CEBU

Seares: Duterte’s kiss got him massive worldwide press. Here’s why.

“You’re just envious...We enjoyed it.”

-- The president, on criticisms against his kissing of a woman on the lips in Seoul

THE envy that President Duterte said prompted critics to lash out over the incident in South Korea last Sunday could refer to the planet-wide publicity that he reaped, not just the “enjoyment” from that controversial kiss with a married woman.

Rarely do news media overseas give much attention to leaders of small countries unless they are deposed, assassinated, or accused of genocide or large-scale corruption.

Foreign media have reported about Duterte’s hostile statements against the U.S., his cursing of the European Union and the Pope, and his bristling response to the moves of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and International Criminal Court over 12,000 or so killings in the illegal drugs war.

Those, and the human interest stories such as his “crude jokes” about women, notably his order to shoot women communist rebels in the vagina and his frustration that he didn’t take part and lead in the gang rape of an Australian woman missionary.

It’s the latter category, the “interesting stuff” about Duterte, that foreign media readily pick up and use from the glut of stories that pour into their newsrooms from all over the world.

Newsworthiness

His newsworthiness (he’s a controversial president) and the subject (woman, kiss, misogyny) combined to make the Seoul performance of worldwide interest. Images of Duterte cajoling a married woman to kiss him on the lips were front-page, prime-time material even abroad.

A president’s news value comes with the position and power he holds. And newsworthiness grows by accretion: the more interesting or bizarre a president does or says, the higher notch his drawing importance goes up. Duterte’s news stock has risen since he assumed office, mostly by his mouth, which foreign media recognizes and even the president himself admits (“don’t mind my mouth,” he once complained).

The Filipino who last caught the interest of foreign media in the human interest, or bizarre, category was then First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos. She had earned such a niche in news halls of the world that to this day a story about her would still get media space or time, even if it would no longer be about her closets of shoes.

He has learned how

Eat your heart out, other presidents out there whom the foreign media ignore most of the time.

Our president has learned how to make it to such publications as the New York Times, Washington Post, The Telegraph and Daily Mail of London, BCC News, Japan Times, Associated Press and Reuters which picked up the story for the rest of the world to use. “Inggit lang kayo.”

* * *

Many headlines call it as they see the act

“DESPICABLE, Dirty Duterte” and “Creepy Duterte,” said the respective headlines in Mail.Com and Daily Mail in United Kingdom. “Creepy Duterte,” YouTube tagged the video showing the kissing scene on the Seoul stage.

Other headlines of world news organizations in their first-day stories also focused on the “outrage” (Daily Telegraph of London), the “condemnation” (BBC News), the “disgust” (Al Jazeera and The New Times of Rwanda), Duterte being “really sick” (Sky News), and the “misogyny” (The Straits Times of Singapore). A few others highlighted the situation Duterte got himself into: “Mouth gets Philippine president in trouble again” (New York Times).

The explanation or spin from Duterte defenders came out the second day, expectedly with much less impact than the Day One slamming and ripping. And many negative headlines didn’t bother to attribute the opinion to others, looking as if it were the news outlets themselves that expressed the revulsion.

This time, Duterte’s conduct got massive coverage, with wire agencies Associate Press, Reuters and others circulating the story and their client news outlets picking it up.

The lesson: even if he opens his mouth before a small audience in a corner of the earth, if it’s outrageous enough, it will be heard and seen round the world.


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