In the wake of President Donald Trump’s self-serving assertion that any unflattering media reports about him are “fake news,” CNN, which has been among Trump’s most persistent critics, has launched an ad campaign on the theme, “Facts First.”
The visual device is an apple. The voice-over announcer intones, “This is an apple.” He then continues to point out that others might claim that it is a banana but that doesn’t change the fact that it is an apple.
“They might scream banana, banana, banana, over and over again,” the voiceover continues. “They might put BANANA in all caps. You might even start to believe that this is a banana. But it’s not. This is an apple.”
In other words, according to CNN, facts are facts, no matter how one tries to twist them.
That hasn’t stopped Fox News, an unabashedly pro-Trump network, from routinely presenting an apple as a banana. Of course, CNN has not been beyond portraying an apple as rotten, even if it is not necessarily so. And in the late night shows, which have made Trump-bashing standard comic material, every White House apple is spoofed as populated by worms — sometimes with the worms being unfairly added on.
In the Philippines, where social media trolls-cum-bloggers and communications-cum-political consultants proliferate, the apple is often portrayed as a calabasa or a balimbing.
In fact, in both the administrations of Trump and President Rodrigo Duterte, whenever the subject of an apple is discussed, the tactic is not simply to call the apple a banana but to completely change the subject and call attention to their antagonists’ stinking durian.
In the wake of indictments by Special Counsel Robert Mueller of three Trump associates, connected with the last presidential campaign, Trump has gone on a rampage on Twitter in an effort to re-focus attention on Hillary Clinton and her alleged links with the Russians.
In all media interviews, Trump apologists have also routinely referred to Clinton as “crooked Hillary.” They have also automatically extolled the achievements of the Trump administration. The claimed achievements have mostly been snatched from thin air, but the apologists manage to present them with a straight face.
In the case of the Duterte administration, any accusations made against him are immediately countered with vicious Aquino-bashing (the whole Aquino clan, not just former President Benigno S. C. Aquino III) and besmirching of everyone who dares to criticize Duterte, including the Catholic Church.
While these counter-attacks are made mostly on social media, there are readily identifiable newspaper columnists who have perfected the art of deflecting the topic, from Duterte to the “enemy” whom they generally label “yellow” or “dilawan.”
But the apple-to-durian tactic is not a monopoly of DDS (die-hard Duterte supporters). The anti-Duterte camps, from some bishops, to the political opposition, to Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV have also tended to exaggerate their portrayal of Duterte as a murderous monster and as a provincial mayor who has been promoted to his level of incompetence as President of the Philippines.
What has happened appears to be the resurgence of the Big Lie, a propaganda technique applied by Adolf Hitler and first introduced in his book, Mein Kampf.
This technique was restated as “A lie repeated often enough will be taken for the truth,” and has often been attributed to the Nazi’s propaganda czar, Joseph Goebbels. But it was Hitler who first introduced it.
The Big Lie has become standard fare served out by both the Trump and Duterte governments, but, aside from that, the other tactic that is being employed is the Vicious Counter-Attack — an attack designed to be so personal and brazen as to make the targets sorry for getting involved in the fray.
What has been the result of this exchange of virtual excrement? The poor, confused and largely misinformed Filipino readers, television viewers, and social media users must be amused, entertained, scandalized and, subsequently, convinced that all those involved are like the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. The classic case of people living in glass houses who throw stones.
Indeed, all of that mud-slinging has been counter-productive. Everyone gets dirtied. Everyone loses respect.
A cursory look at today’s Facebook yields the following postings, some made by folks whom I know to be relatively intelligent and knowledgeable:
“The Liberal Party has lecherously and liberally legalized and legitimized the art of corruption…small time at sisiw lang si Marcos!”
“Desperado na talaga ang mga yellow media. 30 years of garbage manipulating both broadcast and print media to change public opinion in favor of their political bosses. Their bosses who have amassed wealth through corruption and drugs syndication while providing inept and inefficient governance.”
The inference, obviously, is that, by comparison, the Duterte government is NOT corrupt. And yet, today’s Facebook also had the following posting of a Forbes Magazine article by Panos Mourdoukoutas:
“Duterte’s Philippines is getting more corrupt — President Rodrigo Duterte’s death squads didn’t kill corruption in the Philippines last year. But they killed freedom and democracy, and will kill the country’s economic growth and equity market. The Philippines dropped six notches in the 2016 Corruption Index country ranking published recently by Transparency International.”
Noted Philippine Star columnist, Boo Chanco, commented, also in today’s Facebook: “…from the nastiness in many of my FB feeds lately, i suspect a severe loss of brain matter is responsible. you got to be close to brain dead to want to break this country apart into two very distinct camps. it is not a recipe for the future. okay… is about how to deal with early alzheimers but i am starting to think this has become an epidemic even among younger people who no longer know how to think for themselves or allow other people to think for themselves.”
Trump’s bluster, exaggerations and outright lies have resulted in a slide in his approval rating in public opinion polls. A new Quinnipiac University poll reveals that Trump’s rating went down from an already low 35% to his lowest yet at 33%, with 61% of respondents saying they disapprove of his performance, and 55% saying they strongly disapprove.
In Duterte’s case, a new SWS poll reports that only 35% of Filipinos believe that he can deliver on his campaign vows, a double-digit drop compared to a survey last year. In June 2016, 63% believed he could make good on his promises. That eroded to 56% in September 2016 and dropped further to 52% in a March 2017 poll.
Significantly, Duterte suffered his biggest drop in his home region of Mindanao — a drop of 33%. In the Visayas, ostensibly another Duterte stronghold, the decline has been 18%.
Expectedly, Duterte’s apologists have “downplayed” the erosion, pointing out that “this has been the trend in previous administrations.” Trump, on the other hand, has tried to appear calm and unflappable in the face of recent negative developments, particularly the indictment of those involved in his campaign.
Privately, however, Trump is reported to be fuming and highly stressed. Like Trump, Duterte and his apologists must be realizing, by now, that all of his bluster and their vicious attacks and counter-attacks are not impressing the public.
Clearly, more and more thinking folks on both sides of the Pacific Ocean have begun to see that an apple is an apple and not a banana. And even the attempts to throw in a stinking durian to confuse them is no longer doing the Dotard and the Dutertard any good.
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.