São Paulo: Frias of the Folha Speaks

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Octavius the Younger

The Brazilian national journalists’ union is a conduit for the interests of the Workers’ Party (PT). Perhaps I am being drastic in saying so. But I sense that they function as an agent for the interests of the PT in the field of journalism. –Otávio Frias Filho

Executive editor Pedro Venceslau of the Revista IMPRENSA, which is carried on the Universo Online (UOL) Web portal in Brazil, interviews the publisher of the Folha de S. Paulo, Otávio Frías the Younger.

His father, the founder of the modern Folha, died recently, and the corpse was bathed in oceans of autohagiography by proxy until it exuded the odor of sanctity. Quite a spectacle, that.

See also

In October 2006, a Folha reporter was recorded negotiating with a federal police agent — who had been taken off the case in question by his superiors, and lied his way into an evidence storage area — over a proposal that she run a false cover story to conceal the source of leaked photographs that the Folha was to publish, in concert with Globo’s Jornal Nacional, on election eve.

Photographs of a mountain of money.

The Folha ran that false cover story as fact, knowing it to be false. See

The Estado de S. Paulo, which ran a parallel page one story, attributed the photos to a “a judiciary police source,” or something of the kind.

Which was technically true, but vague and arguably misleading.

It’s somewhat like Judy Miller of the New York Times describing (convicted enemy of the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth) Scooter Libby as “a former Hill staffer,” at a time when he was Cheney’s chief of staff. The federal police and state police can both be characterized by that generic term.

But the Folha simply out and out lied to the reader, saying it did so “to protect its source.” “Which is an accepted international best practice,” I actually heard a Folha editor argue. “Look at Deep Throat!”

Woodstein, of course, rigorously fact-checked what their deep-cover background source was telling them.

This is why I do not buy the Folha on the newsstand. Not until they get themselves a Tupi Bill Keller who takes that sort of thing dead seriously.

Otávio Frias Filho freqüenta as dependências da Folha de S.Paulo, na rua Barão de Limeira, no centro, desde os 17 anos. Apesar da intimidade com rotativas e fechamentos, nunca foi – nem quis ser – repórter. Tinha vinte sete anos quando assumiu o comando da redação do jornal. Aos 30, em agosto de 1987, recebeu IMPRENSA pela primeira vez. Durante mais de três horas, não deixou sem resposta nenhuma pergunta feita pelos jornalistas Paulo Markun e Dante Matiussi, então diretores da revista que, em setembro, chegaria às bancas pela primeira vez.

Otávio Frias Jr. has been hanging out at the Folha‘s office on Barão de Limeira street, downtown, since he was 17. But despite his intimate familiarity with the printing plant and deadlines, he never was — or wanted to be — a reporter. He was 27 when he took over as publisher. At 30, in August 1987, he was interviewed by IMPRENSA for the first time. In a three-hour interview, he answered every single question put to him by Paulo Markun and Dante Matiussi, editors of a magazine that appeared for the first time in September of that year.

“It was twenty years ago today, that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.”

Com o título “Otávio Frias Filho, 30” a primeira entrevista da história de IMPRENSA esmiuçou “o pensamento pouco ortodoxo daquele que comanda o jornal mais polêmico do país”. Vinte anos depois, a Folha deixou de ser o mais polêmico para ser o maior jornal brasileiro. Nos dias úteis, circula com 289.415 exemplares, segundo o IVC. Aos domingos, 349.933. O segundo lugar deste ranking pertence ao carioca O Globo – 256.870 nos dias úteis e 374.490 aos domingos. O principal concorrente da Folha em sua praça, o Estadão, tem apenas a terceira maior circulação brasileira – 224.245 nos dias úteis e 309.519 aos domingos.

Headlined “Otávio Frias Jr., 30,” the first interview in the history of IMPRENSA detailed “the unorthodox thinking of the man who runs the most controversial newspaper in Brazil.” Twenty years later, the Folha has left off being the most controversial and become Brazil’s largest newspaper. On weekdays, it circulates 289,415 copies, according to the IVC. On Sundays, 349,933. In second place is the Rio daily O Globo — 256,870 on weekdays and 374,490 on Sunday.

I could swear that I heard very different numbers than that in the Folha‘s TV ads, where “reaching 2.5 million readers a day” was mentioned, if I am not mistaken, as an attraction to advertisers. I need to check that out. New York City is not the only place in the world where you sometimes wonder about those circulation numbers.

The Folha’s major competitor in its own market, the Estadão, has the third largest circulation in Brazil — 224,245 and 309,519.

