Blaming the victim

Mr. Buencamino does political affairs commentary for Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in the Yellow Pad column of BusinessWorld, January 24, 2005 edition, p. 22.

A defender of ABS-CBN news is promoting an argument that the charge of
bias against it is false. The whole thing, he says, is the fault of the
victim.

The argument as constructed by Amando Doronila goes something like
this: “the Poe campaign was built on the crowd attendance in his
rallies;… mammoth crowds were important to drive a bandwagon
effect;… without crowd psychology, there was hardly anything going
for the campaign. ABS-CBN riled the Poe camp not because it was biased,
but because it did not play into the hands of the Poe supporters who
wanted it to be its political propaganda organ by making its cameras
focus on the crowd;… the accusations of bias by ABS-CBN are false.

They really boil down to the fact that the network did not allow itself
to be used as a tool to promote the political advantage of one of the
protagonists in a fiercely contested election.”

What’s wrong with Doronila’s picture? He focused on the victim and left
the perpetrator out. Elections are like debates where an audience picks
the winner. Contestants can choose to appeal to the audience’s reason
or their emotions, or both. It’s a contest between logos and pathos. In
such contests, the side that connects with the audience’s emotions wins
more often than not. Ideas do not score well against emotions in
elections.

Marcos versus Macapagal is an example. Marcos, in his prime,
personified both logos and pathos. Macapagal could compete in the
brains department but he was miles behind in emotional appeal. In
Estrada versus De Venecia, we see a good example of pure pathos driving
pure logos into the ground.

In the US, we see the same phenomena-in Kennedy versus Nixon, we saw
two men of equal intellect but unequal appeal; in Carter versus Reagan,
it was the same as De Venecia versus Estrada; in Clinton versus Bush,
it was Kennedy versus Nixon all over again. Doronila said, “The Poe
campaign dug its own grave by shunning dialogue with the public and by
deluding itself that it was the crowd – not ideas – that really
mattered in a presidential campaign.”

Unfortunately, crowds are the only thing that matters in presidential
campaigns in popular democracies. All candidates are aware of this
fact, and that’s why Mrs. Arroyo complemented her “ideas” campaign with
look-alike photos of Nora Aunor and the choice of Noli de Castro as
running mate.

According to Doronila, Mrs. Arroyo ran a campaign “tailored to
emphasize ideas and focused on small meetings” because she couldn’t
draw the crowds that Poe could. Thus, in a competition between logos
and pathos, Doronila’s conclusion that Poe dug his own grave by
concentrating on his emotional appeal makes no sense.
{mospagebreak}
In addition, Doronila gives a lecture on TV coverage to justify
ABS-CBN’s bias. He said, “TV could not keep on covering the campaign
focusing all the time on the crowd, without becoming boring and panning
the cameras on more of the same.”

Granting that the election was fiercely contested, TV could have
focused on the crowd “all the time” without boring those who adored
Poe. As a matter of fact, Doronila said crowd shots would have pumped
up Poe’s followers and a bandwagon effect could have been created. So,
ABS-CBN news played into the hands of Mrs. Arroyo by constricting shots
of Poe’s crowds.

Poe understood what it took to win. Mrs Arroyo understood it as well.
If she couldn’t win with the cards she had, she could have folded.
ABS-CBN news, as a “miron,” had no business stealing Poe’s ace. If
ABS-CBN news had covered both campaigns truthfully, what basis would
Arroyo have to claim bias? That pictures of massive adoring crowds were
unfair versus pictures of a dull campaign euphemistically described by
Doronila as “tailored to ideas and focused on small meetings”?

Susan Roces based her complaint on the fact that her husband’s campaign
was not covered truthfully by ABS-CBN news. Arroyo’s intellectual
appeal showed well in print. Did Susan Roces complain about newspaper
coverage of her husband’s campaign? No, because even Doronila admits,
TV was the battleground.

In an editorial, a news organization can paint faces on Poe and not be
accused of bias because it is quite clear that an opinion is being
expressed. However, when an editorial is presented as news, that is a
different matter – it is dishonest. Constricting crowd shots of Poe’s
campaign is an editorial masquerading as news.

If ABS-CBN news did not want to cover crowd shots of Poe because it
felt it would play into his hands, it should have said it was not going
to show any pictures of Poe’s campaign because it was unfair to Mrs.
Arroyo’s “ideas and small meetings” campaign. That would have been the
honest thing to do.

A news organization is under no obligation to cover everything or, for
that matter, anything; but, when it does cover an event, it is has a
moral obligation to cover it truthfully. The playing field is never
level when the clash is between ideas and emotions. The emotional end
of the field always enjoys an advantage. However, it is not for any
news organization to level the playing field.

ABS-CBN news violated public trust when it took it upon itself to cut
off Poe’s legs. News is meant to inform, not mold, public opinion. That
is the job of editorials. In defending the bias of ABS-CBN news,
Doronila revealed that Poe dug his own grave because he pursued a
strategy that intellectuals would never allow.

Karen Davila apologized to Susan Roces for her organization’s dishonest
coverage. Doronila owes Susan Roces an even greater apology for putting
the blame on the victim.

No comments yet.