Sunday, December 16, 2012

Silent treatment: Spin doctors go into damage control mode after disgraced MP Michael Palmer quits politics

In attempting to save face, the party's spin doctors risk losing people's hearts and minds.

With the People's Action Party (PAP, aka the Men In White) in damage control mode after disgraced Speaker of Parliament and ex-Member of Parliament (MP), Michael Palmer, quit politics last Wednesday, there is a risk that Singaporeans may feel the MIW do not have what it takes to roll with the blows and suck it up when the chips are down.

Post-mortems of newspaper coverage of the political debacle indicate that the city-state's mainstream media appear to have acknowledged the call by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean to give the Palmers "time and space for healing to take place".

So apart from Mr Palmer's appearance at a press conference on Wednesday and a farewell visit that same evening to grassroots leaders at Punggol East, which he represented as MP, the man has seemingly dropped off the face of the earth.

No-fly zone
If the Singaporean media's lethargy in chasing the newsmaker behind the biggest upheaval to shake the Lion City's political scene since last May's General Elections stems from a desire to give Mr Palmer space he needs to get his shattered family life back on the mend, then it appears this no-fly zone does not extend to lesser mortals people associated with the extramarital affair which shot down Mr Palmer's high flying political career.

His love interest, Laura Ong, has been outed by her former employer, the People's Association (PA).

Local scribes dug out the name of Ms Ong's husband, Darren Seng Chee Kwong, with whom she is estranged.

And in a demonstration that local newshounds can hunt down their quarry, the 90 cents newspaper tracked down one Andy Lim, the man said to be dating Ms Ong, visited his home and attempted a phone interview.

They did the same to Ms Ong's flat in Marine Parade to the extent that a resident had to summon the police. Three interns from the Today newspaper were even caught on the premises of Ms Ong's former office. Heaven only knows what they expected to find there - incriminating love notes, signs of trysts?

Main course vs side dishes
The local media has been silent on whether such tactics were unleashed at Palmer's gate.

And it's not that the 90 cents newspaper lacks of effort, brains or grit to do so. During the NKF saga, a 90 cents newspaper photographer spent eight hours stalking TT Durai's main gate. He was rewarded with a picture of the man crouched, fugitive-like in the backseat of a car as it left the residence and was commended for his effort with a newscom award.

Why go for side dishes when the main course is left untouched?

Could it be that the mainstream media has held off in a nod to the Establishment's placement of an out-of-bounds marker at the Palmer residence?

If there is no gag order, is the media so cowed by previous run-ins with the Establishment that local newsrooms have decided that discretion is the better part of valour as far as Palmergate is concerned?

It surely couldn't stem from newsroom incompetence (or do I stand corrected?) as even the greenest journalism newbie would recognise that the newsmaker to gun for hasn't been quoted in any way, shape or form since Wednesday's press conference.

If Mr and Mrs Palmer speak on record, that would be a headline story.

How did the affair begin? Who made the first move? How long did it last? What did you both do on Mondays? Why the mea culpa? What did you say to your wife and 10-year-old son when it was game over?

Don't hold your breath for answers to these questions in Singaporean newspapers.

Iron hand
The party's tight control over newsflows is worrisome. It points to an attitude towards information management during a crisis that shows Singaporeans cannot rely on the mainstream media to tell the full story. It telegraphs the party's sensitivity to bad newsflows. When the circuit breaker trips, the game plan is to clamp up on news like this whole blooming country would collapse from the bad news and foreign investors would run away.

Indeed, one could argue the opposite: that investors in a country where people have to read between the lines to sense what is going on are going to be even more cautious where they park their funds.

In an altruistic scenario where well-meaning MIW party leaders have Singapore's best interests at heart, tight control of information is not necessarily a bad thing. Internal disciplinary processes deal with politicians who stray and the party does not tolerate one atom of abuse of power, position and privilege. These actions may take place away from the public eye but the end results - fallen stars like Mr Palmer - are an unmistakeable sign that housekeeping has come a-calling.

However, such blind trust is open to abuse.

The rot will not set in overnight and the pace of change may be glacial.

Indeed, it make take decades of obseisance, war stories handed down from one newsroom generation to the next, more rice bowls of journalists broken over time before one day, Singapore wakes up to a generation of running dogs - to borrow a phrase from Singapore's first Chief Minister, David Marshall - who will not only eat out of one's hand but will also beg and do tricks on command.

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Sgcynic said...

On a separate note, contrast the banners hung up to wish residents happy holidays for every major date. The WP's consists of a simple message to residents; on the other hand, the PAP's showcase the MPs. The message is clear - the PAP takes every opportunity to sell themselves. That's understandable, but for the (in)congruent signal that their actions always lead one to conclude that they put the party above the state.

Anonymous said...

I am glad you are aware of that. I stay in Lor Ah Soo under Aljunied GRC. What a refreshing change from before. There are no personality pictures on those boards and banners.
I too wonder about those under PAP
wards whether the motive is to wish the residents or selling themselves as the pictures are always bigger than the words

David Boey said...

Hi both (above),
Group dynamics calls this the familiarity-attraction effect.

One is more likely to be comfortable with a familiar face (like someone you see on the bus regularly) than a total stranger. Ample studies have documented this effect, which is interesting to mull over.

By giving you face time thru those banners, the MP is subliminally building mindshare eventhough he/she isn't physically present.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

No worries...if there is a War...and PAP Singapore is losing..

u can count on the PAP MSM to be told to report we are winning...

We only know when we lost when the PAP are caught in the flesh as they are the first to flee/fly out of Singapore...

There are many historical precedents we can relearn from the past....societies with a small elite or small manic power controlling bloc at the top always cause their country and society to run down, become dynsfunctional and worse...

So how PAP elite? Like what you see and know...

Where is your humanity? Nonce i see.

Anonymous said...

The Chinese Night Daily even reported that the lady in question is a two-timer (each leg standing in 2 boats) to the extent of interviewing her friends, relatives & even the other boyfriend's father.

How the reporter or editor manage to made it so juicy is really beyond my wisdom, as if they are trying to vent their anger & vengeance to expose her?

But on the other hand, this same paper is so strangely silent & shed no dirt on Palmer even though he sort of admitted he did the wrong thing by putting his dick in the wrong hole (every Monday?)

Is PAP through the MSM trying to paint the picture it's the lady's fault to seduce Palmer ?

sgcynic said...

The putting up of the banners started several years back when the PAP found that many residents did not know who their MPs were due to the numerous walkovers.
It's about mindshare. That's why PAP MPs get to go for all the grassroots events. Even those PAP candidates who lost the elections get to stay as "grassroots advisers" and get invited for grassroots events by the PA but not the elected opposition MPs. It's all about "mindshare", isn't it?

David Boey said...

Hi sgcynic,
Yep, it's like creating brand recall, to use a marketing analogy.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

I eagerly await your views.

Anonymous said...

Another ambitious bitch bites the dust.

She chose this path rather than through hard work and (probably too much for her) education.

Why did she join PA in the first place? Same reasons?