Brazil: “The Media is a Scapegoat!”


“Straight-razor to the quick: the thread of the anticorruption operations has already [chopped off the head] of [the owner of Gautama] and [the minister of Mines and Energy] and now is nearing the neck of the President of the Senate.” Violent imagery straight from the media playbook of Mexico’s Gente Nueva. The article does not accuse the Senator of any relationship to Gautama, however. It accuses him of accepting money from a big construction firm, Mendes Junior. Source? None stated. Mr. Dines deduces it was the man’s girlfriend’s sleazy palimony lawyer, seen recently on the Jornal Nacional.

The Brazilian journalist does not feel free to write. More than just having to follow the editorial line of the publications they work for, the complaints principally have to do with coercion by political or business groups. —“A Profile of the Brazilian Journalist”

The current political woes of the Brazilian Senate president — in whose defense we do not presume to rise here — began when Veja magazine ran an unsourced exposé linking him to a scandal over kickbacks in public contracting. See

As it turned out, the Senator’s alleged misdeeds had nothing to do with the kickback case in question

As it turned out, the story was sourced to the palimony attorney of the Senator’ girlfriend, who had just born the Alagoan cattle rancher a strapping and extremely embarrassing extramarital heir and assignee.

We are now treated to an interminable parsing of the man’s finances as he tries to account for every head of cattle he sold off, as he claims, to pay child support to his baby mommy, as Brooklyn hip-hoppers call it.

So now it seems that the tax returns of a rural Brazilian latifundiário-politician may not be entirely in order. This is not exactly a “man bites dog” spectacular scoop.

The parallel with how Ken Starr’s Whitewater investigation morphed into an investigation into Monica Lewinksy’s relationship with “The Creep” could not be plainer.

In Brazil, the notion is gaining momentum that the native news media — its editorial independence deeply compromised for decades by ownership concentration, political ownership of the airwaves, and editorial management and human resources practices that make Rupert Murdoch look like a hippy-dippy Indymedia Web site coordinator by comparison — is viciously and grotesquely slanted.

See, for example, “Lula and Alckmin: Two Standards.”

This talking point has the advantage of being largely and rather glaringly obviously and undeniably true, especially in the realm of the Six Families that control Brazil’s media cartels.

But Marcelo Soares of Deu no Jornal, the Ford Foundation-funded “anticorruption” blog of the local Transparency International chapter, begs to differ — or at least cavil. Weakly.
He points out, as I often do, that Brazil has many fine journalists capable of doing fine work, when permitted to do so. See

He argues that while we should deplore the viciously slanted and factually-challenged nonsense that is churned out in industrial batches, as he concedes a readiness that borders on the donning of a hair shirt, on a daily basis, we ought not to throw the gems of good reporting out with the bathwater.

But Marcelo Soares is wrong, even if he is absolutely correct to say that shady characters may indeed be taking refuge behind press-bashing in some recent cases.

A case in support of Soares’ point: An apologist for “Minister of the Future” Roberto Mangabeira Unger recently excused the Harvard Law professor’s 2005 op-ed in the Folha de S. Paulo — in which he called the Lula I government “the most corrupt in history” — by saying that the poor man, who had been living in the United States for 30 years, had merely had the misfortune to believe what he read in the native press.

Which is a jaw-droppingly weak excuse for a leading public intellectual — if he does say so himself — who considers the chance to lead Brazil’s strategic planning community “a sacred mission”: That he failed to independently corroborate allegations that, as he now acknowledges, were not true.

A philosopher of law, in other words, who has forgotten about the difference between an argument from mere plausibility and the standards of evidence responsible adults use to make decisions.

See Mangabeira Unger Apologizes; Long-Term Deep Thinker Says He Rushed to Judgment.

Unger also joined the chorus of voices — Justice Mendes sings lead tenor — that describe the surge in anticorruption cases made by the Brazilian federal police since 2003 as the actions of “a politicized Gestapo.”

The masterplot of the Brazilian news media these days is quite simply the fable of the boy who cried “Wolf!” once too often. Brazilian media owners have no one but themselves to blame, and the Brazilian journalists who work for them are among the victims of this skeevy, anti-democratic nonsense.

Because working for a viciously slanted news organization can put good journalists at reputational risk. The consequences of which can be dire and not merely reputational. Just ask Tim Lopes of TV Globo. (You cannot ask him. He’s dead.)

Not working for a viciously slanted news organization, however, in a job market for journalists like Brazil’s — I am married to a Brazilian journalist, you know — can put you at risk of having to beg in the streets.

If Wall St. Journal staff cannot live with the new management, for example, they are going to be able to walk out the door and land on their feet. The quality of their work speaks for itself.

(And if you guys do have any trouble, I can offer you a comfortable couch and a morning egg on toast, by the way. For a few weeks, anyway.)

Fewer than 1 in 5 graduates of Brazilian J-schools actually work in the profession, meanwhile.

The number of working journalists as a percentage of the general population is orders of magnitude smaller than in developed nations.

Google News USA lists over 4,000+ news sources. Google News Brasil lists 200+, and the degree to which local news sources stack their pages with wire copy — or the press release, plagiarized verbatim without attribution — is astonishing.

