The Manila Times : Elections as marketplace of ideas: No one dictates who sells and what voters should buy

27 January 2022

By Yen Makabenta | The Manila Times

TO avoid being entrapped by the pomposities and deceptions of GMA7's and Jessica Soho's presidential interviews, I submit that the central argument about the elections and the campaign should return to fundamentals: the idea that an election campaign is essentially a competition in the marketplace of ideas between rival parties and candidates for the support of voters or customers, who are sovereign in an election.

The sellers in the market are the candidates who meet the constitutional and administrative requirements in running for public office. Political parties are vehicles and partners, which candidates use to run successfully for office.

The voters or customers and the general public are the sovereign in an election. Their choice of candidate at various levels in the balloting determines who wins what office in the election.

Once the votes are counted or properly tabulated, an election winner is proclaimed by the Commission on Elections.

Marketplace of ideas

This is from an article by David Schultz in the First Amendment Encyclopedia:

"The marketplace of ideas refers to the belief that the test of the truth or acceptance of ideas depends on their competition with one another and not on the opinion of a censor, whether one provided by the government or by some other authority.

"This concept draws on an analogy to the economic marketplace where, it is claimed, through economic competition superior products sell better than others. Thus, the economic marketplace uses competition to determine winners and losers, whereas the marketplace of ideas uses competition to judge truth and acceptability. This theory of speech therefore condemns censorship and encourages the free flow of ideas as a way of viewing the First Amendment.

"Perhaps the origins of translating market competition into a theory of free speech was John Stuart Mill's 1859 publication On Liberty. In Chapter 2, Mill argues against censorship and in favor of the free flow of ideas.

"Asserting that no one alone knows the truth, or that no one idea alone embodies either the truth or its antithesis, or that truth left untested will slip into dogma, Mill claims that the free competition of ideas is the best way to separate falsehoods from fact.

"The first reference to the marketplace of ideas was by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in Abrams v. United States (1919). Dissenting from a majority ruling that upheld the prosecution of an anarchist for his anti-war views under the Espionage Act of 1917, Holmes stated: 'But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.'

"Since this first appeal to the marketplace of ideas as a theory of free expression, it has been invoked hundreds, if not thousands of times, by the US Supreme Court and federal judges to oppose censorship and to encourage freedom of thought and expression."

GMA7 and the campaign

GMA7 and Jessica Soho have interjected themselves into the 2022 election campaign as a seemingly indispensable part of the election process.

Ostensibly, Soho's interviews of a select set of candidates is invaluable assistance to voters in deciding whom they should vote for.

But GMA and Soho left out other candidates who apparently do not impress them. They and their supporters are now crying against unfair treatment.

Ostensibly also, Soho's interviews will help candidates in clarifying their ideas and arguments for voter support. Or she can correct through her questioning some distortions or lies in the campaign.

More than this, however, GMA7 has paraded the Soho interviews as a medium to judge or evaluate the various campaigns and candidates.

Probably as much as the lackluster presidential aspirants, GMA is dismayed by the overwhelming domination at this point of the campaign by the tandem of former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Davao City mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.

Every pre-election survey and favorability poll during the past three months have established Marcos and Duterte as the overwhelming choice of voters, and they have such a commanding percentage share of the votes, it is believed that they can no longer be challenged in winning the election.

Bongbong Marcos is slated to become the first president since 1986 to be elected by a majority of Filipino voters.

The campaign of the BBM-Sara UniTeam is so effective and charismatic the reported electoral bases or bailiwicks of other aspirants are crumbling before their juggernaut. Cavite, Manila and Camarines Sur – presumed bailiwicks of Lacson, Domagoso and Robredo, respectively — have lately been reported as displaying majority support for Marcos.

Soho interviews

It was in this light that GMA7 and Jessica Soho came up with the plan for the Jessica Soho presidential interviews.

The first of their objectives is evidently to bring Marcos down from the stratosphere. Soho would do this by grilling BBM with choice questions designed to embarrass or flummox BBM; the questions would come from the familiar grab bag of anti-Marcos hate speech and propaganda, things like martial law, human rights, hidden wealth, and whatever dirt can be thrown at the Marcos family.

Second, the plan aspired to bring up the support and standing of the other candidates who are languishing in the shallows by giving them free exposure and prominence in Soho's interviews.

The plan for the interviews was derailed when BBM declined to be interviewed by Soho on the ground that she is a biased journalist, having already known in previous broadcasts her persistent hounding of Marcos Jr. and the Marcos family.

With the presidential race in such a lopsided state, it is uncertain whether the TV networks can restore the highly lucrative and dominant position of television in political advertising during a national election. All networks are bracing for hard times ahead.

With this single stroke, BBM battered the commercial prospects of GMA's enterprise journalism. With the frontrunner in the presidential race refusing to participate, the scheme lost overnight many of its prospective advertisers. The audience of the Soho interviews was severely cut down in number.

At the same time, other broadcasting groups made a move to conduct their own interviews of the candidates, and Marcos made it a point to participate in them. He had a successful interview with Boy Abunda on ABS-CBN. And radio station DZRH launched its own "Bakit Ikaw" interviews in which BBM was the first interview subject.

Personal questions in TV interview

Bongbong Marcos was indubitably right and wise in refusing to be interviewed by Jessica Soho. He remembered not only some unfruitful past encounters, and he appears aware of how personal questions and issues have been recently rejected and abandoned by notable networks and broadcasters as counter-productive.

The trend against personal questions in political interviews was most vividly illustrated by two interviews that happened in the 1988 US presidential election.

The incidents are related by Bill Bennett in his book, A Century Turns (Thomas Noelson, Nashville, 2009).

Bush interview

In January 1988, the US vice president George H.W. Bush went on CBS Evening News with Dan Rather for a wide-ranging interview. Dan Rather, even then, was considered a biased anchor, eager to embarrass Republicans.

When Rather tried to badger Bush with questions about his alleged involvement in the Iran-Contra deal, Bush pushed back strongly. After a series of unremitting questions, the dialogue on national television went this way.

Rather: I don't want to be argumentative, Mr. Vice President.

Bush: You do, Dan.

Rather: No, no, sir, I don't.

Bush: This is not a great night, because I want to talk about why I want to be president, why those 41 percent of the people are supporting me. And I don't think it's fair…

Rather: And Mr. Vice President, if these questions are….

Bush: …To judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran, how would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set in New York

Rather: Well, mister…

Bush: Would you like that?

Rather: Mr. Vice President…

Bush: I have respect for you, but I don't have respect for what you're doing here tonight.

Up to that time, no one had ever talked back to one of the leaders of what was perceived as the establishment of elite public opinion on the air on his own program.

But Vice President Bush traded fire for fire here, pointing out on Dan Rather's own broadcast that Rather had an imperfect past as well.

This blunted Bush's strange image as a wimp. The man was an unquestioned war hero and veteran of World War 2.

Dukakis interview

Bennett's other story concerned Vice President Bush's opponent in the 1988 US election, former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis.

During the 1988 presidential debate, CNN newsman Bernard Shaw asked governor Michael Dukakis a question about capital punishment:

Shaw: Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?

Dukakis: "No, I don't, Bernard. And I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life. I don 't see any evidence that it's a deterrent, and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime."

Bernard Shaw's question had to be the most personal question a member of the press had ever posed to a candidate for national office.

Dukakis' dry, matter-of-fact response was devastating to his campaign. Even his strongest partisans despaired of his campaign skills.

Jessica Soho still has a lot to study about the challenge and art of interviewing. No wonder, Prof. Clarita Carlos of UP calls Jessica's interview questions "cute" and irrelevant to politics.