Vaia, Late of the Estadão: “Sex, Death and Madness” x “Tradition, Family and Property”

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IstoÉ Dinheiro (Brazil) magazine this week: “Suprise! Family-owned businesses are better!” “Higher revenues, higher share prices, rising productivity — the financial health of family-owned businesses is unbeatable, reveals an exclusive study!” This from a magazine with a staff “business astrologer.” I’m serious. A staff business astrologer.

I would have liked to have told Ruy Mesquita that I hoped that all that work had not been simply so that the Bancrofts of São Paulo, the Mesquita family, could simpy sit comfortably by the window at the Estadão, waiting anxiously for the arrival of some Murdoch, and Murdochization. –Sandro Vaia

“Opus Dei, despite its name, is a human project. Criticizing it is the right of the press, but we must do it in an impartial manner, without prejudice.” –Ali Kamel, Globo (Brazil). (On whom see also “Globo Gabbles on Communist Indoctrination Textbook Plague!”)

Brazil’s Observatório da Imprensa reprints a lengthy autobiographical sketch by the Estado de S. Paulo‘s former editor in chief, Sandro Vaia, from the September issue of the New Yorker-clone Piauí magazine.

It is quite a story, focusing mainly on how he got his job — and why, because he lost it, we should view him a martyr.

Vaia reports, for example, that the choice of a new editor was left up to frequent Estado editorialist Carlos Alberto Di Franco.

Di Franco, a specialist in “journalistic ethics,” heads the University of Navarra’s Masters [sic] em Jornalismo program and — as he made public for the first time to an IstoÉ interviewer last year — is the Opus Dei spiritual adviser of the opposition candidate in last year’s elections.

I clip a lot of those di Franco editorials. They’re really astonishing. And look: When I say they strongly resemble a weird mix of medieval theology and the modern theory of journalism, I am not just saying that for rhetorical effect, either: I did doctoral coursework in medieval theology, you know. Really. Transcripts available on request.

(I sometimes even think, when Mino Carta refers to a certain “medievalism” in the current Brazilian scene, that maybe these people are giving medieval theologians a bad name they don’t all deserve. That Anselm of Canterbury — Cur deus homo? –was pretty interesting, for example. And it would be terrible if people stopped reading Augustine of Hippo because of some vague anti-medieval prejudice.)

I will translate a more recent one for you in a bit.

Vaia dismisses the notion that the “mountain of money” scandal — the story broke on Globo’s Jornal Nacional on election eve in 2006 — was an attempt to influence the elections as “a political fantasy based on ideological bad faith.”

Vaia’s predecessor, Antônio Marcos Pimenta Neves, “who had in recent times come to display erratic, and at times, aggressive behavior,” as Vaia writes, later confessed to the 2000 killing of his lover, Sandra Gomide.

Whom, Vaia charges here, Pimenta had promoted unduly within the organization, putting her in charge of the business and economics section “when everyone said she was not qualified.”

(That section has always been one of the main reasons I read the Estadão, myself, by the way.)

Having just recently finished read Memoria das Trevas, by the Bahian journalist Jõao Carlos Teixeira Gomes — about his struggles with Antônio Carlos Magalhães — and started in on the memoirs of General Juarez TavoraOne Life, Many Struggles (Vol. III, 1976) — I feel like am starting to get a feel for this specific strain in the literary tradition of apologias pro vita sua of Brazilian public men.

In addition to Cardinal Newman, it has many characteristics in common with the Iberian picaresque — Lazarillo de Tormes and El Buscón, for example– and contemporary heirs to the satirical side of that tradition, such as Ariano Suassuna’s (wonderful) A Pedra do Reino.

Vaia’s true confession — “behind the dunes at the Estadão“; is he alluding to Kobo Abe’s Woman in the Dunes? –offer tantalizing glimpses into the bastidores [“behind the music”] of “factionalism” among the Mesquita clan, members of which control the shares of the Estado group under the tutelage of the patriarch.

It reads like the plot of a Jacobean revenge tragedy.

Two vignettes from this lengthy confession. First, reinforcing the notion that (1) Vaia’s predecessor was completely nuts, and (2) his editorial management style reflected this insanity.

A gestão de Pimenta fora marcada por essa tumultuada relação amorosa e, também, pelos seus freqüentes conflitos com a área comercial, sob o comando de um sobrinho do doutor Ruy, Roberto Mesquita. Os conflitos profissionais tinham como razão declarada a defesa exacerbada que Pimenta fazia da separação entre Igreja e Estado (a divisão, em departamentos estanques, entre a redação e a área comercial). Mas como o diretor de redação fustigava sem parar a área comercial, havia a suspeita de que o motivo era, no fundo, um pretexto para uma ala dos Mesquita atacar a outra.

