Veja (Brazil) and The New Yorker: The Che Letters


Veja journalists in action on the Web and TV Cultura’s Roda Viva. See also “Violence is a Natural Part of the Political Process”: Diogo Mainardi and the Hog Heaven of the Hard Men

Veja, Che Guevara e Jon Lee Anderson, seu biógrafo: Pedro Doria on “Veja magazine, Che Guevara, and Jon Lee Anderson, his biographer.”

Doria was one of the journalists behind the late, lamented no mínimo. If I win the big prize in the jogo de bicho — I do not actually play sucker bets, mind you — I am giving it all to them, to get it back up and running. Just for the pleasure of having something interesting and intelligent to read.

Conde Nast seems to be interested in setting up a content pipeline to Brazil: Piauí magazine is a New Yorker clone of sorts, deploying its entire package of styles and formulas in Paulista translation — and even featuring Art Spiegelman an awful lot.

Two of Anderson’s books are out here in Brazil, on the Editora Objectiva, which blurbs him thus:

Jon Lee Anderson é jornalista de credibilidade e prestígio internacional, um dos mais importantes colaboradores da revista The New Yorker. É autor de vários livros, entre eles: Che – uma Biografia, publicado no Brasil pela Objetiva; Guerrillas: Journeys in the Insurgent World; The Lion’s Grave: Dispatches from Afghanistan; e, em co-autoria com seu irmão, Scott Anderson, War Zones e Inside the League. Jon Lee mora atualmente em Dorset, na Inglaterra, com a mulher e três filhos.

He is a credible journalist with international prestige and one of the most significant contributors to The New Yorker magazine. The author of various books, including Che: A Biography, published in Brazil by Objectiva; Guerrillas: Journeys in the Insurgent World; The Lion’s Grave: Dispatches from Afghanistan; and, co-authored with his brother, Scott Anderson, War Zones and Inside the League. He lives in [Blighty] …

A few weeks back, Veja magazine ran a cover story on “the myth of Guevara” that breathlessly reported that the man never bathed, had terrible table manners, and other gabbling inanities.

In an interview with CartaCapital magazine, Anderson slammed the Editora Abril newsweekly as a greasy little tabloid rag. Which is, I think, about the size of it. To say the very least.

He continued the thought in the open letter to Veja reproduced here.

In response, the Veja reporter delivers a logic-chopping, finger-wagging lecture on journalistic ethics.

This is a bit like being harangued on the dangers of vigilante justice, and the operation of jet-powered automobiles on Gotham City streets, by billionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne. See also

Examples can be multiplied.

 

O repórter Jon Lee Anderson, biógrafo de Che Guevara, foi procurado há umas semanas pelo também repórter Diogo Schelp, da Veja. O objetivo era uma entrevista curta para a composição da reportagem que saiu na revista a respeito dos 40 anos da morte de Guevara. É um entrevistado natural – afinal, Che Guevara, uma biografia, é a principal referência ao tema.

Anderson, a biographer of Che, was sought out a few weeks ago by Veja reporter Diogo Schelp for a short interview as part of the magazine’s report on the 40th anniversary of Guevara’s death. It was a natural choice for an interview — after all, Anderson’s book is a principal reference on the subject.

A própria revista, na reportagem que Anderson critica, descreve seu livro como ‘a mais completa biografia de Che’. Mas a cobertura daquele aniversário de morte já foi assunto deste Weblog.

The magazine itself, in the report Anderson criticizes, describes his book as “the most complete biography of Che.” But the coverage of that anniversary has already been discussed in this space.

Anderson respondeu a Diogo mas acabou não sendo procurado. Na semana passada, o veterano repórter de guerra da New Yorker teve acesso e leu a reportagem. Foi sua a decisão de tornar pública esta resposta a Schelp, que começou a circular por email entre os jornalistas brasileiros.

Anderson answered Diogo but ended up not being interviewed. Last week, the veteran war correspondent for The New Yorker read the report. He decided to make his reply to Schelp public, and it began circulating by e-mail among Brazilian journalists.

A original é em inglês, esta que segue é uma tradução:

The original is in English, the following is a translation:

Which poses a dilemma for me: Retranslating a translation back into the original language is, of course, an absurd thing to do.

Processing a text through several languages in the automated translator Babelfish, for example, is always good for a cheap giggle.

But as I do not have the original in hand, this absurd exercise is the best I can do. You will get the gist, but if the prose seems graceless, it is not the fault of its original author.

