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Journalism And Public Truth-Telling: When Mishandled Issue Management Turns Into A Crisis

August 12, 2009


There are stories, and there ARE stories.

This is a truism in journalism, and blogging, that have time and again validated by your midfielder’s own experience.

The premium always is on accuracy, balance and fairness as this translates into solid credibility and audience share.

The challenge deepens when it comes to handling controversies with tasks impacting not only on the journalists but the ‘issue handlers’.

The brouhaha over the presidential wedding anniversary dinner at New York’s ritzy  Le Cirque being a case in point, what has happened here is the mishandling of the issue management effort has become a crisis in itself.

Here you have not only Pres. Arroyo coming under severe criticism, but even her Press Secretary, Cerge Remonde being reprobated, even as he himself has turned to attacking the new media rather than addressing public questions about the incident.

One example:

But he isn’t all wrong given how a theoretical rendering of the Le Cirque bill was picked up as the actual bill itself by the media mainstream, and the militant public.

This even as the original poster of that theoretical bill had properly qualified the nature of ‘bill’.

Now it seems the issue is refusing to die with the New York Post ‘s Page Six again featuring story, this time focusing on the fury over the feast:

NY POST ON GMA DINNER ANEW aug 11 2009 montage

OUR little scoop about the $20,000 dinner Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo enjoyed last month at Le Cirque has blown up into a political firestorm in her homeland, where memories of Imelda Marcos’ shoe collection are still fresh.

Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay pointed out that the cost of the dinner for 25 could have fed “almost 3,000 hungry families with three square meals.” A copy of Arroyo’s tab, posted on several blogs, showed 11 bottles of Krug champagne were ordered at $510 a pop. The entourage — who were charged $238 a head for the feast — also devoured Osetra caviar at $1,400 for five ounces.

An Arroyo spokesman said Leyte Province Rep. Martin Romualdez, part of the delegation, footed the bill. But quoted Binay, “What they did was deplorable, especially if taxpayers’ money was spent. If they spent private money, what they did was in bad taste and again showed insensitivity to the millions of Filipinos who face hunger daily.”

Here was how the story first broke:

nypost orig story on gma dinner

In the Pinoy blogosphere youthful blogger Marocharim accurately sums up why Filipinos are angry:

Down the wire, though, this is not a matter of how much a dinner cost, or what they had for dinner.  The premise of the outrage does not change the fact that the hungry people of the Philippines are outraged that, at the expense of their taxes and at the expense of the prestige and respect and honor they accorded to their public officials, they did something galling by dining at the classiest of classy restaurants in one of the world’s classiest cities.  The premise remains unresolved.  It was a matter of potlatching that investment, and getting nothing in return but six o’clock sakit sa ulo, sakit sa bulsa, and more painful of all, sakit sa sikmura.

It was the gross act of highlighting and emphasizing the class biases that we avoid in daily conversation, rubbing that inequality in the faces of the people they’re supposed to represent, to walk with, to be stewards of.  And for that they refuse to explain themselves, much less show us a receipt of how much they spent.  Rather than address the issue, they misdirect it, and when all of this is done, we are expected to merely forget.  Yet that does not cancel the fact that the President had dinner at Le Cirque, was Page Six’d, and the explanations owed to the populace are still not here.  They have a faster service at that restaurant, than the speed by which explanations are served in this country.  Nobody’s telling me, Taxpayer, anything anymore.  There’s your bollocks.  There’s your fury.

These are teaching moments here for society, and Malacanang’s press office.

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