Media's Public

Aguirre’s mistakes in Marawi ‘plot’ story

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

The DOJ secretary mishandled post-incident damage control. In the first place, he shouldn’t have opened his mouth about a conspiracy he still had to verify

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II’s handling of the report of an alleged destabilization plot against the Duterte administration provides a case-book study for a news source, especially a public official, on (1) how to avoid that kind of fiasco and (2) what to do afterwards to control damage.

The day after the June 9 press-con in which he alleged the plot, Aguirre said he stressed to the reporters:
the information was raw;
he still had to verify the report; and
he didn’t release the controversial photo; he just “swiftly flashed” the image on his cell-phone.

News reports on the story had more than enough data to support it: names of the alleged plotters, the meeting place, the goals, etc. Aguirre’s announcement of a department order on “case build-up” indicated his suspicion was serious.

Exposed ‘expose’

But what must have moved the story faster was the discovery by media in the same news cycle that Aguirre’s information was a fake news used earlier by a group supporting President Duterte.

The same photo that Aguirre showed and withdrew in seconds accompanied the web site’s fake news. (The photo was actually taken two years earlier at the Iloilo airport.) He misjudged reporters’ ingenuity in scouring for news material. The expose on the alleged plot was thus exposed as bogus in the same news feed.

His post-incident crisis management tanked because, first, he said he was misquoted. A lame if not silly excuse these days with the built-in cameras and audio recorders in cell-phones. Second, he complained of what he said was an unreported “caveat” that the news material hadn’t been verified yet, which didn’t rule out the bigger aspect of the story, the spurious information.

Just shut up

He shouldn’t have opened his mouth about the plot he still wasn’t sure about. A teaser or appetizer? He should’ve known better: even an off-the-record warning, which he didn’t give, couldn’t stop a juicy story from getting out.

Besides blaming media, he offered excuses which couldn’t offset the fact that it was an authentic retelling of how fake news prompted government action.

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