Caro Diogo, Fiquei intrigado quando você não me procurou após eu responder seu email. Aí me passaram sua reportagem em Veja, que foi a mais parcial análise de uma figura política contemporânea que li em muito tempo. Foi justamente este tipo de reportagem hiper editorializada, ou uma hagiografia ou – como é o seu caso – uma demonização, que me fizeram escrever a biografia de Che. Tentei pôr pele e osso na figura super-mitificada de Che para compreender que tipo de pessoa ele foi. O que você escreveu foi um texto opinativo camuflado de jornalismo imparcial, coisa que evidentemente não é. Jornalismo honesto, pelos meus critérios, envolve fontes variadas e perspectivas múltiplas, uma tentativa de compreender a pessoa sobre quem se escreve no contexto em que viveu com o objetivo de educar seus leitores com ao menos um esforço de objetividade. O que você fez com Che é o equivalente a escrever sobre George W. Bush utilizando apenas o que lhe disseram Hugo Chávez e Mahmoud Ahmadinejad para sustentar seu ponto de vista. No fim das contas, estou feliz que você não tenha me entrevistado. Eu teria falado em boa fé imaginando, equivocadamente, que você se tratava de um jornalista sério, um companheiro de profissão honesto. Ao presumir isto, eu estaria errado. Esteja à vontade para publicar esta carta em Veja, se for seu desejo.

I was curious when you did not seek me out for an interview after I responded to your e-mail. Then they showed me your reporting in Veja magazine, which was the most biased analysis of a contemporary political figure I have read in a long time. It was just this kind of hypereditorialized reporting, whether hagiography or, as in your case, demonization, that made me write a biography of Che. I tried to put flesh and bone on the supermythified Che in order to understand what kind of person he was. What you wrote was an opinion piece camouflaged as impartial journalism, which it quite obviously is not. Honest journalism, by my standards, involves diverse sources and multiple perspective, an attempt to understand the person on which one in writing in the context in which he lived, with the objective of educating one’s readers, with at least an attempt at objectivity. What you did with Che was the equivalent of writing about George W. Bush based only on what Chávez and Ahmedinajad say about him in order to support your point of view. In the end, I am glad you did not interview me. I would have spoken to you in good faith, imagining, erroneously, that you were a serious journalist, a colleague in an honest profession. In assuming this, I was mistaken. Feel free to publish this letter in Veja, if you like.

Signed,
Jon Lee Anderson.

In response, Schelp delivers a finger-wagging lecture on journalistic ethics.

In that newsreel above, you see executive editor Marcio Aith delivering a similar finger-wagging lecture on ethics to Franklin Martins — a former Globo talking head, now Lula’s Tony Snow — on Roda Viva. In the form of a rhetorical question.

Veja is prone to deliver these sorts of finger-wagging lectures on ethics. They tend to promote the notion that “we are all prostitutes” — a standard sophomoric exercise in pop Schopenhauerean pessimism. See, for example,

Schelp denies that he received the response that Anderson mentions, attributing the failure to commun’cate to technical difficulties.

Eu fiquei me perguntando, depois de lhe enviar um email pedindo (educadamente) uma entrevista, por que nunca recebi uma resposta sua. Agora sei que a mensagem deve ter-se perdido devido a algum programa antispam ou por qualquer outra questão tecnológica. Também não recebi sua ‘carta’ – talvez pelo mesmo problema. Tudo isso não tem a menor importância agora porque você resolveu o assunto valendo-se dos meios mais baixos – um email circular. O que lhe fez pensar que tinha o direito de tornar pública nossa correspondência, incluindo a mensagem em que eu (educadamente) pedia uma entrevista? Isso, caro Anderson, é antiético. Vindo de alguém que se diz um jornalista, é surpreendente. Você pode não gostar da reportagem que escrevi; ela pode ser boa ou ruim, bem-escrita ou não, editorializada ou não – mas não foi feita com os métodos antiéticos que você usa. Eu respeito a relação entre jornalistas e fontes. Você não. E mais: parece-me agora que você é daquele tipo de jornalista que tem medo de fazer uma ligação telefônica (assim são os maus jornalistas), já que tem meu cartão de visita e conhece meu número de telefone. Se você tinha algo a dizer sobre a reportagem — e já que sua mensagem não estava chegando a seu destino — poderia ter me ligado.

I was asking myself, after sending you an e-mail requesting (politely) an interview with you, why I never received a reply from you. Now I know that the message must have been lost due to some antispam program or some other technological issue. I also did not receive your “letter” — possibly for the same reason.

I used to have this problem with my e-mail system at the last company I worked for.

It was astonishing: We had a Microsoft Exchange server that limited us all to 35 MB of e-mail storage — sending your message back with an “undeliverable” stamp if you failed to keep the bucket from slopping over — as well as antispam software that ate legitimate messages. My staff complained that they were spending more time managing e-mail than reporting.

So I just invited them all to Gmail.

I can think of other cases when Veja has defended the publication of nonexistent facts as the product, not of bad faith, but of technical errors. Judy Millerism — “You are only as good as your sources” — seems to be a standard defense in this vein. It rarely, if ever, passes the smell test.

When communicating with these people, you really need to use return receipts.