Pimenta’s administration was marked by this tumultuous amorous relationship [with Sandra Gomide] and by frequent conflicts with the business side, under the command of cousin of Doctor Ruy’s, Roberto Mesquita. The conflicts had as their stated reason Pimenta’s exaggerated defense of the “separation of church and state” (the division, in separate departments, between the newsroom and the business side). But because the editor in chief contantly railed against the business side, there was the suspicion that the motives had really to do, at heart, with a pretext for one wing of the Mesquita to attack another.

See also

The tenor of the argument here, then, seems to be (1) my predecessor was only such a hard-ass about journalistic conflicts of interest because he was a sex-crazed nepotist and lady-killer, and (2) God forbid that the Estado should be subject to “Murdochization.”

Which implies sort of a weird analysis of the Murdoch-Bancroft deal, I think.

Which really resembled nothing so much as the passing of the English crown from the hands of Anglo-Normans to their chubby German cousins, to keep the family firm out of the hands of Roundheads and Cavaliers: one family dynasty succeeding another.

Of course, how interested the Murdoch heirs and assigns really are in following in the footsteps of the patriarch is an interesting question.

The tattooed bad-boy of the family, Laclan, quit the New York Post in 2005, you may recall.

So basically, as I read this, from the point of view of narrative konoi topoi:

  1. Vaia was the editor of tradition, family and property.
  2. His predecessor was the editor of free sex, gibbering madness and hot, smoking death.

Believe me, compared to some of these Medicis of the media down here in Brazil, Rupert Murdoch looks about as mild-mannered, sweet and reasonable as the beloved Mr. Rogers.

Habemus editor in chief:

No intervalo entre o primeiro e o segundo turnos da eleição, soube que a sucessão minha e do Elói já estavam decididas – sem a delicadeza de uma comunicação formal ou uma consulta, ou de um convite para participar de uma transição, que seria tranqüila e sem traumas. Soube também, por vias indiretas, que o escolhido para me suceder foi Ricardo Gandour, um profissional sério, jovial e de boa reputação, com quem havia convivido no congresso da WAN em Istambul, e a quem gostaria de ter recebido com a cordialidade merecida.

Between the first and the second rounds of the 2006 elections, I learned that Elói and I were to be replaced — without the courtest of a formal communication or consultation, or an invitation to participate in a tranquil transition, without trauma. I also learned, indirectly, that Gandour had been chosen to replace me — a serious, jovial journalist with a good reputation whom I had spent time with at the WAN conference in Istanbul, and whom I would have liked to have welcomed to his new post with the cordiality he deserved.

O processo de escolha foi entregue pelos Mesquita ao professor Carlos Alberto Di Franco, que dá aulas e escreve sobre ética no jornalismo, um inabalável cavalheiro que representa no Brasil a Universidade de Navarra, pertencente à prelazia da Opus Dei.

The selection process was entrusted by the Mesquitas to Prof Di Franco, who gives courses and writes on ethics in journalism, an indestructible gentleman who represents the University of Navarra, which belongs to Opus Dei, in Brazil.

Again, according to Di Franco, Di Franco not only belongs to Opus Dei himself, he is the spiritual advisor to presidential candidate Geraldo Alckmin. Whom the Master [sic] em Jornalismo program lists as an alumnus. See also

Later in the article, Vaia quotes Ruy Mesquita as saying:

“A segunda pior coisa que pode acontecer ao Brasil é o Lula ganhar no primeiro turno e sair muito forte; e a primeira pior coisa que pode acontecer é o Alckmin ganhar”.

“The second worse thing that could happen in Brazil is for Lula to win in the first turn and emerge with more power; the worst thing would be for Alckmin to win.”

He throws that in the face of his critics (Carta and Nassif being the most prominent, I guess you would say):

A frase, ainda que dita em tom de piada, pode parecer inverossímil para o tropel militante que freqüenta a constelação de blogs da internet, tecendo fabulosas teorias conspiratórias sobre a “grande mídia golpista e neoliberal” contra o Lula.

The phrase, even though uttered in a joking tone, must seem unlikely to the militant troop of Internet bloggers, weaving fabulous conspiracy theories about “the coup-plotting and neoliberal” anti-Lula media.