I saw an infographic recently, I swear, that claimed the ESP’s market share was in shocking decline, and have been laboring under the impression ever since that it runs a distant second to the Folha.

Seriously.

I do believe I read a report that gave me that impression.

But it seems that was the wrong impression.

Let me see if I can dig that up.

Sob o comando de Otávio, a Folha iniciou uma revolução que contagiaria definitivamente a imprensa escrita brasileira. Terminava a era do jornalismo romântico, começava a da organização, dos manuais e do ombudsman. Confira alguns trechos da entrevista que está na edição de setembro de IMPRENSA.

Under Otávio, the Folha started a revolution that change the Brazilian print meda forever. Gone were the days of Romantic journalism; in came the organization, the editorial manuals, the ombudsman. Some passages from the interview in the September edition of IMPRENSA.

IMPRENSA – O Estadão ainda é o grande concorrente da Folha?

Is the Estadão still your main competitor?

Otávio Frias Filho –Do ponto de vista da circulação, eu diria que o principal concorrente é o jornal O Globo. Nós temos, hoje, uma circulação 28% superior a do Estado de S.Paulo e 10% superior a do jornal O Globo, que é o segundo maior jornal em circulação no país. Mas do ponto de vista de mercado o Estado é o concorrente principal. Os dois jornais dividem o mercado publicitário em que atuam em proporções praticamente iguais.

From the point of view of circulation, I would say that O Globo is. We have a circulation 28% higher than the Estadão‘s and 10% superior to that of O Globo, which has the second-highest circulation in Brazil. But from the point of view of the market the Estado is our principal competitor. The two newspapers divide up the advertising market almost equally.

Quais são os pontos fracos e fortes da Folha e do Estadão?

What are the strong and weak points of the two big São Paulo dailies?

O que eu acho mais admirável no Estado é a linha de tradição de uma certa trajetória ideológica e histórica. A capacidade que o jornal mostrou de superar problemas é algo de se admirar. O principal defeito é a contrapartida dessa vantagem. O Estado é um jornal que está sempre vitimado pelo seguinte dilema: quanto mais se moderniza e se adapta às exigências dos novos tempos, mais dilapida e prejudica seu repertório de tradições. Por outro lado, quando mais aferrado se mantém a sua linha de tradição secular, mais se isola e perde sustentação em uma sociedade onde a tradição pesa cada vez menos.

What I find most admirable in the Estado is its tradition, its ideological and historical trajectory.

The Estado was censored, as it likes to point out, under the dictatorship. It ran verses from Os Lusíadas in the blank spaces.

The Folha‘s p.m. tabloid, meanwhile, is still accused today of running disinformation to provide cover for the disappearance and torture of political prisoners.

The capacity it has shown to overcome problems is admirable. Its principal defect is the flip side of that virtue. It has always suffered from the following dilemma: The more it modernizes and adapts itself to the demands of new times, the more its inventory of traditions is eroded. On the other hand, the more it sticks to its secular tradition, the more it isolates itself and loses the support of a society to which tradition is increasingly important.

On the Folha‘s strong commitment to tradition, family and property, see also

On the Estadão‘s, see

E no caso da Folha, qual o calcanhar de Aquiles?

In the Folha’s case, what is its Achilles’ heel?

A Folha é um jornal muito sensível e permeável ao que está acontecendo no meio social. Não tem a linearidade da tradição do Estado. Mas é um jornal mais leve, que responde com rapidez às situações.

The Folha is very sensitive and permeable by what is happening in the social sphere. It does not have the continuity of tradition that the Estado has. But it is a lighter paper, which responds rapidly to situations.

Its critics tend to speak of “opportunism.”

As in, “It doesn’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

Qual sua opinião e sua relação com a FENAJ (Federação Nacional dos Jornalistas) e com o sindicato do jornalista?

What is your opinion of the national journalists’ union, FENAJ, and what is your relationship with it like?

A imagem que cristalizei ao longo destes anos todos é a de que ela é uma correia de transmissão dos interesses do PT. Talvez eu esteja sendo drástico na minha afirmação. Mas sinto que eles funcionam como uma agência dos interesses do PT no meio jornalístico.

The image that has crystallized in my mind over this years is that it is a conduit for the interests of the Workers’ Party. Maybe I am being a bit drastic with that statement. But I sense that it functions as a conduit for the interests of the PT in the journalism field.

Five Ws journalism is a Communist plot!

I swear to you, though I still cannot find the clip, that a Brazilian commentator once referred to the “who, what, where, when, why and how,” “inverted-pyramid” reporting style, as “the pornography of facts.”

