Thursday, May 3, 2007

Deconstructing Suthichai Yoon: Lessons in Horrible Journalism


Sonthi and Surayud: same bed, different dreams

Suthichai Yoon

The Nation

If you believe some of the juicy political tales being bandied about by so-called "insiders", it's very likely there is no love lost between Premier Surayud Chulanont and chairman of the Council for National Security, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin.

Lesson #1: Unless you are a Thai journalist, it is inappropriate to use rumor and innuendo. Also, notice the liberal and unnecessary use of quotation marks around words that Suthichai substitutes for a code that he expects his readers to understand. As a reader of his illustrious newspaper, I would like to know who these "insiders" are instead of having quotation marks as a substitute. If we don't know who these "insiders" are, then how can we take their word that there is "no love lost" between our two favorite generals. In other words, Suthichai has based his whole column on a rumor that can't be proven.

But if you ask the "experts" whether, when push comes to shove, the latter is ready to exercise his power as the coup leader and ease out the former and take over Government House himself, the answer is most likely a hesitant "perhaps not".

Lesson #2: More of the unnecessary quotation marks and not enough fact. He asks a stupid rhetorical question that has no basis in reality.

The real "inside stories" - and there are usually many layers to such claims to exclusive insight - have it that the country's two top generals aren't really at loggerheads, as some recent rumours tend to suggest.

Lesson #3: Now let me ask the reader this: Isn't it a newspaper's duty to get the "inside stories?" Isn't is a newspaper's duty to question those with "exclusive insight" to get the facts? Isn't it a newspaper's duty to deal in facts rather than "rumours?"

But to Suthichai, an editor of a major metropolitan newspaper, those things are irrelevant.

But some members of the CNS, including one or two outspoken generals close to the Army chief, have made no secret of their disappointment with what they see as a laggard prime minister who has not pinned down ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra or moved the government forward to blunt criticism from several quarters against the coup-makers.

Lesson #4: Who are these generals? If their disappointment is not so secret, why not quote them and name them as sources? Also, I think it is ridiculous that coup members are supposedly complaining about not pinning down Thaksin when it was they who had overwhelming evidence to depose him in the first place. And why should Surayud protect the coup makers ? They have the guns. They have the 12 million baht propaganda slush fund. They are the big boys. Can't they protect themselves?

Sonthi has come under growing pressure from some of his own right-hand men to hand the premier an ultimatum - shape up or ship out. But the coup leader himself realises that things could get worse if he were to take over the premiership himself.

Lesson #5: Who are these right-hand men? By the way, The Nation has been droning on and on with the "Surayud is running out of time" columns for many months. Guess what? Nothing has happened. Surayud apparently has had plenty of time

Unofficial talks to persuade former prime minister Anand Panyarachun to come back a third time to lead the country after a military takeover have hit a brick wall. Anand, determined to distance himself as much as possible from such potentially damaging speculation, is said to have told Surayud that he won't take up the offer - and that the last thing he wanted was to make a bad political and military situation even worse.

Lesson #6: Where is the evidence of the Anand talks? And what difference would Anand make anyway?

It would be naive to suggest that Sonthi himself has not been toying with the idea - proposed either by overzealous aides or even concerned advisers - of wrapping up the issue by concurrently assuming the premiership himself. But he is also realistic enough to know that the road to hell could well be paved by good intentions.

Lesson #7: Where is the evidence that Sonthi wants to be PM? Also, Suthichai loves a good cliche or two, or three, or four.

The whole idea behind him asking his former boss to become premier after the September 2006 putsch was to create a safety valve - a buffer that he could lean on as a political wall and, at the same time, use as tangible proof that he hadn't staged the coup to attain a hidden political ambition.

Lesson #8: Mixed metaphors are not good. I'm trying to picture a safety valve/buffer in my mind. What does "...staged the coup to attain a hidden political ambition" mean? That makes no sense.

Sonthi could nudge Surayud out and take over the premiership himself without too much fanfare. The soft-spoken - but not necessarily submissive - Surayud has gone on the record on several occasions as saying that he will step down unconditionally if asked. But Sonthi knows he would put himself in the firing line just as the political storm is brewing if he takes that short-cut to the top political post - even if it was his for the asking.

Lesson #9: More hypotheticals without a basis in fact or reality.

Sonthi has so far stuck to respectful gestures towards Surayud, occasionally injecting a slight tone of authority to gently remind the public that he retains the right to nominate and fire the prime minister. Surayud, on the other hand, has kept the chief coup-maker, his former right-hand man, at a proper, courteous distance. Sonthi's close aides may think otherwise but it is quite obvious to political observers that at this juncture Sonthi needs Surayud, more than Surayud needs him.

Lesson #10: If Sonthi needs Surayud and all this feuding is based on rumor, why write about it?

Despite the crescendo of dissenting voices from various quarters for the two generals to break the current deadlock, neither Sonthi nor Surayud can really afford to take things into their own hands and discard the other from the overall scheme of things. It would be calamitous for both of them not to realise that time isn't on their side and there aren't many viable options ahead. The brief remaining part of the tortuous political journey may be even more risky than the beginning of it, but the only practical direction is to make plans to curb any possible violent reaction to decisions to be made on two upcoming and crucial dates: May 30, when the Constitution Tribunal will decide whether to dissolve the two major political parties, and September 3, the tentative date when the referendum on the constitution is held.

Lesson #11: What deadlock? One minute Suthichai says that everything is based on rumors, then he says that there might not be truth to the loggerhead rumours, then he states that there is a deadlock. WTF? Which is it? What evidence is there to suggest that everything won't go on as planned? Why does Suthichai love to create drama when none exists?

The third moment of truth - the next election day - will relieve the two generals of the most challenging assignment of their lives.

In other words, even if Sonthi and Surayud are tempted to break ranks with each other at the instigation of their respective advisers, the cold reality of politics on the ground dictates that the two generals will have to stick it out together.

Lesson # 12: Duh. Then what was the point of writing this horrible column if it means nothing.

To turn an old Chinese saying on its head, the two may have different dreams but they have no choice but to continue to share the same bed - even if it means they sleep in the back-to-back position.

Lesson #13: End the column with a dumb proverb or stupid cliche.

So ends our lesson in abysmal column writing at the Suthichai School of Horrible Journalism


Anonymous said...

I have a question, which is only tangentially applicable to this post, for which I apologise. But it is a serious quetion none-the-less.

Most westerners I have met or spoken with by whatever means, if they have been here a while, consider Thais to be both arrogant and incompetent. Are Thais, and especially the government aware that this is the prevailing view outside their Magical little Kingdom? If so, why do they appear not to notice of the ear-shattering laughter which issues from overseas when these people fuck up yet another thing? I know ex-PM Anand is aware of this and has expressed concern about it, but why is it that the situation is not addressed? Wht does the government not encourage TQM or excellence or giving a shit or something?

Oddly, this is a genuine question and I really wqould appreciate any thoughts that you guys may have.


hobby said...

From Wikipedia: "Ethnocentrism is the tendency to look at the world primarily from the perspective of your own culture."

It goes both ways.

Anonymous said...

Hobby, I dont understand what you mean. Thailand want to play ball in the big park but seems not to understand that the people already in the big park think they are lazy and incompetent. The question was, do the Thais know what the world thinks about them or are they living in some weird parallel universe somewhere where they actually think they do things well? Like airports?


hobby said...

Carter said: "are they living in some weird parallel universe somewhere where they actually think they do things well"

I would say that is a reasonable explanation, but in my opinion that state also applies to everyone (you, me & Fonzi included)