POSTSCRIPT / November 16, 2004 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Faye, ma need help. Let's pray for them!

LAST WORD: After this final POSTSCRIPT on the subject, I am done with the fairy tale told by Faye Nicole B. San Juan and her mom Ma. Catherine.

The unraveling has shown that my initial skepticism, which was not shared by other media and many readers who fell for the sob story, was well-placed. We have been vindicated.

Now, like the rest of us, mother and daughter need some rest — if the guilt-stricken suckers in media would let them be.

I am turning over the messy mopping up to a major paper whose front page treatment validating the fairy tale spread the lie to the four winds. (Now the paper is frantically pedaling back and even making it appear that it exposed the fraud!)

It is really fantastic how a sixth grader could fool a sixtyish editor of a leading paper, but there you are.

* * *

REFRESHERS: Maybe we old fogies in this racket should go back to journalism school. If we are too conscious or too proud to enroll for a refresher’s course, there is a chance we might be allowed to listen quietly in the back row.

Or maybe we should take time from the cocktail circuit and join the free-wheeling exchanges in media kapihans chewing Faye’s story (and journalists’ reputations) to shreds.

What can I contribute to the exchange? Not much really, except to repeat our admonition to reporters still wet behind the ears to check and double-check the facts, and our advice to copy editors to challenge every sentence in every story assigned to them.

But then, what to challenge? If the story is well-constructed and the details seem to fall neatly into place, what is an editor to do?

* * *

PURE INSTINCT: Here is where experience and a dose of skepticism come in. A seasoned editor will sense somehow that something is wrong even if there are no palpable hints of it. Like a dogged policemen, he can sense when somebody is up to something.

How does he do it? I guess mainly by instinct — an extra sense shaped by years of pounding the beat, and sharpened by one’s inquiring, inquisitive nature.

This is one of the reasons, I surmise, why the reverend associate pastor of the Bread of Life Ministries fell for Faye’s story and lapped it up.

With due respect and considering his predisposition to grant good faith, I think the pastor, Rev. Bong Saquing, was not equipped at that point to deal with something as evil as that.

* * *

‘NAKORYENTE’: In our trade jargon, Bong was “nakoryente” (electrocuted). This is one of the reasons why I think we should not be too hard on him for having believed that inspiring story. Any other pastor in his shoes, including some of his elders, might have fallen for it, too.

Where I would fault him would be in his giving the story a twist of drama — taking a dig at American Idol finalist Jasmine Trias (who had nothing to do with Faye), and hitting the government for its skewed priorities and failure to help Faye (but how could the government have known about Faye winning a non-existent contest in Australia?).

Bong editorialized what should have been a straight factual report. The story as told and retold was gripping enough; it need not be embellished.

They could have gotten away with the tall tale, but this grizzled newsman, among a few others, pointed out the odd details sticking out and the Ministries was forced to investigate.

I think what really spurred the Ministries’ elders to dig deeper was my hinting at dark motives behind the political angle given the story. They were smarting from that in their letter of apology to me.

* * *

NEWS VS VIEWS: It is no longer the fad in many places, but some old schools insist that we should not mix news and views. Reporters are told to stick to the facts and not inject their opinion into their reportage.

In news magazines, however, the widespread practice is to editorialize the news. They pass off the practice as interpreting the news. They invoke the readers’ need for the news to be explained to them. How can a writer explain the news without injecting opinion?

This is one of the dangers of allowing magazine writers to edit newspapers without undergoing retooling. They may be handicapped by their not having gone up the ladder from beat reporting to deskwork and editing in a live newspaper setting.

Stepping on Trias and hitting government policy was not “explaining” Faye’s story. It was out and out misplaced editorializing.

* * *

GLARING PROOF: Begging their pardon, but the Ministries’ high priests cannot invoke their prior declarations favoring separation of church and state or their objection to religious leaders running for public office as proof that they did not use the Faye story to score political points against the government.

That is fractured logic.

The Ministries’ website is glaring proof of the political angle given the story. The title of the piece alone — “Misplaced Priorities Can Mislead a Nation” — proclaims the political bias built into the story.

Faye’s story was used to point out that the government was more concerned with showbiz frills than the essentials of life.

* * *

BAD FAITH: Had the Ministries simply retold the story of Faye in straight narration, no such political color would have crept in, and there would be nothing for them to deny the morning after.

If the story was proved false later, they could say that they had taken it in good faith. That would be a mitigating circumstance.

But good faith flew out the window when the writer embroidered the story and used it to hit at others who had nothing to do with Faye.

To have been “nakoryente” is usually forgivable in our business. Bong the pastor need not worry about failing in his awkward attempt at journalism. We all make mistakes, especially when shrewd characters are determined to feed us a bum steer.

Among many of us newsmen, we would most likely just laugh over such an error, even drink to it, with a resolve to do better next time.

* * *

POLITICAL AGENDA: Aside from its human interest element, Faye’s story as politicized in the Ministries’ website, was just the kind of stuff that newspapers whose editors harbor some political agenda would gobble up with gusto.

The story happened to jibe with the editors’ anti-government bias, and that added to its being an attractive item for the front page. They just had to use it — and give it prominent play — to attack the government again.

Sometimes we get away with bias, sometimes we don’t. This time, bias dragged the newspaper to a position where it had to frantically pedal back and do a belated (post-publication) checking and rechecking.

Let’s hope the paper does not attempt to make it appear now that, far from being suckered, it was actually the one that exposed the fraud!

The printed word is that powerful, especially in the hands of magicians.

* * *

CONCLUSION: With that, I say in conclusion that it is evident that Faye and her mother have serious emotional problems. They need help. The least we can do is pray for them.

The Bread of Life Ministries said it right in its letter of apology:

“Our Ministerial Board has decided to deal with this matter thoroughly. Faye and her mother have confessed to this fraudulent deed. We have come to realize the mother may have deep psychological problems needing professional attention. Our heart goes out to Faye and we will continue to help her in whatever way we can.”

To round it off, this was my response to the Ministries’ apology:

“As I said in my POSTSCRIPT today, I take these things in stride. I understand your predicament, including Bong’s fumble. Everybody makes mistakes in this complicated world.

“Your apology is well taken and accepted.

“But Faye really needs help. I’m sure you will continue to look after her.

“Please pray for me also. Thanks.”

And to our readers, I say: Bear with us. We all make mistakes.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 16, 2004)

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