Those damned bloggers and their conspiracy theories! See also

One thing is true, however: media monopolists in Brazil, though they may quote liberally from Ayn Rand, have an absolute horror of that paleoliberal canard about the republican virtues of “competition in free and open markets.”

Sempre tive com ele excelentes relações, até por que fui eu quem o indicou para chefiar uma espécie informal de conselho editorial, criado para analisar o conteúdo do jornal em reuniões semanais. Dias antes do anúncio do sucessor, tentei conversar com o professor Di Franco por telefone, para tratar de assuntos de interesse comum. Contrariando seus hábitos, o professor não atendeu à ligação nem me deu retorno.

I have always had excellent relations with Di Franco; in fact, it was I who nominated him to head a sort of informal editorial council, created to analyze the content of the newspaper during weekly meetings. Days before the announcement of a successor [to Pimenta], I tried to reach Di Franco by telephone, to discuss subjects of common interest. But contrary to his normal habit, the professor did not answer, or return my call.

Na nossa saída, eu e Elói assinamos um comunicado, dirigido ao público interno, enumerando os fatos mais significativos de nossa gestão, desde a reforma do jornal, passando pelo reequilíbrio financeiro. Em 2005 e 2006, a empresa registrou os melhores números de sua história, gerando caixa suficiente para honrar o serviço da dívida e distribuir dividendos aos acionistas, além de pagar, pela primeira vez na sua existência, salários extras aos profissionais, a título de participação nos resultados. De quebra, o jornal ganhou 36 prêmios.

When we left, I and Elói wrote an internal memo, listing the high points of our management, from the redesign of the newspaper to the rebalancing of its books. In 2005 and 2006, the company put up the best numbers in its history, generating enough cash to service its debt and pay a dividend to shareholders, as well as paying bonuses to its employees for the first time in its history, under a revenue-sharing plan. To top it off, the newspaper won 36 prizes.

No dia seguinte ao da minha saída, encontrei uma mensagem do doutor Ruy, com palavras simpáticas, na caixa postal do meu celular.

The day I left, I found a message from Dr. Ruy, with kind words, on the voicemail of my cell phone.

Como era uma gravação, não pude responder ao vivo. Mas eu queria dizer a ele que espero que todo aquele trabalho não tenha sido apenas para que os Bancroft paulistanos, os Mesquita, possam se instalar com conforto na janela do Estadão, aguardando ansiosos a chegada de um senhor Murdoch e da murdoquização.

I would have liked to have told Ruy Mesquita that I hoped that all that work had not been simply so that the Bancrofts of São Paulo, the Mesquita, could simply sit comfortably by the window at the Estadão, waiting anxiously for the arrival of some Murdoch, and Murdochization.

Finally, defending the role of the Estado, the Folha, and Globo in the “mountain of money” episode. (Which as frequent readers of these notes will know I find totally indefensible — though actually, the Estado‘s coverage of the story was the least ethically impaired, I also find.)

A vida na redação seguiu normalmente. Vinha a eleição presidencial, com uma campanha sem sobressaltos nem grandes emoções. Na fase da discussão de programas entre os candidatos principais, o presidente Lula e Geraldo Alckmin, o tédio e a falta de propostas aguçaram o senso de humor do doutor Ruy, que se saiu com essa boutade: “A segunda pior coisa que pode acontecer ao Brasil é o Lula ganhar no primeiro turno e sair muito forte; e a primeira pior coisa que pode acontecer é o Alckmin ganhar”. A frase, ainda que dita em tom de piada, pode parecer inverossímil para o tropel militante que freqüenta a constelação de blogs da internet, tecendo fabulosas teorias conspiratórias sobre a “grande mídia golpista e neoliberal” contra o Lula.

Life in the newsroom went on normally. Then the presidential election came around, and a campaign without surprises or grand emotions.

The opposition candidate and a leading member of the coalition told the press that the PCC criminal faction had conspired with the party of government to murder policemen in order to harm the “Decent Brazil” candidate. I have the clipping right here. They said so repeatedly.

That gave me a right sobressalto, I can tell you.

While discussing the alternative programs of government by Lula and Alckmin, Doctor Ruy was inspired by tedium and the lack of concrete proposals to quip …

And there you have the Mesquita “lesser of two evils” apothegm.

