation, but not as banner stories as the PDI did.

In that 44-day period, one would even suspect that the PDI had some unwritten policy of publishing some “Binay corruption” story every single day. There was only one issue in that entire period, on Nov 10 that, in fact, didn’t have a Binay corruption article.

There were articles in that period that were not banner stories but were on the front page or inside pages that weren’t really news, as in novel information, but only provided an excuse for repeating the allegations against the Vice President.

Three weeks after the “hacienda” issue was raised, and even after the main whistle-blower Ernesto Mercado had corrected his figures – the alleged farm was only 150 hectares in size – the PDI routinely repeated the phrase “a 350-hectare property dubbed Hacienda Binay.” It was a classic Hitler propaganda technique: Repeat a big lie again and again until it sounds like truth.

That was not the first time the PDI had engaged in such coverage by which it produced its banner stories. The three-step manufacture of public opinion, as I have written before, is as follows:

First, some whistle-blowers’ allegations are published as banner headlines for a period of days. Second, Pulse Asia and the Social Weather Stations undertake their polls that confirm the demonization of the target by the whistle-blower, with the pollsters’ numbers providing the accusations with some veneer of objectivity. Third, charges are filed, in Corona’s case, in the impeachment court and for the three senators, in the Sandiganbayan.

But President Aquino’s camp was able to get away with this SOP when his popularity ran high and his incompetence had not yet been exposed. This regime, though, is at its twilight, and it would be too late to take out Binay in this manner.

So far in this 2016 election contest, and believe you me, it started in October with the first broadside involving the alleged overpriced Makati City Hall II, it is not Mar Roxas versus Binay, since Aquino’s guy has been hopelessly stuck .

It is not Grace Poe, who’s merely the newest but less qualified political incarnation of Loren Legarda (remember her, the vice running mate of Fernando Poe and then Manuel Villar with astronomical popularity ratings?). Of course it’s not Francis Escudero, nor Miriam Santiago.

It is the Inquirer against Binay.