Compare the concept of “the reality-based community” as a term of derision:

The source of the term is a quotation in an October 17, 2004, New York Times Magazine article by writer Ron Suskind, quoting an unnamed aide to George W. Bush: ‘The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’


A 2007 edition (2d) ppears under the PubliFolha imprint, but another edition was on the market under the MegaBrasil in 2006. Pardon me, can anyone show me the way to the Library of Congress catalogue equivalent here in Brazil?

No livro do “Golpe ao Planalto” [sic], o jornalista Ricardo Kotscho conta um episódio que foi muito comentado nos bastidores: o almoço do candidato Lula com a cúpula da Folha, nas eleições de 2002. Naquela ocasião, Lula levantou-se abruptamente no meio do almoço e foi embora, irritado com algumas perguntas feitas por você. Especula-se que isso teria abalado a relação do Lula com a Folha, especialmente no primeiro mandato. Qual a sua versão para essa história?

In the book From the Coup to the Halls of Power, journalist Ricardo Kotscho recounts an episode that was much commented on behind closed doors: A lunch candidate Lula had with the Folha leadership, during the 2002 elections. On that occasion, Lula got up abruptly in the middle of lunch and left, irritated with questions you had posed. It is speculated that this may have poisoned relations between Lula and the Folha, especialy during the first administration. What is your version of this story?

That should read no livro Do Golpe ao Planalto [“from the 1964 coup to the precincts of power [the federal capital, by metonymy — or is it synecdoche?]”].

Punctuated incorrectly, it reads like “[a book about] a blow to or overthrow of the government.” Perhaps the wordplay is intended.

Kotscho occupied a somewhat Tony Snow-like post in the Lula I administration. A similar post is now occupied by former Globo talking head Franklin Martins — whom Globo borked for not toeing the ideological line.

And what was the alleged question that pissed off Lula, anyway? It is hard to google up.

Essa pergunta me dá a oportunidade para retificar a versão que o Kotscho apresenta no livro. Minha versão é bastante diversa. Nunca interpelei o então candidato Lula a respeito da falta de formação escolar ou universitária. Pelo contrário. O preâmbulo da pergunta foi dizer que, na minha opinião, não faz a menor diferença que uma pessoa chegue a presidência sem ter antes feito uma faculdade. O ponto que levantei foi outro. Eu queria saber do Lula que tipo de preparação ele vinha fazendo nos últimos 20 anos, tempo em que ele teve condições materiais para estudar. Foi a natureza dessa pergunta que o deixou alterado, a ponto de ter abandonado o encontro. Interessava ao PT e ao Lula apresentar esse episódio como se a minha pergunta se referisse a falta de formação universitária. Foi justamente o contrário disso. Eu queria saber a que estudos e preparação ele vinha se dedicando nesse período mais recente, quando ele teve tempo se sobra e dinheiro para fazer um curso de economia, até para estudar no exterior se quisesse. Citei até o exemplo do Vicentinho, que tinha entrado na faculdade de direito. A reação foi muito emocional da parte dele. E respondi também com muita veemência. Meu pai ainda teve a cortesia de acompanhá-lo até a porta do jornal, como fazia com qualquer visitante.

That question gives me a chance to set the record straight. My version is quite different. I never quizzed candidate Lula on his lack of a high school or college education. On the contrary. The preamble to my question was to say that, in my opinion, it made not the slighest difference whether a person became President without having a college degree. The point I brought up was something different. I wanted to know from Lula what type of preparation he had undertaken over the last 20 years, time in which he had had the means to study. It was the nature of that question that upset him to the point where he left the meeting. It was in the interest of Lula and the PT to present this episode as if my question had to do with his lack of a university degree. But it was just the opposite. I wanted to know what studies and preparation he had dedicated himself to in this more recent period, when he had the time and money to take a course in economics, or even study abroad if he wanted to. I cited the example of Vicentinho, who had gone to law school. His reaction was highly emotional. And I answered back vehemently as well. My father had the good manners to escort him to the door, as he would any visitor.

Rather than asking Squid (1) why he had never studied formally, he asked Squid (2) why he had not studied formally in the last 20 years.

Given that he had not studied formally before that.

God, the depths to which some people will sink, distorting one’s words!

Durante a crise do mensalão, muita gente acreditava que o governo Lula não se recuperaria. Mas ele foi reeleito e se mantêm com altos índices de popularidade. Existe uma tese entre governistas, petistas e parte da esquerda de que a mídia foi derrotada nas eleições de 2006. O Venício Lima lançou até um livro (A mídia nas eleições de 2006) para provar isso. A Marilena Chauí, por exemplo, acha que o mensalão foi uma invenção da mídia. E você, o que acha ?

