Credibility gaps and their effect on the (perception of the) Truth

As with every event that captures media’s attention – and, hence, by extension, the public, since both are symbiotically (some say parasitically) linked – Communications majors and practitioners should pay attention to the latest national drama playing out. Like with previous ones, like the Estrada and Davide impeachments or the previous “Escalations” against Gloria, there are many lessons to be learned and important observations to be seen.

When Nanette Diyco became our prof for public relations sometime in my junior or senior year in Ateneo’s Communications department, PR was still a nascent field, very much embryonic. In fact, in J. Walter Thompson, there was this small unit that was the then-No.2 Ad agency’s answer to the budding desire of the industry’s clients for promotion that went beyond the traditional channels. That was 1997 or mid 1998, and the business community at least was already aware of the need to go beyond simply selling its products through advertising and even direct sales. Because, as early as then, there was already the thinking that, sooner or later, simply doing “traditional” advertising just won’t cut it for a business, especially when the client is the subject of some very bad press.

One of the concepts emphasized to us by Ma’am Nanette was that PR serves the function of building up a “capital” of goodwill with the community that your client (and, by extension, its PR firm) can draw from when there is a need. Terms like “positive name recall” and “positive name association” all emphasized the need to build up a good image so when an issue raised its ugly little head, it can be easily managed. “PR capital”, at the very least, is supposed to act as a first line of defense for the now-beleaguered client, giving the PR firm enough time to properly assess the situation and react accordingly.

But what do you do when your client is the unlucky possessor of some very serious credibility issues?

Setting aside whether or not Jun Lozada is telling the truth or has glamored the Rabid Anti-Gloria Crowd (RAGC) into believing he’s their Chavit Singson, the PGMA Administration’s real problem isn’t that Lozada is believable… but that it suffers from a very, very, serious credibility gap.

I would not want to be in the shoes of whichever poor sap is doing issue management for Gloria. It would take a LOT of skill, guile and, yes, resources to even properly manage this brouhaha. Because the “normal” tools of counter-releases and talking heads are ineffective because your opponents can readily claim that you’re either doing a nefarious demo job on their boytoy or you’re doing nothing but lying. In Gloria’s case, its worse: she and her boytoys are doing both. And, to cap it all, the public has been led to perceive that the other side’s boytoy was supposed to have been rubbed out, mafia style!

Since my training in Comm. and my work as a PR practitioner for the last eight years is about making the Truth reflect what I want it to show, any discussion on the so-called objective Truth is irrelevant. I know for a fact that “Truth” is very much a relative term. People will believe anything as the Truth given a confluence of factors, regardless of the facts, despite inconsistencies.

The human psyche is amazing in this ability to gloss over essentials if it runs counter to one’s worldview. Unless the person is able to… transcend one’s personal biases over an issue, to adopt that necessarily discerning mentality of asking “what is this thing doing now?”, you’re going to have a better chance at convincing a brick wall to bleed than changing that person’s mind. Because it’s hard to get past that initial conceptual wall of prejudices and impressions.

And when you have a credibility gap as wide as Gloria does, then it really is a nightmare kind of situation.

In situations like this, any PR practitioner worth his salt should not just observe the actions and reactions of the general public. Given our knowledge of the tools and principles of mass communications and social engineering, we whose job is to “package” information know how info-consumers not of the “information elite” are subject to the whims of Gatekeepers and the insidious heirs of Goebbels that we are.

No: it is in the (supposedly) more discerning members of society that one must pay closer attention to, the ones who, by virtue of social standing, education, profession,connections and/or background have access to greater sources of information than the common tao. Because these are the ones who, potentially, have the capability to see through the smoke and mirrors game we PR personnel do.

And that’s what’s alarming about the Lozada “Escalation”: people who should be more discerning have been taken in by his statements, hook, line and sinker.

Am I saying he’s lying? Not exactly. An outright lie is burlesque, when you bring a campaign to the level of public discourse. All I’m saying is that, where and whom I work for being beside the question, anyone with a shred left of common sense would have noted the “flags” and inconsistencies in his statements, enough to at least draw up a parallel, if necessarily antagonistic, line of inquiry.

True, the moral purity of your “resource person” isn’t the question here, but there should be gauges as to how “true”, or at least, “apolitical” and “impersonal” the RP’s statements are. I’ve read the statements and reports, and its so amazing how far the leaps of logic have been, and how rumor becomes fact, and why little-but-important details have been so casually set aside.

As an example, note how much credence was given to a supposed text message to one of the Makati Business Club members about an impending tax investigation by the admin, as retribution to the Club’s support of Gloria’s ouster. There was no substantiation I’ve seen or heard, but this was adopted by everyone as gospel truth. Mar Roxas even condemned Gloria based on this. Was it truth or hearsay? We’ll never know now, for sure, will we? Would you even care to know?

Or, has no one really bothered to ask how Lozada could be so recalcitrant to face the Senate when he talked to Ping Lacson and Jamby Madrigal last December pa pala?

That’s what’s so galling: everyone talks about championing the Truth,when no one actually wants to get to the Truth of it all. This is a Salem Witch Hunt, a modern day Inquisition. The Napoleonic code on justice is being applied to her, because she has been deemed guilty and she has to prove her innocence, to a “court” that is as made up in its mind as the most ardent of Communist tribunals.

Countering the “truths” of the other camp is going to be nigh-impossible. Because Gloria has a huge credibility gap, and her Issue Managers screwed up at the beginning of all this. Government’s reactions of late to this have been better, by far, but whether its enough, and how much of her powerbase is she going to lose when the smoke clears, is the question.

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