By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
SunStar Cebu and SunStar Superbalita
Two mainstream columnists are suspected of originating the bogus story. Not a satire website and the slew of fake-news blogs that later used the story about the senator.
U.S. President Trump, according to the story, was asked by a reporter aboard Air Force One about a meeting between Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and Sen. Marco Rubio.
“Senator who?” Trumped supposedly said, “Like I said, senator who? The lil narco who met Marco? How’d he get a visa? Isn’t he wanted, doesn’t he have an arrest warrant or something?”
The sparse details — with no name of the reporter and his news outlet and no mention of when and where it was published — should’ve warned two columnists that it was a hoax.
One column, “Aksyon Ngayon” by Al Pedroche appeared Oct. 30 in “Pilipino Ngayon,” Philstar’s Pilipino edition. The other, “Hidden Agenda,” Nov. 1, by Mary Ann LL. Reyes was in Philstar’s English edition. The Tagalog column narrated the sketchy story. The English column, after the story-telling, punched hard: “If I were Trillanes, I would bury my head in the sand or disappear into thin air.”
Adobo as satire site
A Philstar news story of Nov. 1 carried the Trillanes denial and the paper’s “research” that “The Adobo Chronicles” broke the story. Adobo disputes that, saying it published the satirical piece only on Nov. 1, two days after the Pedroche column, and admitting that it was based on the said column.
Adobo bills itself as a “satire site”; it was listed in an Oct. 3, 2014 GMA News Online article as one of seven “fake news sites.” “Adobo” describes their outfit as “your source of unbelievable news”: everything you read in the website is “based on fact except lies,” a “mixture of fact and fiction.” “Adobo” says it “abides by the
highest standards of creative work.” It tries, it says, to be “as respectable as possible to the extent allowed by our fertile mind.”
Unless later disproved, what stands now is that Pedroche, “Pilipino Star Ngayon” editor-in-chief and veteran broadcast and print journalist, started it, followed by his colleague Reyes. Adobo owner and publisher Rene Astudillo filed a formal complaint with Philstar about the satire site being named as the origin of the fake news.
Pedroche didn’t name his source: the reporter who supposedly talked with Trump and the reporter’s news outfit were not identified. Neither was the publication or news site where it was first published. Ditto with Santos who apparently used Pedroche’s info or had the same source.
Matter of motive
While theirs was a column and not a news story, the two columnists had the duty then to support their separate disclosures with adequate facts because it was potentially controversial and would smear, as it did, Trillanes’s reputation.
With the storm it has kicked off, that duty becomes more compelling now. Inevitably, one must question motive of the two mainstream columnists. One assumes the propaganda intent of pro-Duterte and anti-Trillanes websites. But it’s puzzling how trad-media journalists who routinely are made to account by their news outfit for any major error could engage in it too.
From a timeline provided by Adobo, the wonder arises: if veteran columnists are misled by fake news and even uses it, what can one expect from many media consumers who may not distinguish fact from fiction if their life depended on it? Many websites hide identities and some even use a mix of real and fake news brands to mislead. Even the few that admit their product is a satire or fiction may still deceive clueless readers who don’t bother to read the warning or don’t care.
What would it take for internet users to recognize bogus news even from sites that advertise its fake product: a neon sign repeatedly flashing, “this is fake, this is fake”?
Hope in trad-media
With that formidable problem among many media consumers, the hope is pinned on trad-media journalists who’re expected to do better. Columnists and veteran reporters particularly should be able to spot fakery with as much skill as reporters on the ground. And if they miss or fail and are themselves duped, they need to expose the deception promptly.
Unfortunately many don’t and thus become suspect: they’re complicit to the spreading of fake news or, worse, profit from the use of fake news.
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