The masterplot of the Brazilian news media these days, as I like to say, is the fable of Latin American tap water.

You are best advised to boil the stuff before consuming it.

Likewise, Transparency International Brazil has a measurable track record of focusing almost exclusively on corruption allegations against elected officials (some valid, others utterly bogus), while remaining almost completely silent — with token exceptions — on corruption among permanent civil servants.

Most especially on corruption in the judiciary and law enforcement and in the permanent bureaucracy.

Reform of which is high on the legislative agenda currently being held hostage by this tropical freak-show reprise of the Clinton Blow Job That Changed the World Forever.

This Soares character is one of the principle promoters of the “folklore of corruption” — the mythology of ladraõ chamando ladrão de ladrão (“a thief calling a thief a thief”).

The “folklore of corruption” is the principal legacy of Wolfowitz at the World Bank and the central issue in the Alberto Gonzaelz flap. It is pure FUD.

And if Alberto Gonzalez really did pressure U.S. Attorneys for selective prosecutions on election fraud charges timed to favor GOP candidates, for example, that is a great recipe for turning our great republic into what Brazil is struggling to put behind it.

A banana republic.

The “folklore of corruption,” as Elio Gaspari pointed recently — Brazil: “The Folklore of Corruption” — favors no one so much as the ladrões.

It also, not coincidentally, tends to feed the rhetoric of those who call for the incorruptible, iron-willed generalissimos to rise from the barracks and purify the nation with blood and sacrifice. See

More on which in a bit.

But let the man make his pitch.

I translate pra inglês ver.

Há muito que os políticos transformam a imprensa no bode expiatório de seus maus resultados. Mas faz pouco tempo que eles parecem ter adotado sistematicamente a iniciativa de malhar no discurso o “poder da mídia” (é garantido que vira notícia) e ignorar nos atos as revelações feitas, por mais graves que sejam.

For a long time, the politicians have been making the press the scapegoat for their poor results. But it has only been recently that they have systematically adopted an initiative to insist on this discourse about “the power of the media” (it is guaranteed to make the news) and ignore the actual facts revealed, no matter how serious.

Eu identifico como ponto de virada aquele momento do ano passado em que estava sendo votada a abertura dos processos disciplinares contra os deputados acusados de envolvimento no Mensalão. Especialmente o discurso do deputado Vadão Gomes (PP-SP), em que declarou: “Não podemos nos acovardar por causa da mídia”. Vários deputados fizeram eco ao discurso e Vadão foi naquele dia isentado de ser julgado pelo Conselho de Ética. Mais tarde, por falta de provas contra ele, também não foi incluído na denúncia do Ministério Público Federal sobre o caso do Mensalão – mas deu o exemplo e a moda pegou. Todos os que foram ao Conselho de Ética a seguir repetiram o mesmo discurso.

The turning point, to me, was that moment last year in which disciplinary proceedings against the lawmakers accused in the “mensalão” case were being voted …

A vantagem de culpar a imprensa, para um político em apuros, é dupla. Por um lado, demonstra coragem a seus apoiadores (que tendem a tratar o noticiário como questão de opinião, não de fato). Por outro, fazem eco a um descontentamento presente em vários setores da sociedade com a imprensa que se tem no Brasil. É um descontentamento justo, mas que merece ser qualificado.

The advantage of blaming the press, for a politician under investigation, is two-fold. On one hand, it displays courage to his or her supporters (who tend to treat the news as a matter of opinion, not fact.”

Actually, Brazilian newspapers tend to treat the news as a matter of opinion, not fact, when it suits their owners.

On the other, it echoes the discontent with the press in various sectors of Brazilian society. It is a justified discontent, but it deserves to be qualified somewhat.

Até elementos da própria imprensa colaboram com essa bola de neve. A revista CartaCapital, em que pese a ótima qualidade de boa parte do que publica, adora fazer matérias desse teor. Deve vender bem nas bancas próximas às faculdades de jornalismo. “A mídia faz política”, dizia uma capa recente (não diga!). “E a mídia continua a mesma”, dizia a da semana passada. Avaliações da eleição do ano passado que ganharam bastante popularidade na internet, acusando a imprensa de “conspirar” para levar a eleição ao segundo turno, diziam algo como “[fill the blanks] venceu a mídia” – fosse o complemento “o povo”, “a esperança” ou “o petismo”.

Even elements in the press itself collaborate in this snowball effect. CartaCapital magazine, despite the excellent quality of a good part of what it runs, loves to publish articles of this kind. It must sell well on newsstands near the journalism schools. “The media does politics,” said one recent cover (do tell!). “The media has not changed,” it said last week. Evaluations of last year’s elections have become very popular on the Internet, accusing the press of “conspiring” to take the election into the second round, they say something like [fill the blanks [sic]] beat the media — it could be “the people,” “hope,” or “the PT.”

For the case that got the CartaCapitalists rolling, see Puta Sacanagem: Sampa Journalists Huddle with Capt. Edmilson of the Federal Police.

The Folha de S. Paulo, I have no qualms in saying, knowingly and intentionally ran lies as facts in that case. And then tried to defend the practice in terms of “the need to protect one’s source.”

