Belittling the most vulnerable has no place in journalism

By Mabel Doge Luhan

What is the job of a newspaper, if not to demean and belittle the most vulnerable members of our society? Comfort the comfortable, and don’t forget to afflict the afflicted!

A few years ago, Marianas Variety “reporter” Bryan Manabat reached for the pinnacle of bad taste when calling children “dropouts.” Then he doubled down when he was called out on it. After all, a man as highly educated as Bryan is (he “attended” Northern Marianas College, you know) has no problem looking down on those who haven’t matched his tremendous academic accomplishments.

Today our man Manabat is at it again: “Police: Arrested woman was soliciting money” is the headline of an October 23rd article about a robbery.

The very first line: “…was soliciting money for sex…”

The word “sex” appears nine times. In an article supposedly about a robbery.

The word “robbery” appears three times. In an article supposedly about a robbery.

In fact, sex had nothing to do with the robbery, nor with the charges. Nobody was charged with prostitution, nor with any sex-related crime. Although I still can’t figure out what English word he misread or legal principle he misunderstood to get the supposed charge of “principals and robbery.”

But look. There’s a woman behind bars. And her illness made her desperate for money, and she was more than likely manipulated into making some regrettable decisions.

That would’ve been one way to approach that aspect of the article: “Man habitually pays for sex,” or “Criminals force woman to do sex work.”

But that wouldn’t have given Manabat that sadistic little dopamine surge, would it? And, just like writing “man” instead of “male individual,” it wouldn’t have filled up those column inches.

So of course the article purportedly about a robbery is all about shaming and humiliating a victim — likely a victim not just of a debilitating disease we see all around our islands, but also of sexual abuse and coercion.

The victim-shaming and puerile tone aren’t surprising. Most of the Variety’s reporters have never read anything other than Filipino tabloids, Facebook, and the menu at Shirley’s. Real journalism is available in huge quantities for free on the web, but why should they expend the effort?

Compassion, sensitivity, and journalistic decorum can be learned. Misogyny can be unlearned. Judging from how Manabat handled the complaints over the “dropouts” line, and how little Manabat’s “editor” actually edits anything (other than comments criticizing anyone he’s scared of), that won’t happen.


Mabel Doge Luhan is a rootless cosmopolitan and a woman of loose morals. She resides in Kagman V, where she pursues her passions of crocheting, beatboxing, and falconry.


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