News Tracker: Philippines
Melanie Thornton, the heroine of Ana Marie Cox’s snarky novel, Dog Days, has two obsessions: Her BlackBerry – more often referred to as her Berry – and real-time e-mail alerts of breaking news. The Berry of course keeps Ms. Thornton networked, even when she’d prefer to hide. It’s for good reason that in real life the Berry is also known as the CrackBerry (There’s a website by that name, as you must know.).
The e-mail alerts are how Washington’s political operatives establish how influential (or inconsequential) they are. The alerts political operatives like the mid-level, barely fictional Ms. Thornton set up are for themselves, and perhaps their rivals, and only secondarily for their employers and their rivals. And considerable angst is spent and effort devoted to ensuring that mentions in traditional media and blogs are picked up and distributed.
At the most basic, political operatives and other high visibility aspirants religiously ensure that reporters and columnists use the full public name they have chosen for themselves, much like the name that appears in the byline of this column, to minimize the chances that the search engines that send out breaking news alerts will miss a pickup. Their business cards, the memos they write, and the opinion pieces they pen all carry a boilerplate bio: A standard sentence, such as “Mr. Operative is the chief of staff of Senator George Harumpff, and was formerly the executive producer of the closely watched, Good Morning Washington.”
If you haven’t already, before you run off to set up a Google alert for your name, it’s worthwhile to note that not all alerts are the product of self-absorption and adoration. Investors in stocks, for example, have alerts set up for companies they hold an interest in, and are considering as a potential investment. Executives in corporations with overseas operations likewise set up alerts for those countries, particularly during the due diligence period that precedes investment.
And then there are authors, analysts, and pundits that set up alerts for the people, organizations, and places that they write about. For several months, my co-authors and I have been involved in writing a second edition of Marketing Asian Places, and so I have alerts set up for Asian places that we expect to feature. Most of my alerts are set up on Google, but for certain countries, such as the Philippines, I also have alerts set up on major media sites, such as The New York Times.
The alerts serve as an informal litmus test of perceptions of the Philippines, and how consequentially or inconsequentially it is viewed by Times editors, journalists, and readers. Last Sunday, I received an alert containing links to a surprising number of Times stories published online in which the Philippines was mentioned. One story was in the Travel section, another in Sports, one the Opinion section, and another in the magazine.
In the Travel story, entitled “Blue Heaven for Big Fish,” the Philippines is mentioned in the first sentence, but only because Palau, the subject of the story, is “roughly 500 miles east of the Philippines.” There’s one other mention, along with Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, which indicates that while these places have more fish varieties than Palau, severely damaged reefs mean that their waters have been depleted of “anything sizable.” At best, this is a marginally negative story.
In “A Nation’s Passion Lives in a Rivalry of Green vs. Blue,” former Ateneo de Manila adjunct professor Raphael Bartholomew writes that La Salle-Ateneo games in the basketball-crazed Philippines “attract senators, foreign diplomats, a smattering of Forbes’s 40 richest Filipinos, movie stars and enough professional basketball players to play five-on-five. They are the elite of Philippine society.” Although it could be debated, this story gets a positive ranking.
Lucy Kaylin, the executive editor of Marie Claire magazine and author of The Perfect Stranger: The Truth About Mothers and Nannieswrites about “Domestic Help” in Opinion, noting that many of New York’s real-life nannies – as opposed to those depicted in The Nanny Diaries, “come from difficult circumstances in the Caribbean, the Philippines, Central and South America and Africa. Some have been chased here by wars and economic collapse.” For the Philippines, this story gets another negative ranking.
The magazine piece, “The Dissenter,” by Jeffrey Rosen, analyzes increasing tension between U.S. Supreme Court justices, who are sharply divided across ideological lines, with conservatives generally carrying the day and liberals increasingly agitated. The Philippines mention has to do with efforts by the U.S. military “to execute a Japanese general in the Philippines in violation of the Geneva Convention,” and its relevance to prosecuting terrorists. At best, the story gets a neutral ranking.
Ms. Cox parlayed irreverent political commentary as the former editor of the political blog Wonkette, into a highly respected job as Washington Editor of Time.com. Bet she kept, and keeps, close watch on her alerts and influences what they say.
Countries can, and should, do that, too.