Devagar com o andor.

[tktktktk]

De fato, os jornalistas erram muito mais do que deviam. De fato, saem muitas acusações infundadas nos jornais. De fato, cobre-se muito mal o poder em todas as suas esferas. De fato, a maior parte das reportagens produzidas é indefensável aos olhos de um especialista em qualquer assunto tratado. Mas muitas vezes a imprensa também acerta. Todos os dias saem reportagens bem-apuradas nos principais jornais, embora a maioria dos trabalhos publicados não seja assim. (Os defeitos da cobertura, geralmente, se devem ao fato de os jornalistas simplesmente registrarem sem maior checagem qualquer coisa que alguém que tenha um gabinete declare.)

The fact is that journalists make a lot more mistakes than they ought to. In fact, many unfounded accusations come out in the newspapers.

Which Deu no Jornal then adds to its running coverage scoreboard, whether they are bullshit or not.

In fact, most reports are indefensible in the eyes of a specialist in the subject being dealt with. But many times the press also gets it right. Every day well-researched report come out in the principal newspaper, even if most of the work published is not of good quality.)

Yes, right, the Lord said he would spare Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of one righteous man.

But I still find the notion that certain journalists and editorial managers “err” in these cases — “to err is human, to forgive, divine” — far too charitable, and likely disingenous on Soares’ part.

The fact is that far too many Brazilian editorial managers deliberately distort and suppress the facts far more than anyone calling themselves a “journalist” ought to.

Todo dia, na cobertura da Crise Infinita na qual o Brasil está mergulhado, têm saído acertos. E são os acertos que a generalização do discurso “anti-mídia” apropriado por políticos em apuros busca atacar, na maioria das vezes, tratando questões de fato como questões de opinião.

Every day, the coverage of the Infinite Crisis in which Brazil is immersed has gotten things right. And these are the successes that the “antimedia” generalizations which politicians who appropriate them try to attack, often treating questions of fact as questions of opinion.

In which case a good newspaper, run by responsible adults who can take care of themselves, stands by its reporting and the official in question ends up looking like an ass.

See, for example, “Ângelo Gets a Warm Reception”

É esse jogo de colocar tudo no mesmo balaio que permite ao senador Renan Calheiros dizer que “já provou” sua inocência, mesmo quando todo dia são levantados novos questionamentos concretos sobre as justificativas que ele apresentou e a cada dia a condução de seu julgamento pelos pares fique mais embromada. Esse jogo se baseia no desencontro entre as Terras paralelas dos políticos e dos cidadãos (a Terra-P e a Terra-C), condição sem a qual não se pode compreender como é que ele consegue falar isso com tanta naturalidade.

[tktktktk]

A imprensa brasileira tem muito a melhorar. Muito mesmo. Mas seus acertos atuais são relevantes e devem ser levados em conta.

The Brazilian press have a lot of improving to do. And I do mean a lot. But current cases of its getting things right are relevant and should be taken into account.

Okay, show me one piece of coverage of the Calheiros affair you think is up to snuff, and defend it.

[Ecos do passado: há dois anos, quando eu coordenava o projeto Repórter do Futuro representando a Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo, um estudante daqueles que merecem incentivo trouxe uma pauta que tinha tudo para ser interessante. O texto contava sobre uma tribo indígena que vivia em condições de favela num parque de São Paulo, mas ainda assim mantinha suas tradições. Uma pauta fascinante, mas o texto começava com um dos líderes se queixando de que a mídia não os cobre. Eu olhei para o estudante e falei: “Acorda, cara! Você é a mídia; faça a melhor matéria que puder sobre o assunto, e quem sabe isso abre os olhos de outros que ainda não enxergaram. Aproveite que a pauta é só sua.”]

[Echoes of the past: Two years ago, when I was coordinating the Reporter of the Future project, representing ABRAJI, the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalsim, one of those kinds of student who deserve encouragement brought a story pitch that looked very promising. It told of an indigenous tribe what life in shantytown conditions in a São Paulo park, but maintained its traditional way of life. A fascinating pitch, but the text began with two leaders complaining that the media did not cover it. I looked to the student and I said, “Wake up, guy! You are the media Do the best article you can and who knows but you will open some eyes. …
Mr. Soares takes us out with a sentimental vignette of himself uttering a noble sentiment to a young “journalist of the future.”

How … greasy.

The question left hanging, however, was whether that report ever got published or aired.

Or was it viciously spiked because the young reporter’s editor, like Jose Aznar, believes that indigenous peoples movements are the moral equivalent of al-Qaeda?

You cannot be the media in any effective sense unless you get to talk on the million-megawatt megaphone, after all.

See

On ABRAJI, see also What Brazilian Investigative Journalism Wranglers Did This Year (January 2007).

Luis Weiz of the Observatório da Imprensa, meanwhile, weighs in with a similar argument this week.

Grotesquesly, he terms those he charges of hiding behind the corruption of the press — behind a FUD campaign of the “thief calling a thief a thief” variety, in other words — “a moral death squad.”

Weiz is kind of a grotesque character.

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