Philippine mainstream media companies, most notably the Philippine Daily Inquirer, recently reported about the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community that tagged President Rodrigo Duterte as threat to democracy and human rights in Southeast Asia.
The Inquirer report, which is a fairly straightforward, almost word-for-word transcription of the Assessment’s section on Southeast Asia, is a perfect example of how facts that are presented without the proper context can have a big impact on how people can misinterpret the news.
From the headline, “US Intelligence Community: Duterte is one of threats to democracy in Southeast Asia,” to the selective use of the most provocative portions of the report, the casual reader cannot be faulted for getting the impression that Duterte is a real menace and a threat to the freedom of the Filipinos.
But before jumping to that conclusion, we should first try to understand where the report is coming from, and from what perspective those who prepared it view the world.
Origins and special interests
As the alleged Inquirer ‘journalist’ accurately copied from the Wikipedia entry on the “US Intelligence Community,” the threat assessment was collectively prepared by “a federation of 16 (United States) government agencies that work separately and together to… support the foreign policy and national security of the US.”
What this simply means is that the “threat assessment,” far from being universally accepted, much less recognized as gospel truth by other nations, is a biased presentation meant specifically for the pursuance of the interests of American “foreign policy and national security.”
This is something that Daniel Coats, who as Director for National Intelligence heads the body, lays down very clearly in the document’s introduction. He explains that the document is an “assessment of threats to US national security.” And that it “reflects the collective insights of the Intelligence Community (who) are committed every day to providing the nuanced, independent, and unvarnished intelligence that (is needed) to protect American lives and America’s interests anywhere in the world.”
With these additional information, it is clear that the report only has real value from the point of view of the US Government. It is neither good nor bad outside of this context. The report tells us exactly how American spies see Duterte and the rest of the world, and gives us a hint on what the future decisions of their “policymakers, warfighters, and domestic law enforcement personnel” will be when dealing with those they view as threats. We just have to see it for what it is, and act accordingly.
Dishonesty or treachery?
But Americans protecting America’s interests isn’t really news. In fact, it is the same all over the world. People expect it in the same way that they expect the media to be honest about their reporting. Which brings us back to why the Inquirer report is so disturbing. At best it was a hatchet job using carefully selected facts to show Duterte in a bad light; at worst it is an exercise in mind-conditioning initiated by foreign intelligence agencies to undermine a duly elected Philippine President. Either way, it shows how media companies use news reports to affect how people think.