Brazil: Veja Mud-Wrestles the Sex Senator!

“More ‘oranges’ [cut-outs, fronts, Abramoffs, shills] of Renan!” The sex senator illegally controlled two radio stations!
Veja taking up the cause of concentrated media ownership is like Bruce Wayne leading the fight against vigilante philanthropists operating jet-powered automobiles on Gotham City streets. Secondary coverline: “Infrastructure: The war that must be won!” The debate over public policy is war. Violence is a natural part of the political process. Ecce Veja.

… mass hysteria and stupidity can make a real difference to a business’ bottom line.Rhymer Rigby. “Craze Management.” Management Today. London: Jun 1998. p. 58

Renan acusa Veja de fazer denúncia falsa e venda nebulosa (Estado de S. Paulo, Brazil): “Senate president accuses Veja magazine of phony charges, shady deal.”

Veja magazine returned this week to the “the Senator had sex!” scandal, not with new information to corroborate the charges it previously made, but with (piffling, in the scheme of things) new charges.

File under “contemporary Latin American media ratfinks” along with Correa-Teleamazonas (Ecuador), Creel-Televisa (Mexico), Hugo-RCTV (Venezuela), the Great Fujimori-Montesinos Media Sellout, and many others.

The Villepin-Clearstream ratfink in Europe, meanwhile, had a major media (and noise-machine blogging) component to it as well, of course. And who can forget the famous media ratfink sequence in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (suited thugs wresting hand-printed papers from idealistic little newsboys, phony noise-machine write-in campaigns)?

It is interesting to note that the tactic seems to get directed at targets of the ideological left, right and center. Creel, for example, is a PAN Senator and former Fox cabinet officer. His sins are not ideological but economic. He said publicly that maybe allowing foreign-controlled monopolies to ratfink the Mexican consumer of information services was not such a great idea after all. The World Bank has said as much as well.

Veja‘s 2006 “exposé” on the illegal offshore bank accounts of senior government officials also comes to mind. (The fact of their existence was nonexistent, but Limbaugh-style Tupi “dittoheads” to this day constantly clog the comment threads with references to the “scoop.”)

See also

My current, totally idle and purely speculative, bet is that the Senator, accused of the moral equivalent of killing Vince Foster, will — after much rummaging around and hysterical shrieking — be convicted in a court of sane and judicious persons with the training and authority to decide such things for the moral equivalent of bonking Monica Lewinsky, then lying about it (which was, of course, not a completely trivial matter at all, though it fell way short of ordering a hit on an old friend and political ally).

Those sane and judicious persons will then be accused of being complicit with a corrupt, politicized Gestapo by the likes of Veja — whose election-eve cover last year screamed “massive conspiracy and cover-up!” in the “mountain of money” scandal. No wrongdoing was ever charged. Which Veja did not report, of course, except to repeat its “cover-up” shrieking.

I mean, maybe there really ought to be a law. Write your congressman (a process that would be made much more effective if Brazil were to do away with proportional in favor of direct representation, as Gov. Serra of São Paulo has promised to do.) But there wasn’t.

But in any event, the Senator could well be gone in some way, shape or form — most likely living to fight another day, if historical trends hold true. (His colleague in the Senate contingent from Alagoas is the impeached ex-President, Fernando Collor, which just goes to show you that sketchy Brazilian public lives can have more sequels than Weekend at Bernie’s.)

But your guess is as good as mine. The whole episode has all the entertainment value of a good old-fashioned bear-baiting.

BRASÍLIA – O presidente do Senado, senador Renan Calheiros (PMDB-AL), que está sendo processado no Conselho de Ética por suposta quebra de decoro parlamentar, encaminhou nesta segunda-feira, 6, uma carta a cada um dos 80 senadores na qual acusa a revista Veja de fazer denúncias “falsas” contra ele na reportagem segundo a qual o senador teria usado “laranjas” para comprar duas emissoras de rádio em Alagoas.

