Two presidential elections are happening this year, both interesting to me. One is amply covered by the media, the other, the one that ought to concern me—us—more, covered patchily.
Through the media, I’ve followed every American presidential election since John F. Kennedy ran in one, won and began a leadership that inspired comparisons with Camelot, although a leadership only to be ended prematurely, violently. My young family happened to be living in the very state where JFK was assassinated—Texas. I wept for his orphaned nation and family —two young children and a beautiful, classy widow.
I was still in the US when the tall Texan vice president, Lyndon Johnson, stepped up capably and smoothly into the presidential vacuum. It was then that I realized the practical wisdom of having a president and vice president elected as a tandem from one party.
Hereabouts, where the votes are separate for the two positions, a mess results, as has been the particular case in the current term. Vice President Binay, who comes from a party different from President Aquino’s, has been preoccupied almost since day one with his own presidential dream, spending more time laying the groundwork for his own run, if not campaigning outright, around the country.
And why not? He was a misfit in the Cabinet, more a liability than an asset.
But to go back to my fascination with American politics. How could such fascination fade when the media have never failed to keep me abreast? They brought the Vietnam war into the world’s, not only America’s, living rooms and helped bring it to resolution. They broke scandal after scandal in relation to that war to force Richard Nixon’s resignation.
They exposed Bill Clinton’s indiscretions, nearly ruining him, yet balancing things off to allow him to not only survive but also move on to become the statesman that he is. They made me suffer personally through George W. Bush’s presidency and his own war, in Iraq, where my American-born soldier son very nearly got sent.
And again I felt one with the rest of the world in celebrating the election of the first African-American president, Barack Obama. It must be obvious I’m a diehard would-be-Democrat, but that’s just me and not to media’s credit or through a fault of their own.
I believe my interest in American politics has been sustained because I’ve been kept informed. Even before CNN, I already knew more about American contemporary history than about the Philippine one. American newspapers, magazines, books, television, movies all find their way across the ocean in such assortments that one somehow gets an idea which to believe. Even if I relied on television alone I’d know more about them than about us.
Our own media, with the biases of some (obvious in their own pronouncements as well as in their choices of subjects and characters to feature) and the timidity of others, not to mention their lack of mental clarity, inarticulateness and general suitability, suffer gravely in comparison. Whatever the reason, local media is defaulting on its duty and power to inform and enlighten the public.
As a result, among the most reliable sources of information are not the media practitioners but information machines running with little human help; the telecasts of the Senate hearings, for instance, are more helpful un-annotated. When I listen or read reports on them, I sometimes wonder if the reporters and commentators watched the same show I did.
In dad’s time as a congressman, radio covered the House sessions live, but commentators made us understand those goings-on even better. Today I feel left hanging when questions I desperately wish asked, follow-up questions mostly, are not asked.
CNN never disappoints me. It may sometimes overdo it, but starve me for news and updates it never does. Philippine television, on the other hand, tends to overdo it with things that matter less or don’t matter at all; and even with things that do matter, they are served up underdone when served up at all. Weekends and holidays are news-blackout days, it seems.
You could imagine how tragic the situation is in this season, in an election especially critical given the characters contesting it. We may well wake up on post-election morning feeling that we are being pulled back to the darkest times in our nation’s history.
The heirs of martial law are not only back and not only on the offensive; they are in fact gaining. And the media have done little about it, particularly in separating fact from fiction and lies about martial law.