Telegramgate And The Necessity Of Thorough Coverage

Telegramgate And The Necessity Of Thorough Coverage August 4, 2019

We need to talk about Telegramgate. And more specifically, on the real dangers of an overemphasis on it which makes it possible for us to miss the forest for the trees. And by us, I mean estadounidenses whose knowledge of Puerto Rican politics is secondary, not primary.

This is an article that is casual news-listeners and for people who don’t pay close attention to the events that are being described, but it’s possible that a wider range of readers will find the information contained within useful.

This Puerto Rican flag emoji is perfect for discussing how Telegramgate coverage isn't always helpful. Image credit: Pixabay.
This Puerto Rican flag emoji is perfect for discussing how Telegramgate coverage isn’t always helpful. Image credit: Pixabay.

What is Telegramgate?

If you don’t follow Puerto Rican politics for whatever reason and know the bare minimum about what has caused former governor Ricardo Rosselló to step down this part of the article is perfect for you.

Telegramgate is the catchy name people on social media have given to a string of leaked texts and other messages that came from the former governor of Puerto Rico and current and former allies and employees of his. The messages contained homophobic language, racist messages, and sexist attacks on activists and politicians that the former governor and his allies disagreed with. It also contains messages that disrespect those who died during or after and because of Hurricane Maria.

Something a lot of people don’t mention but is worth knowing is that this isn’t the first of this sort of scandal in recent Puerto Rican history. Last year an event known now as WhatsApp Gate occurred which involved people in former governor Rosselló’s cabinet. If you want to read coverage of Telegramgate click here to go read an article by Latino Rebels, one of the best websites for English speakers interested in Puerto Rico or Latin American news. I had a tough time finding an English language article discussing WhatsApp Gate, but I could translate this article if people were interested in reading its content but who don’t speak Spanish.

Telegramgate is one of the things that drove Puerto Ricans to the streets to demand that former governor Rosselló resign, and because of the catchy nature of it in terms of headlines and easy news coverage, it quickly became the focus of significant news coverage. But that’s a bit of a problem and we need to discuss why.

Telegramgate helps the government avoid real accountability:

There’s little I hate right now as much as I hate hearing estadounidenses pretend that the text messages are why Puerto Ricans wanted former governor Rosselló to resign, and not the corruption, bigotry, and hate his party is responsible for. Earlier this year he announced a bill that makes a show of banning conversion therapy but wouldn’t actually ban conversion therapy from being practiced by religious officials… you know the people who’d use conversion therapy in the first place?

An overemphasis on Telegramgate makes it possible for the New Progressive Party (which will from here on out be referred to as the PNP as it’s known in Spanish) to get rid of a handful of politicians and pretend that they’ve done what they needed to do until estadounidense journalists who are currently paying a bit of attention give up and go back to ignoring Puerto Rico. And note that that’s not all journalists by any means, but a lot of coverage of Puerto Rico from people who don’t normally cover Puerto Rico is shallow and focused on the catchiness of Telegramgate.

If estadounidense journalists overemphasize Telegramgate then those who remain in power in the PNP will just have to wait out the current crop of journalists who are superficially covering Puerto Rico. This is what some politicians who’ve played it cool in Puerto Rico want, including politicians like Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner (the representative of Puerto Rico in Congress) Jenniffer González-Colon who on Friday downplayed protests and the role of protesters in creating change in Puerto Rico during an interview with PBS NewsHour.

Smart coverage of the protests in Puerto Rico recognizes the real importance of Telegramgate, but it notes other far more serious things that brought people out to the streets. Vox has a great article that properly contextualizes Telegramgate’s influence and other far more serious events that people in the PNP are hesitant to discuss, including the arrests of major government officials one of whom ascended to her position as an appointment by former governor Rosselló.

If we aren’t careful right now and if we don’t urge people with influence and platforms to be cautious in how much of an emphasis they give to Telegramgate we might create conditions that enable corrupt government officials who lack the name recognition of former governor Rosselló to be able to evade notice and accountability despite the number of eyes on Puerto Rico right now. Despite this possibility, there’s also another possible and more positive outcome of this moment: proper insightful coverage of the protests, such as that of Latino USA who note in a podcast of theirs that the protest organizers want the government to tackle violence against women, could result in more awareness of the real conditions affecting Puerto Ricans that go beyond our distaste for the former governor.

I am urging caution because I live in the mainland, I’ve noticed how many different journalists across a range of mediums seem to love the snazziness of headlines that talk about Telegramgate but don’t love the serious contextualization that should at least be recommended when discussing Puerto Rican politics. It’s a problem and overemphasizing Telegramgate to the point that it becomes a talking point suggests that Puerto Ricans care about language more than we care about power-outages, the deaths of our families, and schools closing.

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Luciano Joshua Gonzalez-Vega runs Sin/God and is the column’s sole author. The Puerto Rican writer is constantly working, whether he’s creating content for his YouTube channel, searching for freelance writing jobs,  studying to finish earning a Master’s of Arts degree in peace & conflict studies, discussing various topics with his friends online such as on Wednesday nights with fellow YouTuber Wonder Lady as the co-host of the Humanist Perspectives program, or as a general guest on a range of different YouTube channels. He is an independent content creator and columnist who dreams of being financially independent and able to self-finance a consultant’s business aiding businesses and organizations that find themselves burdened and needing conflict management services and even hoping to one day have a nationally syndicated radio show wherein he aids people dealing with workplace or familial conflicts and also advocates for humanistic approaches to the problems of the day. 

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