Duing the “big allowance” crisis, many believed the Lula government would not recover. But he was reelected and maintains high levels of popularity.

Folha, a week or so ago: “Lula’s popularity sinks below 50%, says IBOPE.” IBOPE: “60%+ approve of Lula government.” The Folha — which also owns the DataFolha polling group — was spinning the numbers, as usual.

There is this theory among the government alliance, the PT and part of the Left, that the media was defeated in the 2006 elections. Venício [da] Lima even published a book, The Media in the 2006 Elections to support this thesis. Marilena Chauí, for example, thinks the “big allowance” was a fiction invented by the media. And you, what do you think?

Eu discordo completamente. O conceito de “mídia derrotada” não faz sentido. A mídia não concorreu nas eleições. Embora alguns jornais tenham manifestado apoio ao concorrente do Lula, parece-me que a cobertura foi bastante adequada. Ao contrário da opinião daqueles que consideram que a imprensa brasileira tem um viés anti-petista, eu acho ao contrário. Se a imprensa brasileira teve um viés, nos anos 80 e 90, foi um viés de complacência em relação ao PT. A maioria dos jornalistas tinha algum tipo de simpatia pelo projeto do partido Por conta disso, me parece que a imprensa brasileira pecou por ter sido complacente, tolerante e ingênua em relação ao PT. E isso mudou um pouco quando o Lula chegou ao poder e depois de episódios como o do mensalão.

I disagree wholeheartedly. The concept that the media was “defeated” makes no sense. The media was not running for office. Although some newspapers expressed support for Lula’s opponent, I thought the coverage was quite competent. Unlike those who think the Brazilian media have an anti-PT slant, I think the opposite is true. If the Brazilian news media had a slant, in the 1980s and 1990s, it was a slant toward complacency with the PT. Most journalists had some kind of sympathy with the party’s platform. For that reason, it seems to me the Brazilian press sinned on the side of complacency, of tolerance and credulity, with respect to the PT. And this changed a little when Lula came to power, and after episodes like “the big allowance.”

In 1989, the Brazilian press outed Lula’s love child on election eve, after O Globo had run an edited version of the Lula-Collor debates cut to make Collor look good and Squid look bad. Astonishing, that.

Look, as I always say, the PT is the PT. They won fair and square, and so you might as well try to deal with that reality, whether you find it desirable, undesirable, or you could not care less.

Living here, I have two basic hopes: (1) That these people don’t fuck things up; and (2) if they do, that the next gang to come along do not fuck things ups.

You know my “politicians are bears” theory:

… noble in their natural habitat, a plague of vermin to be shot on sight when rooting through the garbage dump of your trailer park, and never, ever to be mistaken for fluffy animal friends, like that poor bastard in the Werner Herzog documentary who gets eaten by one.

That goes for the entire profession of politics, from Che to the red-baiting Alan Garcia of APRA.

Which is why Brazil, like any functional democracy, needs a hard-nosed, sane, loyal opposition, committed to the Reality Principle and the measurement of concrete results. Just like Eisenhower said back in 1954.

But these people are definitely not it.

Now, this guy Serra — who lost to Squid in 2002 by almost the exact same margin as Alckmin, which means that all the gabbling nonsense of the last campaign (Lula is the candidate of FARC!) gained not an inch of ground — at least seems to be working along those lines: You are going to see what a good President I will make when you see all the good stuff I actually get done here in São Paulo in the next four years.

It is hard not to hope that the other bald Toucan does get that stuff done.

I mean, a lot of it sorely needed. Who cares who gets it done? Just let it get done.

You would have to be a masochist of the highest order, for example, to want to see the Rodoanel project not finally get done, alleviating this traffic from hell that São Paulo motorists face.

Politicians competing over who can get the most actual practical stuff measurably done: That would be a welcome change here in Brazil, I tend to think.

People like this, on the other hand, it seems to me, represent the vandals who steal the handle so the pump don’t work. As a prominent Jewish cowboy poet (not Kinky Friedman) once said.

I would have asked Frias about Edmilson “Bruno Surfistina” Bruno, myself.

Because really, purely from a journalistic and ethical point of view, that incident just shocked the hell out of me.

But then again, journalistic ethics — and the generalization, within proper limits, of modern theories of scientific rationality, like Karl Popper’s, as an article on the Web site of the Telefónica Foundation in Spain recently argued — to these people, is a Communist plot.

Likewise,

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