A week ago, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli gave a textbook example of how to handle a news conference badly. This is what you do: Instead of coolly responding to questions, lash out at a reporter and call him a drug addict.
The conference April 20 was set up to answer questions that are roiling the Martinelli government over allegations it had sought bribes in a kickback scheme with Italian companies over prison construction in Panama. This is the kind of topic that can lead to testy exchanges.
Martinelli, a former business tycoon, got riled. In response to a question from Hugo Famania of RPC Television, the president said: "Sir, be a little more responsible in your outlook. I don't know if you are having problems with your old habits or what ... I respect you a lot, I love you a lot, and I hope that you don't get messed up with drugs again."
At another point, Martinelli said to Famania, "For the love of God, Hugo, you have had problems with drugs but that doesn't mean I won't speak to you."
Several days ago, as journalists marched on the Las Garzas presidential palace to demand "dignity and respect" for their profession, Martinelli spoke to Radio Panama and publicly apologized: "I was wrong ... I shouldn't have made those comments the way I did."
Then today Martinelli met with a group of journalists and said he'd treat the media better.
Martinelli has had a tense relationship with journalists. While inaugurating a housing complex April 11, he dropped the "F-bomb" when referring to a tabloid he doesn't like and its coverage of him.