Brazil: More Sex Senator Ombudsmanship!
Goya’s “The Sleep of Reason,” from the Caprichos series, visited a São Paulo museum earlier this year. “In the sleep of reason, monsters are born.”

Eram seis, já são oito os mentirosos: “Before, there were six liars. Now, there are eight.”

The ombudsman of the Folha de S. Paulo daily defends his newspaper against criticism that trying to bork Senators for promising to vote one way and then voting another in the impeachment trial of the “sex Senator” — my tongue-in-cheek characterization — was not entirely fair or intellectually honest.

See, for example

The gentleman from the Observatório da Imprensa wrote that the Senators may simply have evolved in their deliberations since being polled by the Folha.

Hard to know, given the secret vote in closed session. We are all blind men trying to describe the elephant by feel.

I do not necessarily always agree with Mr. Magalhães — and what does my gringo opinion matter, anyway? — but his column is always the first thing I turn to.

Given the mixed quality of the journalism you find there — a lot of it very fine, some of it very, very bad indeed — this public editor makes a very good Virgil on the road from agitprop Hell to journalistic Heaven, I tend to find.

An excerpt, then. Some of Mr. Magalhães’ columns now appear in English, but I tend to be just as interested in his daily “devil in the details” critiques than in his Clark Hoyt-style musing on more general topics.

Só é possível afirmar hoje que há oito mentirosos no Senado porque a Folha teve a iniciativa de produzir os levantamentos. O jornal não se responsabilizou pelas respostas. Quem mente é parcela dos senadores.

It is only possible to state that there are eight liars in the Senate because this newspaper took the initiative to poll lawmakers on their intentions. The newspaper is not responsible for their replies. The liars are a portion of the senate.

Actually, this makes no logical sense.

Suppose 20 of the Folha’s anti-impeachment senators and 28 pro-impeachment senators switched their votes.

You would still have a discrepancy of 8 votes between the preliminary survey — let him be borked! — and the final result — let him not be borked!

But you would have 48 “liars.”

Se a imprensa só fosse publicar declarações de políticos ancoradas nos fatos e na verdade, o Brasil conheceria a maior poupança de papel e tinta de sua história.

If the press were only to publish those utterances by politicians that have a basis in fact and truth, Brazil would realize the greatest savings on ink and paper in its history.

Zing! A little facile, but we award some points for sprezzatura.

One point by the ombudsman here that I thought was quite reasonable was that the press should continue to look into the “sex Senator’s” murky dealings rather than accept the notion that the case is closed.

That there is something funky there that needs explaining seems pretty clear. The question is whether it was (1) illegal or (2) technically legal but not the kind of thing you want your elected representatives doing.

In which case the voters, theoretically, would be the final arbiter of the man’s political future. And might insist that lawmakers pass laws making this conduct illegal. They could call it “the Sex Senator Law.”

There was an interesting op-ed in a legal affairs magazine here recently stressing the point that perhaps the spectacle of exemplary punishment is less important that putting all the facts on the public record. And doing it swiftly and efficiently (the trial of the PT 3+1 here will not conclude until almost 8 years after the events in question.)

So the voters can make an informed choice, in the case of elected officials. (Replacing proportional with direct representation, as has been proposed for São Paulo, would strengthen that mechanism, I think.)
(On the other hand, there are some elections governance questions still outstanding about the man’s home state of Alagoas, so who knows?)

O listão da mentira deve incentivar a Folha a prosseguir na investigação do conteúdo dos votos, fiscalizando distribuição de verbas, cargos e favores pelos Poderes que patrocinaram a vitória de Renan.

The list of lies ought to encourage the Folha to continue looking into how each Senator voted, [correlating this] with the allocation of budget funds, appointments and favors by the branches of government that sponsored Renan’s victory.

Por exemplo, é possível que o senador Romeu Tuma tenha votado contra os interesses do Palácio do Planalto mesmo depois de um filho seu, dos dois que se descabelavam por um lugar ao sol, digo na administração federal, ser empossado como secretário nacional de Justiça. É possível.

For example, it is possible that Senator Tuma of São Paulo may have voted against the interests of the presidency even though one of his sons — one of two vying for a place in the sun (inside the federal administration, I mean) — was appointed National Justice Secretary. It’s possible.

You actually hear some good things about Tuma, Jr., to be fair. That he is something of a tropical Patrick Fitzgerald — the U.S. Attorney, who, though voting Republican, worked hard and smart to bork “Scooter” Libby anyway. And Conrad Black. (Fitzgerald was born in Brooklyn. In Brooklyn, we don’t cotton to Tammany men and snakeoil salesmen.) Interesting issue to follow up on. I will try to.

