THAT isn’t at all an exaggeration. It in fact happened yesterday, when the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) published as its most important article for the day—called the “banner headline”—an extremely biased New York Times (NYT) opinion piece disguised as a news story that was extremely condemnatory of President Duterte. Throwing its integrity to the winds, PDI published the piece a day after NYT had put it on its front pages: It has been degraded into a publication that publishes past articles of other publications.
Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella though should have a book on modern American idioms he can quickly consult: he was embarrassingly wrong in calling it a “hack job,” which means a job so hastily done at the expense of quality or detail. Rather, the NYT piece was a well-written “hatchet job,” meaning “a fierce and malicious attack on somebody, with falsehoods mixed with truths, in order to ruin his reputation. “
The article’s title itself reveals its extreme bias: “Becoming Rodrigo Duterte, Strongman in the Philippines”. That’s patently a fake news. ‘Strongman,’ as the NYT knows, is a “political leader who rules by force and runs a totalitarian regime.” Duterte certainly isn’t a dictator, and is a duly elected President. It is stretching it too much to claim that the saliva he spews in his verbal threats means he rules by force.
PDI even screamed to get people to read the NYT’s hatchet job, by devoting nearly all of its front page (see image) on the NYT piece, so it could accommodate the biggest fonts possible for the headline and a summary of the article.
This is unprecedented in the entire history of Philippine journalism and a sad day for the Fourth Estate: A biased opinion piece written by a foreigner in a foreign newspaper, is published as the banner story by one of the mainstream newspapers in the country. To boot, the opinion piece is even entirely devoted to demonizing the nation’s President. There has been no such similar travesty done by any newspaper anywhere in the world in the modern era. Not even the Manila Chronicle or the Manila Times, owned by groups which detested Marcos so much before martial law, ever print derogatory articles against him written by the foreign press.
Do you think the New York Times would ever publish an article, even just in its inside pages, written by a Filipino, very well written and researched, critical of President Trump?
In a reply to my email asking him about this never-before-done headline, PDI executive editor Jose Nolasco, an old friend of mine, retorted: “The Inquirer has always strove to be different. We see what’s news that other media outfits fail to see… We set the agenda. If ever other newspapers [now]look like the Inquirer, it’s because they’ve been copying us again. That’s what has made us No 1 through all these years.”
I certainly hope that for the sake of this country, other newspapers don’t copy this latest of PDI innovations – publishing word-for-word an article so denunciatory of the Philippine President written by an foreigner in a foreign newspaper. Malacañang probably should get China’s People’s Daily to write a puff piece on Duterte which some pro-Duterte newspaper could publish as its banner story, following PDI’s new innovation.
What has become of our country, when a major player of the Fourth Estate publishes a hatchet job written by a foreigner in a foreign newspaper, even putting it as its screaming banner story? Is this simply, but shockingly, due to the PDI editors’ colonial mentality? Has nationalism in this country completely vanished?
PDI demonstrates its ignorance of the nature of a newspaper, that it is an embodiment of the nation, as the late renowned scholar Benedict Anderson explained in his most famous work, Imagined Communities.
This is the reason why our Constitution bans foreigners from owning even a single share in Philippine media, so that their views don’t capture this thing that represents the nation. Yet even just for a single day, PDI surrendered its edition to the NYT, gratis.
The PDI has over 50 reporters and writers, and has such excellent and analytical opinion writers like Randy David and Solita Monsod, as well as essayist Rosario Garcellano, the former two having written opinion columns for nearly two decades, and who obviously don’ t like Duterte.
Yet its editors weren’t confident to get these writers, Filipinos who have lived in this country their entire lives who made it their job to study its politics and society to write an article critical of Duterte? They preferred the article of the NYT writer, who spent a few days here for research, who has lived all his life and wrote his article 14,000 kilometers away?
Screaming banner story
By publishing as its screaming banner story a foreigner’s hatchet job against the President, the PDI shames us all Filipinos. I cringed while reading the newspaper: “How could PDI have the temerity to ask me and other Filipinos to read this hatchet job by a foreigner?”
