A classic instance of Western media spin

  • Reading time:8 mins read

I SPILLED my coffee watching CNN’s 8 a.m. news, when its ticker tape flashed: “Duterte orders police to kill those resisting arrest, followed by “Duterte: Kill the idiots.”

A newsreader then simply repeated those statements, adding, as it does every time there’s news now about the Philippines, that Duterte’s war vs illegal drugs has killed “thousands”.

I googled ”Duterte kill the idiots,” and the search results showed two dozen items showing the same headline, by news organizations such as American network ABC, the internet-only The Daily Beast to small news outfits like Panay News. Credit its going “viral” to a dispatch by Reuters, whose correspondents have the knack for finding the sensational spin.

I initially thought, “Has Duterte gone mad, and has followed Trump?” As is my habit, I searched to hear exactly what he said. I managed to get quickly a video of Duterte’s speech, at the National Heroes Day celebration the other day, where he purportedly made those statements.

What follows is my word-for-word transcription of Duterte’s relevant statements. You judge if those news reports are really accurate or represent a classic instance of how Western media, or any media can spin a particular quote so as to shock people.

“In the performance of their duty, tell your men that whenever their life is in danger and they are in the actual performance of their duty, your duty requires you to overcome the resistance of the person you are arresting. Not only just to shout to him to surrender because it is a [indistinct], and if he resists and it is a violent one placing in jeopardy the lives of my policemen and military, you are free to kill the idiots.”

That the news story has become viral is of course partly Duterte’s fault. “Kill the idiots” is such a great attention-grabbing quotable quote, on par with that classic “Kill all the lawyers.”

Of course, one can insist that still, Duterte categorically said “free to kill the idiots”. But do you think Duterte would have instead said: “If they resist arrest and are violent, shoot them in the legs?”

Anyone who’s used guns knows how impossible this is, unless you are a professional sharpshooter: to aim for and hit the legs of someone about to shoot you. The training of police and military organizations all over the world is for their men to make it their second nature to aim for the center of the body (and thrice), as that would minimize the likelihood of missing the target – which certainly won’t be case if you aimed at his peripheral parts. Coincidentally, a human body’s center is where the heart is, so in effect you are shooting to kill. If only God had located humans’ hearts in their legs!

Australia TV reporting on Duterte’s quotable quote and Rappler’s Maria Ressa pouncing on it.

Would it have been better if Duterte instead said, “If they resist arrest violently, aim for the center of their bodies”?

Would it be more informative if the news organizations’ headline was instead: “Duterte authorizes the police to shoot-to-kill, if those resisting arrest fight back.” That would be more accurate really. But would that make shocking, “viral” headlines?

And the use of idiots? That’s Duterte’s normal uncouth language that he is used to, but expletives certainly aren’t his monopoly. I can imagine Trump similarly using “idiots” if had to refer to criminals, if he stops himself from using “motherfuckers.” Should Duterte have used cock-suckers as a Trump aide described one of his colleagues?

Let’s face it, Western media, which we think – given their reporters high salaries and its centuries of evolution –are so professional, just aren’t. Listen to CNN and Fox News, and you’ll get a total contrasting picture of Trump and the US situation now.

As Philippine print media used to be, especially during the past administration (remember the anti-Corona frenzy and their idolatry of the President?), US and European media occasionally are afflicted with that virus called herd mentality.

In the US case, such herd mentality even allowed President Bush to invade a sovereign nation, Iraq, destroy its cities and kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis—on the basis of the total lie that it had weapons of mass destruction.

Media herd
Media herd mentality is probably one of the most dangerous social phenomena now, as it brainwashes entire peoples to believe even a total lie, so that governments could start a war that that can throw the entire world into conflagration. The global scourge of terrorism now is almost entirely due to the US invasion of Iraq that its media sold to Americans.

What is worrying – and sickening – is that herd mentality afflicts not just the most mediocre of journalists but even the best.

Consider my former colleague Sheila Coronel who abandoned Philippine journalism to teach rich Americans investigative journalism at Columbia University in New York, to become the director of its Stabile Center of Investigative Journalism and then academic affairs dean of the journalism school itself, considered the best in the US. (That’s like a doctor trained at taxpayer-subsidized PGH and at public medical centers to become the best tuberculosis physician, only to teach tuberculosis treatment at a New York hospital catering to billionaires.)

Instead of doing investigative journalism on Trump’s real wealth or connection with Russian oligarchs, or such important, but hard topics relevant to Columbia University as how American wars are responsible for US technological breakthroughs, Coronel has rushed to join the anti-Duterte mob of American journalists, and wrote several pieces in prestigious New York publications that pay unbelievably high fees painting Duterte as, to use her term, a “blood-bathed” President and Manila’s streets as littered with corpses.

While Coronel writes well—in her melodramatic 1980s style using colorful heart-tugging anecdotes—I’m quite sure one of her qualifications that made editors buy her stories would be that she was a Filipino “investigative journalist.” In fact, she bolsters her demonic portrayal of Duterte by referring to her coverage of him as Davao City mayor back in the 1980s, implying that he was already a killer then and she is the expert on his soul.

But Coronel wants to have her cake and eat it too, to live and work in the US, yet still pretend to be an expert on the Philippines, as most ranting anti-Duterte Fil-Ams (the most prominent being billionaire Loida Nicolas-Lewis) are fond of doing. She bases her data on what’s happening in the Philippines on what other American journalists have written, and forgets the investigative skills she learned at the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

In her recent article in a journal, “A Presidency Bathed in Blood,” Coronel wrote: “The drug war, which Duterte officially launched on his first day in office, has claimed the lives of as many as 9,000 suspected drug dealers and users.”

9,000 number
I asked her through Facebook’s Messenger where she got that 9,000 number, a topic of considerable interest to me as I wrote three columns debunking that figure, which was based on a completely wrong article in internet-only news site Rappler. (In my column, “How Rappler misled EU, Human Rights Watch, CNN, Time, BBC — the world,” Manila Times, May 19, 2017)

She replied: “Numerous news reports quote that figure.” She even gave me the link to her Google search results. I asked her why she “didn’t bother to verify if this is fake news, used mostly by Western media. “

I told her that even the Google search results she sent me had several reports specifically disproving that figure, yet she ignored those articles.

She didn’t reply after that. She “unfriended” me as a Facebook friend, obviously so she won’t read my posts that disturb her New York world-view.

If a professor and dean of Columbia University’s journalism school throws journalistic rules of verification and objectivity, and on the President of her former country, what can you expect from old, weary wire correspondents rushing to file dispatches as fast as they can to fulfill their daily quota, or from mediocre TV reporters?