Também é possível que o senador Paulo Paim, atendendo ao apelo dos gaúchos, como ele divulgou, tenha abraçado a cassação, contra a orientação partidária e do governo. É possível.

It is also possible that Senator Paim, in response to an appeal from the Southern bloc, as he said, may have voted to impeach, against the wishes of his party and the government. It is possible.

É possível que o senador Álvaro Dias tenha sido apenas realista ao jogar água no fogo das demais representações contra Renan, episódio observado pelo Painel na nota “Bandeiroso”. É possível.

It is possible that Senator Álvaro Dias may have merely been engaging in Realpolitik when he threw cold water on the fire of other charges against Calheiros, an episode reported in the Panel section under the headline [“showing his hand.”] It’s possible.

É possível que o senador Magno Malta tenha de fato marchado com a cassação.

It is even possible that Sen. Magno Malta may have in fact joined the pro-impeachment ranks.

Possível (quase) tudo é.

(Almost) anything is possible.

Mr. Magalhães is pleased to wax ironic here about the weird spectacle of a secret vote in a closed session on a matter of great public moment.

He’s not alone in taking that attitude. And I admit that I cannot figure out why that makes sense, either, although there was that incident with O Globo and the Supreme Court.

As long as it is believed that representatives should be accountable, then there are clear advantages to having them deliberate in public, but as long as it is also believed that representatives should exercise a degree of independent judgement in making decisions, then transparency can also have costs … recent discussions of transparency in government have often overlooked the fact that it can have both costs and benefits. –David Stasavage, “Public versus Private Deliberation in a Representative Democracy”

The best solution for such situations, I tend to think, is C-SPAN’s.

Just turn the camera on and leave. No fancy, funky cutting and editing. Focus on the guy who has the floor and record what he says.

All in all, this is not a bad defense by a public editor who is, after all, just being true to his school.

As he should be, why not? It is not like Mr. Magalhães goes easy on the Folha when it gabbles, errs or contradicts itself. The man has worked hard to establish some moral. Like I say: he probably thinks differently than me about some things. But he has demonstrate intellectual honesty. Which is not chopped liver.

But that point about “the eight liars” still seems logically incoherent and somewhat hysterical to me.

More samples now of the public editor’s daily critique.

I really think other newspapers ought to follow this example.

Unlike Hoyt of the New York Times, for example, Magalhães is not senior management, but rather something of a mid-career editorial middle-manager. Seasoned, but does not have to wear a suit and tie.

Which means he is not too busy with high-level meetings with advertisers to sit around noticing picky details the copy desk should have caught.

There’s no better way to teach readers about the inner workings of the newsroom than that, I tend to think. Why not delegate someone on Hoyt’s staff to do some similar nuts-and-bolts daily postmortem? Good experience for junior staff, and very useful to the reader.

I also tend to identify with Magalhães as a fellow shrill voice in favor of the proposition that HEADLINES MATTER.


Seriously, I know people who will argue that headlines simply cannot be held to standards of accuracy, for example. This is one of the worst forms of mental laziness in the publishing profession today, I think.

Those people should be assigned to a severe Japanese Zen master and forced to write haiku until they get their minds right. Beat them if their attention wanders.

Words matter. Prefer nouns to adjectives. Hard numbers to soft quantifications. Proper names, spelled correctly, to anonymity when sourcing. Duh.

Folha versus Folha

Título do alto da pág. A4: “PT e voto secreto absolvem Renan Calheiros no Senado”.

Headline, top of p. 5: “Workers’ Party and secret vote save Calheiros in the Senate.”

Título ao lado, da primeira nota do Painel: “Obra coletiva”. Abertura: “A oposição culpa o PT. O PT culpa a oposição. A salvação de Renan Calheiros, porém, foi um ‘Assassinato no Expresso Oriente’. Como no livro de Agatha Christie, diferentes personagens entraram na cabine para dar sua punhalada no pedido de cassação”.

Headline in the sidebar, first item in the Panel section: “Collective labor.” Lede: “The opposition blames the PT. The PT blames the opposition. But the salvation of Renan Calheiros was actually something of a “Murder on the Orient Express.” As in the book by Agatha Christie, different persons entered the train compartment to stick it to the articles of impeachment.”

Nice turn of phrase. “Stick it to” for dar sua punhalada is an example of creative license on the translator’s part, but I think it’s fair enough.

Sem minimizar o papel determinante do PT, inclusive com seu senador que declarou ter votado “abstenção”, portanto pró-Renan, a abordagem do Painel parece mais realista.

Without minimizing the crucial role of the PT, including when a PT senator said he had “abstained,” which is effectively a vote for Renan, the Panel’s approach seems more realistic.

At least Suplicy and Mercadante, the PT senators, came out and openly explained their votes. Which I thought was pretty responsibly adult of them.

