How media groups wrote about Duterte’s rant vs Obama
President Rodrigo Duterte achieved a whole new level of notoriety after various media groups reported that he called President Barack Obama a “son of a whore” right before departing for his first international summit.
Upon touchdown in Laos for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, he was besieged by media about his remarks. In a matter of hours, his meeting with Obama was "moved to a later date."
The events that unfolded demonstrate the power of media reports to determine events of regional, even global bearing.
No doubt the most captivating angles of news reports were centered on the premise that Duterte was referring to Obama when he had said “son of a whore.”
But a comparison of articles, both of Philippine and international media, shows how the same incident was covered in different ways. While a few articles, notably written by or quoting foreign news wire services, indicated Obama was the “son of a whore,” other articles did not.
Before going into the different articles themselves, let’s go into what led to Duterte’s infamous remarks.
He gave those remarks during the question and answer portion of a press conference he gave minutes before boarding his plane to Laos. It was held on Monday, September 5, at the pre-departure area of the Davao International Airport.
The question came from Jerome Morales, a correspondent of international news wire service Reuters. He asked if Duterte has prepared any line of communication to address issues on extrajudicial killings that may be raised by some leaders during the ASEAN Summit.
Duterte proceeded to answer in his typical hot-headed, curse-laden fashion whenever asked about human rights violations. His tirade was against Obama but also about the United States as a whole and “columnists” supportive of the US.
Rappler published the complete transcript of this part of the press briefing.
Different angles, same remarks
The dizzying array of articles generated by this single press conference shows the different ways media outlets here and abroad reported on Duterte’s remarks.
An ABS-CBN News online article, sourced from news wire service Reuters, carried the headline, “Duterte calls Obama a ‘son of a w****’.”
A slightly different angle was taken by an Inquirer reporter whose article bore the title, “If Obama raises rights issues, Duterte says he will use ‘P’ word.”
But another Inquirer.Net article on the same press conference but written by a different writer mentioned the curse word but did not say if it was directed at Obama.
This article, with considerably less shares than the “P word” one, was entitled, “Duterte to Obama: Don’t lecture me on rights, PH not a US colony.”
A similarly angled article was written by GMA News Online: “Duterte on discussing human rights with Obama: Nobody has the right to lecture me.”
PhilStar.com chose to angle their headline this way: “Duterte on possible confrontation with Obama: Who is he?”
Rappler’s article on the incident, written by this reporter, bore the title, “Duterte: Who is Obama to ask me about human rights?”
CNN Philippines’ article was the safest of them all with the title, “Duterte: I am not beholden to Obama, my master is the Filipino people.”
Foreign media coverage
The online articles of foreign media groups CNN International, The Guardian, and Al Jazeera were not about Duterte’s remarks themselves but about the events that unfolded after: Duterte’s response to the backlash and Obama’s postponement of their meeting.
But the articles still of course had to refer to Duterte’s controversial statements. All 3 media groups reported that Duterte cursed Obama.
Notably, The Guardian and Al Jazeera quoted news wire service Agence France-Presse (AFP) in making their report.
“Duterte called Obama a "son of a whore", saying that he would not be lectured by the US leader on human rights, according to AFP news agency,” read a sentence in the Al Jazeera article entitled, “Barack Obama cancels Rodrigo Duterte talks after insult.”
The Guardian also quoted AFP in their article, “Barack Obama cancels meeting after Philippines president calls him 'son of a whore.’”
AFP, Reuters, and other news wire services like Associated Press are subscribed to by most media networks to receive news reports from all parts of the world.
That's why two different news networks can publish the exact same article, both attributed to the same news wire service.
The ABS-CBN News online article also used an international wire service, Reuters, for their story.
Rappler also received AFP’s story since it subscribes to their services. True enough, it’s first sentence read, “Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called Barack Obama a ‘son of a whore’ on Monday as he vowed not to be lectured by the US leader on human rights when they meet in Laos.
But Rappler decided to keep our original story as is, instead of adding other quotes from AFP.
Who's the target?
In all the articles written by the media groups mentioned above, the way they used and explained a specific quote by Duterte was critical to how they angled their stories.
The quote I am referring to is this: “You must be respectful. Do not just throw away questions and statements. Putang-ina, mumurahin kita diyan sa forum na iyan. Huwag mo akong ganunin (Son of a whore, I'll curse you at that forum. Don't do anything like that to me).”
A look at the transcript of the question-and-answer portion of Duterte’s press conference shows it’s far from clear that Duterte referred to Obama as the “son of a whore.”
Reporters who were present at the press conference or those who watched the whole thing live observed that Duterte was not only ranting about Obama that time. He was ranting about the United States as a whole and “lapdog columnists” who are too pro-America for his liking.
In fact, Duterte’s sentences immediately before and after the “son of a whore” quote referred to these “columnists.”
Journalists who are used to covering Duterte know that his ramblings tend to go in different directions. He has a tendency to talk about different topics one after the other, leaving journalists or the public to determine what he meant by certain statements.
Duterte’s spokesmen often carry the burden of explaining the President, as what happened after the Obama remarks.
In Laos, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella and Communications Secretary Martin Andanar had to convey Duterte’s “deep regrets” for his statements.
It will be interesting to know what Duterte’s communication team has learned from this and if they think a few tips for the President are in order. – Rappler.com