It would have been a bit debatable if PDI’s banner story was one written by a very distinguished, globally respected personality, for instance former UN Secretary General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon or even Pope Francis or even former US President Obama. Or even by journalists with proven objectivity and investigative skills like Seymour Hersh (who broke the My Lai massacre story) and of course the Bob Woodward-Carl Bernstein team who brought down President Nixon.
But a hatchet job written by one Richard Paddock? Paddock may be a veteran journalist, but he certainly isn’t in the league of Ban Ki Moon, the Pope or Woodward-Bernstein. His claim to fame is that he was a member of a team nominated for—but didn’t win—the Emmy awards for a PBS report on hazardous underwater mining in the Philippines. That makes him prestigious enough to pontificate on our country?
He is not even a regular reporter of the NYT assigned to cover the Philippines or Southeast Asia, but a contributor. Paddock obviously has decided to make Duterte his target: Out of his over 30 published articles in the NYT starting last July, nearly half are on Duterte, and not a single one reporting some good that the President has done for the country. The titles of these articles themselves reveal Paddock’s bias, for example: “Chilling Tale in Duterte’s Drug War: Father and Son Killed in Police Custody” and “In Philippine Drug War, Little Help for Those Who Surrender.”
And if you are in awe of the NYT, you don’t know that it has published a lot of falsehoods in the past, which it subsequently admitted. NYT was the most prominent American newspaper claiming — very falsely as it turned out — that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, in articles written by Judith Miller. Its reporter Jayson Blair was got away with plagiarizing articles for several years, portrayed in the documentary “Fragile Trust”. NYT magazine reporter Jonah Hill was found to have fabricated his reports on Africa, dramatized in a recent movie “True Story.”
Any editor reading the NYT piece would easily detect the old trick used in hatchet jobs: point out as many pejorative, even vivid, details about the target but mix it with some truths to make the entire piece appear objective; name some sources but use anonymous sources you can invent making the most damning allegation; point out vivid shocking things about the subject; omit very important details. With the limitations of the human mind, a demonized picture of the subject will emerge.
Editorial space prevents me from showing how the NYT piece did this. Suffice it to mention the following:
NYT: “His communications director, Martin Andanar, said that Duterte had stopped using Fentanyl “way before he was elected President” last May. But a person with knowledge of his condition told The Times in September that Duterte was using the drug then.” The claim by an anonymous source on something that is so important as a President’s psychological condition is given credence? How can we be sure the NYT writer isn’t simply inventing this, as several NTY reporters had done in the past?
NYT: “Antonio Trillanes, a senator, recalled that when they met in 2015 to discuss a political alliance, Duterte only wanted to talk about people he had killed. and “how the brains were splattered all over the place … Trillanes… has another name for him: “mass murderer.” Trillanes is described as a plain senator. Isn’t it important to point out that Trillanes has had a history as a lying political assassin (against Chief Justice Corona and Vice President Binay) and was the political hitman of former President Aquino? The reference to “brains were splattered’” is an example of my point that hatchet jobs mention shocking but probably untrue details, which the human mind is wired to remember.
NYT: “Since Duterte took office last June and declared a ‘war’ on drugs, the police and unknown assassins have killed more than 3,600 people, the police say, mostly in the slums of Philippine cities. Some put the toll at more than 7,000.” Where on earth did he get that 3,600 figure, when the PNP has reported only 2,500? “Some”? That 7,000 figure was fabricated single-handedly by the anti-Duterte website Rappler, and just repeated by his critics. I have in three columns proven it conclusively false. Does the NYT writer only read anti-Duterte articles?
It is unfortunate though for Duterte’s spokesperson to claim that the NYT writer was a hack, paid to write the article. That would only make the NYT go to the writer’s defense and make him feel so righteous.
The modus operandi to get Western media to write what one wants them to write is more sophisticated, such as: befriending the writer, feeding him with lots of material, and of course, making him feel important by inviting him for dinner in the lobbyist’s posh Manhattan apartment, and talking about, in this case, how horrible Duterte is, while the most expensive wine and caviar are served.
Now who lives in New York with such resources who could have done that?