Infotainment Crisis at the Jornal do Brasil! From the Fact v. Fiction File

Não existe
fact-checking do lado de baixo do Equador?

“Traficantes” de foto são atores de filme: Mario Magalhães, ombudsman of the Folha de S. Paulo — you have to have a paid subscription to read his column, so I guess the term “public editor” does not really apply — contributes an item for our “fact x fiction” file.

(It may have been true when I wrote that, that the Ombudsman column was behind the “pay to play” firewall, but last time I checked, the column is freely available, though the link to it is still buried far down the page, in tiny type, where are you unlikely to find it. –December 12, 2007)

Recent cases:

Na edição de terça-feira, o “Jornal do Brasil” publicou na primeira página uma chamada com o título “Tráfico exibe poder de fogo pelo Orkut”.

On Tuesday (May 22), the Jornal do Brasil published a callout on its front page with the headline “Drug traffic shows off its firepower on Orkut.”

Acima, estampou uma foto de jovens armados, com a legenda “Doze traficantes com armas e coletes à prova de balas. Entre eles, uma mulher”.

Above it was a photo of young persons, carrying weapons, with the caption “12 drug traffickers with firearms and bulletproof vests. Among them, one woman.”

The people pictured were not drug-traffickers. They were actors from a forthcoming movie.

A reportagem da página A12 acrescentava mais informações obtidas na rede de relacionamentos da internet: “Um outro perfil, de uma pessoa não identificada, exibe a foto que simboliza a ousadia dos traficantes no Orkut. Doze jovens armados de fuzis, metralhadoras e pistolas se exibem para a câmara no alto de um morro. Até uma mulher aparece no grupo”.

The report on page A12 added more information obtained from the social-networking site Orkut: “Another profile, of an unidentified person, shows the photo, which demonstrates the shameless audacity of the traffickers on Orkut. Twelve young people armed with rifles, machine guns and pistols show off for the camera on the hilltop. There is even a woman in the group.”

Foi “barriga”, o que o “Manual da Redação” da Folha define como “publicação de grave erro de informação”.

It was a [brain-fart], which the Folha editorial manual defines as “publication of a serious factual error.”

Barriga [“belly”] is a great term. If I am not mistaken, when you “belly” something, you are trying to grasp it, but your fat belly precedes you, pushing it ahead of you, keeping it out of your grasp. I could be mistaken. But it would make a nice folk etymology, I think.

Os “traficantes” eram, na verdade, atores fotografados na filmagem de um longa ainda inédito.

The “traffickers” were actually actors shot while filming a feature-length film that has yet to be released.

Infelicidades como essa compõem a história de toda empreitada jornalística e de todo jornalista. Quem nunca deu vexame que ouse atirar a primeira pedra.

Unfortunate errors like this are part of the history of every news organization and every journalist in Brazil. Let he who has never pulled this sort of thing cast the first stone.

I once misspelled the name of one of the most well-known lawyers in America, and in the same story misidentified the party affiliation of an SEC commissioner. I immediately rued the error. Mea maxima brain-fart.

A maior surpresa, contudo, o “JB” guardou para o dia seguinte, quando titulou na capa “Atores viram bandidos em página de apologia ao CV”: em momento algum o jornal reconheceu o seu erro

The real surprise, however, the JB kept for the following day, with a cover headline that read “Actors become bandits on a page apologizing for the crimes of the CV.”

At no time did the JB acknowledge its own error.

Ao noticiar a investigação policial sobre apologia virtual ao crime, o diário contou que os “bandidos” eram artistas, mas transferiu a cobrança: “nem a assessoria do grupo [teatral Nós do Morro] nem os atores souberam dizer quem fez a fotografia e como ela foi parar lá” (no Orkut).

In reporting on a police investigation into apology for criminal conduct, the newspaper said that the “bandits” were actually actors, but passed the buck: “Neither the press office for the group [the “We of the Hillsides” theater group] nor the actors could say who took the photo or how it wound up on Orkut.”

O maior tropeço do “JB” não foi a falta de checagem sobre foto garimpada na internet, mas não assumir que informou errado.

The JB’s worst misstep was not in failing to check on the origins of a photo it downloaded off the Internet, but in not admitting that it erred.

Conversei com a editora chefe adjunta do “JB”, Ana Carvalho. Ela afirmou: “Não escolhemos aleatoriamente essa fotografia. Fomos induzidos ao erro porque a foto constava em quatro sites, todos com apologia ao Comando Vermelho. Não é nem tanto reconhecer, nem tanto não reconhecer o erro. Acho que existe uma má vontade grande com o “Jornal do Brasil”, principalmente dos jornalistas”.

This reminds me of the response by that Folha de S. Paulo editor in the infamous puta sacanagem case, when she defended knowingly publishing the source’s false cover story as fact under the rubric of “protecting the anonymity of the source.”

Beyond Judy Millerism, that.

You recall how Judy Miller once sourced “Scooter” Libby anonymously as “a former Hill staffer,” when he was working at the time as Cheney’s chief of staff.

The AP Stylebook:

anonymous sources Use anonymous attribution only when essential and even then provide the most specific possible identification of the source. Simply quoting “a source,” unmodified, is almost always prohibited.

Ah, it says “the most specific possible,” but it doesn’t say “most current information,” so Judy — and her editor, apparently; Judy did have to answer to an editor, right? — deemed she was on solid ethical ground there.

These kinds of people tend to parse general principles as if they were legal rules, and interpret them casuistically.

On law enforcement in the “virtual world” of Orkut, see


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