The president of the Senate, Renan Calheiros of Alagoas, who is being tried in the Senate Ethics Council for alleged “conduct unbecoming,” sent a letter to all 80 senators today in which accuses Veja of leveling “false” charges against him in an article that claims he used “fronts” to buy two radio stations in Alagoas.

On illegal political ownership of public broadcast concessions, see also

On how the Grupo Abril got its wireless spectrum concessions for no money down, see

“Quem sabe (a ‘Veja’) quer usar-me como cortina de fumaça para que, por suas sombras, acabe por ser celebrada uma nebulosa transação de cerca de R$ 1 bilhão envolvendo a venda de uma concessão de canal de televisão pelo grupo Abril, proprietário da revista ‘Veja’, a uma empresa estrangeira?”

The senator borks back:

“Who knows but that Veja wants to use me as a smokescreen in the shadows of which to complete its shady R$1 billion transaction involving the sale by its parent, Grupo Abril, of a TV channel to a foreign company?”

Segundo Renan, essa operação, sim, é um assunto que “verdadeiramente interessa à sociedade” brasileira. “Talvez fosse o caso”, diz o senador, “de investigar o negócio bilionário que se deseja manter na obscuridade.” As frases de Renan são uma referência à venda da TVA pela Abril para a Telefônica.

According to Renan, this transaction is a matter that “genuinely is of interest to Brazilian society.” “Perhaps it is the case,” the Senator says, “that we ought to investigate the [half-]billion-dollar deal that they want to keep hidden.” The reference is to the sale of TVA to Telefónica by the Grupo Abril.

TV Bandeirantes ran an exposé of its own a few months back, alleging that a similar Abril deal used Dutch shell corporations to (fraudulently, it implied) demonstrate it had met regulatory requirements. I have been meaning to try to reality-check that claim, but have not gotten around to it yet.

See also

O negócio foi aprovado pela Agência Nacional de Telecomunicações (Anatel) com a condição de que a TVA e a Telefônica alterem o acordo de acionistas da emissora em São Paulo. O caso, agora, vai ser submetido à apreciação do Conselho Administrativo de Defesa Econômica (Cade).

The deal was approved by ANATEL (the Brazilian FCC, sort of) on the condition that Telefónica and TVA amend the shareholder agreement of the São Paulo broadcaster. The case will be evaluated by CADE, Brazil’s antitrust regulator.

Renan começa a carta afirmando que está sendo “vítima” de uma “revista semanal sem limites éticos e qualquer critério jornalístico, travestida de tribunal político, que vem difundindo inverdades” e tentando desonrá-lo.

Renan starts the letter by stating that he is the “victim” of “a newsweekly without ethical limits or any journalistic judgment, dressed up as a political judge, jury and executioner, which makes a living selling untruths” and is trying to attack his honor.

O presidente do Senado encerra a carta dizendo aos senadores que não vai decepcioná-los. “Asseguro a vossa excelência que, tanto no plano ético quanto no moral, nada devo.”

The president of the Senate closes the letter telling Senators that he is not going to let them down. “I assure you that, on the ethical plane as on the moral plane, I am not wanting.”

As to the truth of that last statement, I have not the foggiest idea. (Sincerely. I have tried to puzzle it out, but the coverage is dominated by shrieking noise. So I have pretty much given up.)

But then again, neither do readers of Veja. Because the sex senator has a point. It has zero crediblity on the story. (He naturally fails to mention that there are apparently responsible adults calling for his head for less spectacular and sexual immorality-related reasons.)

If I were the Senator’s flack, I, too, would have advised the gentleman from Alagoas to counterattack on the credibility and skeevy hypocrisy front. This is not exactly Nixon going after Woodward and Bernstein — who sought corroboration of what their anonymous source was saying before running it, after all — and their boss, Kitty “Tit in a Wringer” Graham, after all.

