POSTSCRIPT / June 4, 2017 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Trump nakuryente on ‘terrorist attack’

NEW YORK – We were watching President Donald Trump on CNN about to announce (3:32 pm EST, Thursday) the United States’ disengaging from the Paris Climate Accord when he opened his speech with something else just as dreadful.

“I would like to begin by addressing the terrorist attack in Manila,” he said. “We’re closely monitoring the situation, and I will continue to give updates if anything happens… But it is really very sad as to what’s going on throughout the world with terror.”

“Our thoughts and our prayers are with all of those affected,” Trump told the crowd in the White House Rose Garden, referring to reported gunfire, explosions and pandemonium at the Resorts World Manila that left 37 dead.

His citing the “terrorist attack” conjured up images of Islamic State (SI) jihadists gaining a foothold in the Philippine capital. It fueled fears that the outlaws in Marawi City had been joined — not just “inspired” — by Islamic State (IS) jihadists out to establish a global caliphate. It raised the question of martial law in Mindanao possibly being imposed nationwide.

Leaving us in suspense by the paucity of details, Trump proceeded with his speech on climate change, a global crisis that he dismissed during the presidential election campaign as a hoax, a Chinese concoction.

Six hours later, we learned to our relief that the “terrorist attack” reported by Trump – who often complains of “fake news” about him — was false, albeit alarming.

“Nakuryente si Trump!” We told friends, taking from our glossary of home-grown pressroom terms the word “kuryente” – the equivalent of the Americans’ “bum steer” referring to a false lead or a wrong report.

We wonder, though, if the US President knew something not known to the Philippine police who have been saying there was no terrorist attack. Coincidentally, in front of the Philippine consulate-general at 556 Fifth Avenue there has been heightened NYPD presence that includes “counter-terrorism” specialists.

• Were their slips lies or errors?

TO OUR amazement, reader Leonard Pascual (no relation) dug up a Postscript we wrote some 13 years ago on the origin of “kuryente.” Dusting off the term seems timely in light of a string of “kuryente” that seared Philippine mainstream and social media of late.

One remarkable sample was when President Rodrigo Duterte reported that the police chief of Malabang, Lanao del Sur, had been decapitated by Maute terrorists. But the officer promptly showed up alive and with his head still there.

Also, the state-run Philippine News Agency filed reports of soldiers praying for their fallen comrades and helping evacuate trapped Marawi residents. Problem was the PNA posted pictures taken long ago in Vietnam and Honduras. That was not “kuryente,” but falsification.

The “kuryente” happened when the items were passed on by bloggers and administration propagandists. Like Trump and Duterte, they were “nakuryente” when they swallowed the false PNA items hook, line and sinker.

This is not to ridicule anyone. We ourselves have been scarred by mistakes in this extremely exacting profession, so we look kindly on younger craftsmen dotting their tracks with their own inevitable share of errors.

We have said on Twitter that when bloggers picked up the dishonest PNA pictures, they were not consciously peddling lies. We’re ready to grant that they merely erred in judgment, presumably not aware that the photos/captions were wrong.

The lesson for all of us in the trade is to keep checking, checking and checking – and to make prompt corrections when we err.

• Tracing the origin of ‘kuryente’

BUT GOING back to the origin of “kuryente,” here is a condensed recap of what we wrote in Postscript on Nov. 21, 2004 <>:

Where did “kuryente” come from? What exactly does it mean? We were asked these questions by readers who encountered it in our reportage on Faye Nicole San Juan, the sixth grader who did the incredible feat of winning a non-existent global science competition in Australia!

(We reaped ridicule when we first cast doubts on the authenticity of the reported award, but after doggedly pursuing basic details and reporting them in several columns, we were vindicated.)

The Bread of Life pastor who listened to Faye, plus the reporters, columnists and readers who innocently jumped in, fell for the “Faye-ry tale” — and were “nakuryente.”

Kuryente” (literally “electric current”) is used by Filipino newsmen to refer to a bum steer or a false story. One is “nakuryente” when he picks up and passes on the false story.

By the time martial rule was imposed in September 1972, when I was covering the Senate and the political opposition for the old Manila Times, “kuryente” was already in use. Based on press club anecdotes at the time, the term’s evolution started when a police reporter of a major daily came too late to cover a big fire in a congested squatter section of Pasay.

(With a deadline to beat, a reporter caught “natutulog sa pansitan” normally asks his colleagues for information. They may help with enough details, but when a newbie has an attitude, the veterans might just set him up for a “kuryente.”)

Our tardy reporter was told that five persons died. He was given their names, ages, and addresses. He was casually told also that the five fatalities were electrocuted (“nakuryente”) during the fire.

The reporter had no more time to double-check, to interview victims and firemen, so he relied on his imagination to fill in the blanks. After all, if you have seen one big fire, you have seen ‘em all.

He fell back on the formula for a fire story saying “Five persons died yesterday when live wires snapped and fell on them during a fire that razed a squatter area in… et cetera.” His masterpiece continued: “The victims were identified by the police as… (names, ages, addresses).”

The next day, the “kuryente” angle and not the fire itself was the biggest story in jocular press circles, with everybody (minus our reporter) having a good laugh. Btw, there were fewer than five persons killed, none of them electrocuted.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 4, 2017)

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