Brazil: “Risky Professions”

Vlado: A Brazilian Roger Ebert with a leftward lean and the agility of a Chinese circus acrobat, according to the torturers whose sad duty it was to report his “suicide.” This grotesque farce led to widespread revulsion against the hog heaven of the hard men in the late 1970s, and remains an emblematic rallying point.

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 and business groups.“A Profile of the Brazilian Journalist.”

You can be aggressive in hunting down news, that’s one thing. It is quite another thing to be agressive in a way that disrespects authority. You must not let your authority be disrespected. … In those who have authority, that authority is intrinsic, it is innate. … if you do not respect yourself, journalists will not respect you, just as no one at home will respect you. A single look can generally resolve half such problems. The way you look at them when you answer, and the journalist will not persist in posing a disrespectful question .Antônio Carlos Magalhães (Magalhães on Managing the Media)

A look that says, “I can have you killed”?

Via Legal is a TV program produced by the Brazilian federal justice ministry, edited and anchored by Natália Leite, formerly of TV Cultura in São Paulo and TV Educativa in Rio de Janeiro.

I just started reading it regularly.

I would watch it online as well, but apparently, Brazilian cable broadband is not as thoroughly optimized for the audiovisual Internet as Brooklyn cable broadband. To put it mildly. But of course, they still charge you nearly as much. In absolute terms, I mean, never mind relative to local purchasing power.

Paying top dollar for substandard services and then bragging to your friends that you are at the cutting edge of the Information Age. When you are not, really. I tend to think of this as the Daslu effect, but it actually reflects something of a cargo cult mentality, I think;

Here’s an item that caught my eye on a first browse through the program’s Web site, on “high-risk professions.”

Such as antimafia judges and journalists.

Os jornalistas José Ursílio e Cláudio Tognolli e o juiz federal Odilon de Oliveira são exemplos de profissionais que enfrentam riscos por conta das atividades que exercem. Riscos que podem acabar em tragédia, como as mortes dos jornalistas Wladimir Herzog durante a ditadura militar e, mais recentemente, de Tim Lopes da Rede Globo. Em março de 2003, o juiz corregedor Antonio José Machado Dias foi assassinado em Presidente Prudente. “Infelizmente, hoje em dia, as coisas podem se resolver na bala. O que é inadmissível numa democracia”, lamenta a procuradora da república Janice Ascari.

Journalists José Ursílio and Cláudio Tognolli and federal judge Odilon de Oliveira are examples of professionals who face risk because of the work they do. Risks that can end in tragedy, such as the deaths of journalists Wladimir Herzog during the military dictatorship and, more recently, Tim Lopes of the Globo network. In March 2003, judge Antonio José Machado Dias was assassinated in Presidente Prudente. “Sadly, nowadays, things can sometimes get resolved with a bullet. Which in a democracy is unacceptable,” laments federal prosecutor Janice Ascari.

2007: “Military Police Suspected of Assassinating Porto Ferreira Journalist”

Herzog was a mild-mannered, card-carrying Communist film critic for TV Cultura in São Paulo whose clumsily staged “suicide” in the DOPS cells across from the Estação da Luz remains a cause célèbre.

It is not very likely that Vlado was selected for vicious torture because DOPS and Army intelligence thought his review of Antonioni’s Profissione: Reporter relied too heavily on an untenable analogy with the camera as prurient gaze in the cinematography of Alfred Hitchcock.

Based on my reading about the case, it does not seem there was any good reason to savage this physically unimposing and nerdy guy whose contribution to international socialism consisted mainly of nodding in agreement at something he read in the Cahiers du Cinema and signing a few petitions.

Tim Lopes, meanwhile, was assigned to produce a hidden-camera exposé on sexual abuse of minors at a baile funk — the dances are known for licentious sexual behavior — hosted by a group of Rio drug traffickers led by the infamous Elias The Madman.

They caught him at it.

They did to him what the Kelson’s militia has apparently done to the former president of the residents’ association there: they tortured, mutilated, and “microwaved” him.

His employer blames the drug traffic for the crime.

Some of his colleagues, however, wonder why his employer sent Tim alone into an extreme danger zone to produce sex-themed hidden-camera sensationalism.

In the first place.

And was a gotcha piece about the sexual degeneracy of heavily armed drug gangs the most important point to be making about these groups, anyway?

Rather than, say, how much money they made, how many corpses, they produced, and who they were paying off? Stories not requiring “videoscandal”-style journalism to report on.

The idea being to attack the Robin Hood mystique of the bandidos, I guess. As if anyone well informed about the issue — which Globo viewers most certainly are not — really bought that PR talking point in the first place.

I noticed that when the BBC dispatched a reporter earlier this year to cover the operations in the Complexo do Alemão, he made a point of telling local press who interviewed him that the BBC has very strict work rules on personal safety for reporters in conflict zones. See

Brazilian journalists should probably have a look at those guidelines.

It might give them some ideas to take to their FENAJ shop steward.

See also

José Ursílio escapou da morte por pouco. Há três anos, o jornalista da cidade de Marília, no interior de São Paulo, começou a investigar e a publicar matérias sobre um grupo político que atua na região há 20 anos. Em 2005, pessoas armadas entraram no prédio do jornal e atearam fogo. “Tivemos um prejuízo de R$ 800 mil, e a destruição parcial que até hoje não conseguimos recuperar”, afirma José Ursílio.