These people are utter confabulating bozos.

This is a somewhat controversial thing to say, but still, I maintain that from a pure public relations point of view — regardless of what the facts turn out to be — I have to say I think the Senator has been getting consistently decent advice. He has issued very few crude, primary indicators of the “banana-republican guilty plea.”

He has consistently said he did nothing wrong. Categorical denials, without too many glaring Clintonesque-Rumsfeldian forays into what the meaning of is is.

Yes, he could still be lying (or not), but if he is, hey, at least he is doing it fairly competently, and with conviction. Clinton looked us square in the eye and said he did not have sex with that woman. Caught lying parsing language creatively, he successfully begged pardon of the populist masses using a “human, all too human” appeal. It all worked out pretty well for Bubba. Calheiros seems to be at least following a strategy with proven track record of success.

If you are interested in whether or not the Senator is actually borkable, on the other hand — and Brazilians certainly do have a right to demand a clear and unambiguous answer to that question — I would wait for the responsible adults to fill me in.

And as far as I can see, they are still shrugging their shoulders and going “I dunno, probably maybe. All I know for sure is that this whole thing is a miniature clown car swarming with bozos.”

The third, less bruited, case of alleged wrongdoing — improperly favoring a big national beer manufacturer (the one represented on the boob tube with the human Spuds Mackenzie who, despite being short, stumpy, bald and totally square, attracts all the hotties on the beach) — may be the one that has actual legs.

[UPDATE: That case was dismissed.]

The latest actual news on the matter, I see, is that the federal prosecutor wants a judicial investigation into the charges. For the responsible adults to provide some legal certainty.

As it is, you do seem to have a demonstration here of (1) the legislature’s inability to police its own ethics credibly, on one hand, and (2) the problematic of the “special forum” privilege for elected and appointed officials, who can only be tried in the Supreme Court, on the other, and (3) redundant, parallel investigations that spend more time borking one another than getting to the bottom of the issue at hand.

The Brazilian magistrates association is currently campaigning for an end to (2).

The state of institutional self-regulation in the Brazilian congress being not that much unlike the state of institutional self-regulation in our national legislature in the Bush ibn Bush era.

It used to be we gringos could make fun of other people’s crazy politics.

In theory and most often in practice, for example, the FBI independently investigated corruption charges (ABSCAM).

Anyone caught with their hand in the cookie jar (“Duke” Cunningham, or a Democrat of your choice — Murtha, say –; no one party has a total monopoly on machine politics, or political virtue, of course) gets borked just like any private citizen. Before a jury of his or her peers — and constituents.

The spectacle of justice is heavily covered in the press — possibly even as a long-running soap opera on Court TV. Which in itself tends to inhibit Malufian miraculous comebacks. Nixon goes off to write big, fat, reputation-rehabilitating memoirs.

Convicted by ordinary citizen-jurors, the lawmaker resigns, saving us all the time and trouble of kicking him or her to the curb. Bring in the next representative of the people of the great state of Freedonia, following the standard rules (the governor usually gets the interim appointment, I think). The institution lives (or at least limps) on. The system more or less works without collapsing into anarchy in the streets.

It ain’t perfect. But it ain’t chopped liver, either.

Post-Alberto Gonzales, however, we now know exactly how those poor antipodean bastards feel.

In the meantime, Brazilian friends: this code (of governance) is open source. Feel free to adapt and modify it, mutatis mutandis, so long as you return the improved and adapted code to the public domain.

Who knows? Maybe Tupi ingenuity can invent a better crook trap. One that sorts the borkable from the non-borkable, and disposes of the former quietly and efficiently, and transparently, no muss, no fuss, no FUD, so we can all get back to work.

Brazil could sure use one.

That proprietary Fourth Estate module, for example, certainly seems to be throwing more server-side errors (404: credible sourcing and corroboration not found) than you would like to see, from a Six Sigma point of view.


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