Esse tropel é o mesmo que acredita que os jornais e a Rede Globo esconderam o acidente do vôo 1907, da Gol, para dar mais destaque à foto da pilha de dinheiro encontrada com os “aloprados” que queriam comprar um dossiê contra José Serra e foram presos pela Polícia Federal. Lembro bem daquela noite. Estava na mesa de edição da primeira página quando, faltando alguns minutos para o primeiro fechamento, das 20 horas e 30 minutos, alguém disse que um avião tinha sumido lá pela Amazônia.

This bunch [the “coup-plotting” media critics] is the same one who believes that the newspapers and Rede Globo hid the Gol Flight 1907 air disaster in order to place more emphasis on the “mountain of money” found with the “nut jobs” who wanted to buy a dossier against José Serra and were arrested by the Federal Police. I remember that night well. It was at my desk, editing the front page, when, just a few minutes from deadline, at 8:30 pm, someone said a plane had disappeared over the Amazon.

A primeira edição foi fechada com o avião sumido, sem confirmação da queda. A segunda foi fechada com a confirmação da queda e do número de passageiros, mas sem mais informações, em função da distância e da inexistência de uma cobertura local. Os principais jornais usaram a mesma fórmula para a primeira página: um quadro no alto, com as informações disponíveis sobre o acidente, e a manchete tradicional, com o noticiário sobre a compra do dossiê e a foto do dinheiro, vazada por um delegado da Polícia Federal. Mais tarde, o tropel tentou ideologizar a escolha dos jornais e também o fato de que o Jornal Nacional teria dado mais destaque ao dossiê que ao acidente. Só a ignorância sobre o processo de produção jornalística, aliada à má-fé ideológica, poderia produzir esse tipo de fantasia política.

The first edition was closed with the aircraft still unaccounted for, without confirmation that it had crashed. The second edition closed with the confirmation of the crash and the number of passengers, without any other information, due to the fact that the incident was in a remote area and there were no local reporters. The metro dailies all used the same formula for the front page: A box above the fold, with the information that was available and the traditional headline, with the news about the purchase of the dossier and the photo of the money, leaked by a federal agent.

The Estadão identified the source of the leak, as I recall, as a “source within a judical police agency” or some such thing — omitting to specify that it was federal.

Later, this troop [of “coup-plotting media” shouters] tried to ideologize the choice by the papers and the fact that the Jornal Nacional gave more play to the “mountain of money” than the accident. Only ignorance of the process of journalistic production, allied to ideological bad-faith, could produce this type of political fantasy.

Mino Carta is ignorant of the realities of production on a deadline?

This is something of a “filibustering while changing the subject,” I think.

The real journalistic issue there was the sourcing of that story.

The Estado fudged it. And actually, the coverage accompanying the photo was a lot more newsy: Something like, “PT will sue to stop publication of the mountain of money photo.”

The Folha, meanwhile, simply out and out lied — and when the tape came out, reporters were heard agreeing to run a false story, knowing it to be false, in order to “protect their source.”

Ye gods.

And the really amazing thing to see, once the source was outed as “Bruno Surfistinha” — a federal policeman who had been taken off the case, but lied his way into the evidence storage area to snap the “mountain of money” photos, was Globo journalists rushing to interview that source — live, at 11:30 pm, interrupting regularly scheduled programming, right before Jô Soares went on.

Long after the primetime newscast in question.

In other words, they aired the “mountain of money” source without actually identifying or interviewing the source. Much less granting the accused the right of defense.

We saw that ourselves, live.

Technically, I guess you could say, Globo did allow us to “consider the source.”

Technically.

Really, my knee-jerk impression was that the Estadão emerged from this incident with much less egg on its face than the other news organizations represented in that sleazy little huddle, a recording of which leaked out. Namely, the Estado, the Folha, O Globo, and Radio Jovem Pan, I think it was.

Whose reporter can be heard saying, “No, I don’t need photos. I work for the radio, duh.” Which cracked me up.

Which is why it is suprising to hear him defending the competition rather than stressing the relative lack of egg on the Estado’s face.

The Estado’s sourcing was tantamount to Judy Miller identifying Scooter Libby as “a former Hill staffer,” but you could argue that it was less egregious. The man was, after all, an officer of “a judicial police force” — which the Tupi feds, legally speaking, are.
If I worked for them, and was doing the damage control PR, I would be selling that for all I was worth: “Yes, I was standing there wearing a Wal-Mart miniskirt and cheap red pumps, but I never actually did anybody, for money or otherwise.”

I even actually tend to believe that myself.

Was there a causal nexus between this man’s firing and the “mountain of money” incident, by the way?

I need to read up more on that issue.

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