IN 1950 MARYLAND SEN. MILLARD TYDINGS (of Tydings-McDuffie Act fame) ran for reelection—only to face a remarkable smear campaign. It included a doctored photograph purportedly showing him conversing with American Communist Party leader Earl Browder (suggesting Tydings had Communist sympathies, immersed as he was, at the time, in a fight with his fellow senator, Joseph McCarthy). An open letter was also circulated among voters, which darkly accused Tydings of having a sister who was “a thespian” and, worse, a brother who was “a practicing homo sapiens,” the technical terms for a sister-actress and brother-human, apparently helping to contribute to the veteran senator’s defeat.
A similar low opinion of voters—and disregard for anything resembling reality—seems to afflict those who are hell-bent on planting seeds of doubt about Sen. Benigno Aquino III’s fitness for the presidency, though with conspicuously less success. Since it has proven extremely difficult to rake up any muck about Aquino, the plan of attack seems to revolve on simply inventing something, using the media to propagate fiction in the hope it accomplishes one of three things:
First, it could fool the gullible or reinforce existing biases against the candidate: this particularly applies to those who have remained loyal to President Macapagal-Arroyo and her cloud cuckoo-land tales of legitimacy and accomplishment. Second, it might bog down the candidate in having to disprove rumors, allowing his rivals to pursue their own campaigns unchallenged and unimpeded. Third, simply by existing, the stories can take on a life of their own, never really proving anything but adding to the insecurities of some, who might then use it as an excuse to withhold support for the candidate, a variation of the first objective.
At the heart of the tall tales is the suspicion that no such thing as an honest, principled politician exists; or, put another way, anyone who considers himself a politician running on a platform of honesty, integrity, and good governance (and who personally represents all these things) has to be delusional or an imbecile—and that goes for his supporters. After all, a central talking point of the administration has been, “they are all the same, anyway,” so better the devil you know since no angels exist. But since it is a proven fact Aquino exists, then the only thing left to do, since he has no crimes—no lying, cheating, or stealing—is to accuse him of being either a half-wit or psychologically unsound.
A gruesome parade of columnists shuffled forward to try to do this. First, they suggested Aquino was autistic—only to have the chronology they put forward fall apart upon closer examination. Next, they insisted that a psychological report so crude as to be obviously a fake had to mean something, even though it was a forgery. Only in the weird world in which Palace loyalists exist could their subsequent logic—that even if fake, Aquino was duty-bound to prove to the country he wasn’t mentally disturbed—make any sense.
When that backfired, they backtracked and said Aquino’s people did the inventing to try to deflect really damaging information to come. Only for their partners-in-interest to take up the tale where it left off, as Guido Delgado did the other day. Only for the second fabricated report to end up debunked, as the first one was, by the Ateneo de Manila’s psychology department. All the while further implicating the Nacionalistas (and their administration fellow-travelers) in their unrelenting scheme to try to plant seeds of doubt concerning Aquino’s mental health.
None of this would have been possible without the uncritical acceptance of these documents as newsworthy by the media at large. Putting forward fake documents is, of course, a newsworthy story. It involves, to begin with, the possibility that confidential medical records can be leaked, which has profound ethical implications for medical practitioners (which is why one related allegation had to involve a doctor safely dead, for the purposes of those who tried to propagate the tale). It also involves the horror media outfits have over being given potentially explosive, but ultimately false, information.
And it is in the public interest to know that both the Palace’s friends and the Nacionalista leadership see fit to fabricate stories, regardless of whether or not it gets otherwise Palace-friendly institutions such as the Ateneo de Manila into a needlessly embarrassing situation. Anything goes, so long as it torpedoes a historic verdict against the administration and its allies in the polls.
But what puzzles me is why the contents of two entirely fabricated documents should, in themselves, end up reported, thereby lending credibility to all the related stories being put forward as part of the larger plan to erode public confidence in Aquino. The first report, flimsy to begin with because signed by a priest who isn’t even a psychiatrist, could have easily been checked by referring the document to the priest and the relevant department. As for the second report, it was also denounced by another priest, an eminent personage in his field, who says he never signed any such thing, and the same department—but not before the document and its contents got extensive airplay as a story in itself.
What this means is that media jumped the gun, merrily accomplishing the aims of those who forged the documents by reporting their contents and only afterwards informing the public that, by the way, they were blatant forgeries. This adds fuel to the glowing embers of manufactured scandal the Palace and Nacionalista drumbeaters have been vainly huffing and puffing to turn into a public relations fire.
It seems these people have taken the industry’s measure and found it wanting in the extreme.