José Ursílio narrowly escaped death. Three years ago, the journalist from the city of Marília, in the interior of São Paulo state, began investigating and publishing articles about a political group that had been acting in the region for 20 years. In 2005, armed persons entered the newspaper’s building and opened fire. “We had damages of R$800,000 ($400,000) and partial destruction that we have to this day not managed to repair,” the journalist says.

See also Burning Down São Sebastião, on a beachside weekly that got similar treatment from hooded men with guns last year.

Marília was also the scene of an anomalous e-voting case in 2004 that never got clarified:

Com 27 anos de carreira o também jornalista Cláudio Tognolli não conseguiu escapar da fúria de um famoso banqueiro de São Paulo enquanto apurava uma reportagem. “Eu botei isso no ar, ele me ligou me xingando e me ameaçando”, recorda.

Even with 27 years in the profession, journalist Cláudio Tognolli was unable to escape the wrath of a famous São Paulo banker as he was reporting an article. “I put this on the air, he called me up, cursing and threatening me,” he recalls.

I believe the reference here is to Daniel Dantas of Opportunity, who now faces criminal charges over illegal wiretapping of competitors, business partners, government officials, and journalists.

And a civil suit in the U.S. from a former business partner that wants its $300 million back.

He says he is the victim of political persecution.


As ameaças também são feitas a autoridades do Poder Judiciário. O juiz federal Odilon de Oliveira trabalha numa vara especializada em crimes financeiros em Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul. O magistrado está na mira do crime organizado. Ele condenou mais de 200 traficantes de drogas, além de determinar a recuperação do dinheiro desviado por estas quadrilhas. Segundo o juiz, um levantamento recente mostra que suas decisões levaram à apreensão de mais de 400 veículos e 17 aviões. Numa única conta bancária bloqueada estão depositados mais de R$ 1 milhão.

Threats are also directed at judges and prosecutors. Federal judge Odilon de Oliveira works in a court that specializes in financial crimes in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul. The magistrate is in the sights of organized crime. He has sentenced more than 200 drug traffickers, as well as ordering the recovery of the money misappropriated by these gangs. According to the judge, a recent study showed that his decisions have led to the seizure of more than 400 vehicles and 17 aircraft. One bank account he blocked contained more than R$1 million.

I have been following the newsflow on one of Judge Odilon’s cases, known as Operation Ball of Fire.

Among other things, it involved indications that a Tupi-Paraguayan smuggling mafia believed, or at least represented to clients in conversations captured on court-ordered wiretaps, that it could buy Supreme Court justices.

A specific case involved tax breaks for the State Bank of Sergipe, I recall.

One justice mentioned in the wiretaps in that case recently took early retirement.


Another justice — who was referred to by one of the subjects of the wiretaps as “merchandise I do not have in stock” — recently appeared as the principal source in a Veja magazine cover story hammering on the Mangabeira Unger meme: that the Brazilian federal police are a “politicized Gestapo.” See

Em 2006, o caso de José Ursílio chegou à procuradora da república Janice Ascari que após analisar os indícios apresentados pelo jornalista, pediu proteção policial. A desembargadora federal Suzana Camargo do Tribunal Regional Federal da terceira região determinou que o jornalista passe a contar com escolta da Polícia Federal. O repórter, no entanto, ainda está sem a proteção.

In 2006, the case of José Ursílio was assigned to federal prosecutor Janice Ascari, who after reviewing the facts presented by the journalist asked for police protection. Federal district court judge Suzana Camargo ruled that the journalist be afforded a federal police escort. But the reporter is still without protection.

A Advocacia Geral da União questiona a decisão judicial. Já a Polícia Federal alega que não tem efetivo para fazer a proteção na forma determinada pela decisão judicial: 24 horas por dia em Marília. Garante ainda que ofereceu o serviço em Brasília, mas a proposta teria sido recusada pelo autor da ação.

The solicitor general of the Union questions the judicial decision. The federal police allege they do not have the manpower to provide the protection ordered by the judge: 24 hours a day in Marília. They say that they offered to provide this service in Brasília, but the proposal was turned down by the petitioner in the case.

Caco Barcellos, the TV Globo reporter who published a groundbreaking investigative book on “police who kill,” and later, a controversial profile of a Rio drug gang leader, now works as Globo’s foreign correspondent in London.

The former state police chief of Rio de Janeiro, Hélio Luz, now lives in Paris. Listen to what he told the Zero Hora newspaper in an interview late last year:

In Rio, the problem was never the Red Command, but the “Blue Command,” the military police. The problem is police corruption. There is this impression that crime is high in Brazil. It’s not. Police corruption is high. Criminality flows from the corruption of the police. When the police stop being corrupt, crime goes down. When kids [interviewed in Falcão: Children of the Traffic] say they pay part of the cop’s salary, that’s true. The traffic, in reality, is a partner of the Brazilian police. –Hélio Luz, former chief of the Rio state judicial police, to the Zero Hora newspaper, May 2007.

See also Top Rio Cops: “Their Priority Was to Protect The Mafia”

Starting to get the picture?

This is what pisses me off so much about the life and works of Larry Rohter in the antipodes: There are people down here putting their ass on the line to create a  minimally decent society. Of all political persuasions: left, right, and unaligned. Or so it seems to me. Research continues.

But what Larry thought New York Times readers needed to know about was celebrity hookers.

Which in some peculiar way was how Larry saw himself: as a celebrity hooker.

And the cavalo he rode in on.


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