Media's Public

How a publicist can screw up

By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita

Andanar shows what not to do in discrediting accusations about his client

[Related: “When a news source slams or even curses the press,” Media’s Public, June 8, 2013]

Even Martin Andanar, press secretary and presidential communications officer, must realize by now that he bungled it when, after a damaging press conference by a former Davao Death Squad member, he accused Senate reporters who reported it as having been bribed.

Apparently, he wanted to reduce the fallout from the admission of retired police officer Arthur Lascañas that President Duterte, then the Davao City mayor, hired DDS assassins to kill illegal drug suspects and political enemies. Damage control and containment: that’s Andanar’s job.

But he made some missteps.

Messenger

◘ To degrade the story, he lashed at the reporters who gathered and wrote it. He said that “some” reporters received $1,000 (presumably each, he didn’t specify). Assuming they were given the freebie, did that make their reports false or fictitious?

Basic rule #1 for a publicist, which Andanar must be intimate with, as a former TV journalist: Don’t blame the messenger.

Unless the reporter distorted facts or otherwise wrongly reported the story, no reason for the publicist to publicly shame the journalists.

Rumor

◘ He wasn’t sure of the information, having sounded wishy-washy about its source. At first he said, “meron daw pinagbigyan” (some were given), with the “daw” casting the pall of doubt. Later he said he meant they were “offered,” without specifying how many accepted.

Was it a rumor? Something picked up online? Scrap of “tsismis” at the Cabinet meeting, the same way he sourced the earlier talk about a plot to unseat Duterte?

Facts about the bribe were sketchy.

The amount of $1,000 (about P52,000) was unbelievably high and the use of foreign currency was weird: we locals hear about Manila media “standards” but pay-out in big American bucks is ridiculous.

Basic rule #2 for a publicist: Check out thoroughly any rumor about the journalists he regularly briefs: whether one is a decent guy who rejects payola or the other is a promiscuous favor-seeker hooked on his news sources. There may be some bad eggs but lobbing a stink grenade at the entire Senate press corps was being rash and cruel.

What for?

◘ Even if the bribery talk was true and had solid basis, what good would publicizing it at the time get for the publicist’s client?

It would be a non-sequitor to the disputed issue: whether the Lascañas’s charges were true. A battery of Palace spokespersons and lawyers could’ve fielded arguments why the cop should not be believed, as in fact they soon did. The blast against media was unnecessary and only muddled the core issue. Worse for public enlightenment, it dragged the publicist, instead of the principal actors, to the spotlight.

Basic rule #3: Don’t wage an unnecessary fight, especially against those you work with most days, in this case, the beat reporters.

Corruption

This is not to say a publicist should close his eyes to acts of corruption in media, particularly those that result in reports destructive to his client.

But he should be sure of his basis for (a) a complaint to the journalist’s superior or news outlet or (b) a public condemnation of it.

It was immensely embarrassing for Andanar and Cabinet colleague Gina Lopez to have been burned by false news. (Lopez used the unsubstantiated talk that legislators were bribed by mining firms that want her rejected by Commission on Appointments.) Both didn’t see the red flag or ignored it.

Journalists are more sensitive to any charge of corruption than politicians questioned about their pork barrel. That’s why when it’s not true, journalists howl a lot louder.

(publicandstandards@sunstar.com.ph or paseares@gmail.com)

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