Friday, August 24, 2007

Lynch mobs (and Malu)

You may have seen it on TV or even in person: a crowd catches up with a crook and, in the heat of the moment, proceed to beat him up. It's not a pretty sight. Almost always, there's one neighborhood tough who just has to throw in the last punch.

That pretty much sums up an initial impression that I had of l'affaire Malu, especially after seeing the long and extensive lists of commentary and invectives that's circulating on many blogs. Sean wrote an analysis that echoed my sentiments. Even though, like the last thug, I also threw in my own shot.

Not long after putting it up, I briefly considered whether I should take down my own Malu post or not. Did I really need to add to the milieu? Already it looked like the lynch mob I had just described.

But I decided to keep it. Why? Because I came upon her unrepentant and condescending "Diva" riposte.

Parallels have been drawn between Ms Fernandez and US radio commentator Don Imus. Imus was suspended, then afterwards fired, after making racist comments about a women's basketball team. It helps to compare the timelines of their events:

Two days after making the comments, Imus made a public apology. Three days later, he did so again on another show. When the public refused to be mollified and after advertisers pulled out sponsorship, NBC and CBS dropped Imus' show. Action was taken no more than a week after the incident.

In contrast, the Malu affair dragged on for over two weeks with no clear action from either the woman or the newspaper she was associated with. Indeed, there seems to have been denial of the affiliation. And then, of course, the "Diva" response which simply added fuel to the fire.

Lynch mobs form and grow out of control because there's no clear authority that will say "the guilty will be punished thus" and "the line ends here." The drama could have ended earlier if the Manila Standard Today or People Asia had issued a categorical position regarding Ms Fernandez.

Instead, it seemed like they buried their heads in the sand and waited for the reactions to blow over.

Did Ms Fernandez have to be fired? Not necessarily. MST or People Asia could have said: "We do not condone the statements of Ms Fernandez but we acknowledge her right to free speech" and stood by that position. It wouldn't have pleased everyone but it would have shown that someone was indeed in charge and would take action.

Closer to home and not too long ago, the Philippine Daily Inquirer faced a similar situation when retired Chief Justice Isagani Cruz took a swipe at homosexual culture. It took almost a month for the controversy to die down, but it helped that other PDI columnists addressed the same issue. Ultimately, it was an editorial acknowledgement that with finality closed the issue.

Without any action from the paper or the magazine, Ms Fernandez has taken what can be construed as the only honorable exit that would satisfy this lynch mob: a virtual seppuku.

(And as to the death threats? Well, that clearly crosses the line. Unfortunately, that's the undesirable combination of empty bravado under anonymity which, sadly, marks some Pinoys.)