Suplicy said he voted to bork, if I read this right.

Suplicy was reelected to the Senate in a landslide in 2006 even as Mercadante was losing in a landslide to Serra of the PSDB for the São Paulo governship. They say Suplicy has impeccable ethical credentials but may be too personally idiosyncratic for national office.

He is, at any rate, an interesting person to keep your eye on when you are drinking beer and watching Tupi C-SPAN. (My wife hates this habit of mine, but then again, I can’t stand Paraíso Tropical. I’m getting my own TV soon.) He often says extremely well-considered, sensible things. And cracks good jokes. He occasionally says some colorfully weird things, as when he read some lyrics by Racionais MC into the congressional record. Never a dull moment.

Suplicy’s ex-wife, now minister of tourism, was the target of a sleazy Larry Rohter sex-scandal piece back when she was mayor of São Paulo. See

More Folha versus Folha

O roteiro da sessão do Senado minuto a minuto foi outro diferencial positivo da Folha (“Seis horas de tensão”, pág. A6).

The minute-by-minute timeline of the Senate session was another feature that differentiated the Folha from the competition (“Six hours of tension,” page A6).

I like timelines.

O jornal foi transparente ao contar que teve acesso a pelo menos parte da sessão pelo celular de (no mínimo) um dos presentes.

The paper properly disclosed that it overheard at least part of the session over the cell phone of (at least) one of the attendees.

Ah, yes, but whose?

A contradição com declarações entre aspas de outros textos diminui, contudo, a credibilidade das citações literais.

Contradictory renditions of statements inside quotation marks, however, diminish the credibility of verbatim quotations.

No roteiro, Renan diz “Me respeite”.

In the timeline, Renan is quoted as saying, “Respect me.”

No texto “‘Cassadores falam; defensores votam’, diz renanzista antes do resultado final” (pág. A6), as aspas são outras: “Não admito falta de respeito”.

In the text of the accompanying article, headlined “Impeachment proponents talk; defenders vote,” says Renan supporter before the final vote (p. A6), he is quoted as saying something different: “I will not take any lack of respect.”

Right. So one of those must therefore be a paraphrase and should therefore not appear inside quotation marks. Picky, but these things do add up.

No roteiro, Demóstenes Torres retruca: “Foi pouco inteligente, então”.

In the chronology, Sen. Torres is quoted as retorting: “It was not very intelligent, then.”

No texto, vira “pouca inteligência”.

In the article, this becomes “Not much intelligence, then.”

No roteiro, primeiro Renan manda Heloísa Helena lavar a boca com água oxigenada e depois ela rebate mando-o lavar com água sanitária.

In the chronology, Renan tells [former Alagoas senator] Heloísa Helena to wash her mouth out with hydrogen peroxide, to which she replies that he should wash his mouth out with bleach.

Now that would have have been fun to watch on TV.

No texto “Em discurso, Renan ameaça adversários” (pág. A6), a ordem dos ataques na batalha aquática é inversa: Heloísa atirou antes, Renan em seguida.

In the article, “In speech, Renan threatens adversaries,” (p. A6), the order of attack in this battle of the poisonous liquids is reversed: Heloísa fires first, followed by Renan.”

Now that is actually kind of a deadly sin against the ban on running nonexistent facts.

Em outra página (A10), o jornal diz que a deputada Luciana Genro sofreu um machucado no pé. Ela diz que foi no tornozelo.

On another page (A10), the newspaper reports that federal deputy Luciana Genro hurt her foot. She says she hurt her ankle.

I would like to do a highlight reel of coverage of that incident in which Jungmann assaults those poor Senate security guards who had not yet gotten word that the Supreme Court ruled he could attend the session.

See a clip of that in

It is very important that everyone in key roles have good, current information in such situations. I assume those guards have walkie-talkies?

There’s another case where “Who assaulted who?” is an issue, by the way.

The TV news report says Jungmann assaulted the security guard, then shows him screaming that “the aggressors must be punished!”

And if Jungmann turns out to have been the aggressor?

And screaming that the guard was carrying a taser.

A taser! A TASER!

He even comes out with a hackneyed “Never before in the history of the Republic …!”

I mean, what would you rather have the guy carrying?

An AR-15 assault rifle with grenade launcher?

The speaker of the house, Chinaglia, and Suplicy, as I glimpsed them on the boob tube, were kind of droll. Suplicy seemed to be grinning slightly as the silver fox, Chinaglia, described catching elbows in the brisket or kisser, I forget, during the scuffle.

I will see if I can find time to do that. It is kind of a piddling sidebar to the main story, but interesting as a case study in how the broadcast news media deals with the devil in the details.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s