It is difficult to evaluate the truth of this particular claim — the dog ate my homework (twice) — but these people turn out to be pathological liars often enough that precautions are warranted as a matter of standard procedure.

All of this has not the least importance now because you decided to resolve the issue by using the lowest means possible — the e-mail circular. What makes you think you have the right to publish our correspondence, including the method in which I (politely) asked you for an interview? This, my dear Anderson, is unethical. Coming from someone who calls himself a journalist, this is surprising. You may not like the report I filed. It may be good or bad, well-written or badly written, editorialized or not. But at least it was not written using the kinds of unethical means you employ. I respect the relationship between journalists and sources. You do not.

This is an astonishing claim: that it is unethical for the source to fail to respect the privacy of their journalist.

And what is more: You now seem to me to be that kind of journalist who is afraid to pick up the telephone (that is what bad journalists are like), given that you had my business card and know my telephone number. If you had something to say about the article — and given that your message did not reach me — you might have called me.

It was unethical of Anderson to respond publicly to a story published in a magazine on a subject he can arguably claim to know quite a bit about.

It would, by that same token, be unethical of any reader to communicate with anyone about anything anyone publishes — unless it is to communicate a favorable opinion of its quality and truthiness.

Eu não sei que tipo de imagem de si mesmo você quer criar (ou proteger) negando os fatos que o seu próprio livro mostra, mas está claro agora que é a de alguém sem ética. Você pode ficar certo de que não aparecerá mais nas páginas desta revista.

I do not know what type of image of yourself you are trying to create (or protect) by denying the facts that your own book show, but it is clear to me now that you are an unethical person. You can be certain that you will not appear again in the pages of this magazine.

Veja does not give voice to those it considers morally inferior. But see

If you want equal time from Veja magazine after they charge you with barbecuing and consuming human babies, you have to drag them through the courts.

Equal time for the subject of scandalous accusations is not a key element of journalistic fairness and integrity, in their view.

It is a Communist plot based on “the pornography of facts.” I actually saw some wing-nut using that phrase to describe Journalism 1.0 once. “The pornography of facts.”

Doria’s own take on the Che wars, meanwhile:

A memória de Ernesto Guevara de la Serna está em disputa. A imprensa brasileira lhe dedicou muitos registros e pelo menos duas capas que entram em evidente conflito. À esquerda está a hagiografia da Caros Amigos; à direita, a ‘ódiografia’ da Veja. São, ambos, textos de um jornalismo que nasce da defesa de uma ideologia. Nos 40 anos de sua morte, este Weblog limitou-se a publicar uma nota. Foi um erro. Entender Guevara, ou ao menos, como Guevara é percebido, parece ser muito importante para nos entendermos, latino-americanos. E, para isso, é preciso antes compreender que o Che do pôster e Ernesto Guevara são pessoas diferentes.

The memory of Ernesto Guevara de la Serna is in dispute. The Brazilian press dedicated many articles and at least two cover stories that obviously clash with one another. On the left was the hagiography of Caros Amigos, on the right, the “hateography” of Veja. Both are born out of the defense of an ideology.

At least with Caros Amigos — which I read regularly — you know exactly what you are getting. It’s a bit like Vermelho, the party newspaper of the PCdoB, which has a hammer and sickle on the cover, for crying out loud.

There is truth in advertising there, at the very least. This is not the place to go looking for a spirited defense of the works of Ayn Rand (such as the one offered by Alan Greenspan on his recent Latin American speaking tour — including an exclusive interview with Veja.)

Expect to read that corruption is endemic to capitalism!

Which is not a vast generalization I subscribe to, mind you.

Still, with respect to the facts that the PCdoB chooses to highlight, in support of its PCdoBistical worldview, you at least do not generally find nonexistent ones, and there is a decent degree of professionalism, including an attempt at balance.

Caros Amigos, besides offering an interesting mix of opinion journalism from the leftward perspective — which is a surprisingly diverse field of opinion, if you have grown up with fairy tales of monolithic Maoist-Stalinist groupthink, and a useful one, if you are interesting in mapping the shape of public opinion (contrary to what Cardoso says, the Left do not win elections here through “Nazi propaganda” or unfair use of the HypnoToad) — also offers some good straight reporting on neglected topics.

Especially their alt.newsmaker interviews, which are almost invariably thorough, well researched and challenging to the interview subject.

From Veja, and other Abril publications, you tend to get pure, gabbling nonsense (with rhetorical trappings and flourishes of journalistic objectivity that are about as substantial as the Emperor’s new clothes. )

On just about any topic you can name, trivial or momentous.

Veja just plain flat-out tends to state nonexistent facts. Anonymously sourced, almost invariably.

A specimen case, chosen more or less at random recently:

A Veja já fez bom jornalismo. Em 1997, quando completavam-se 30 anos de sua morte, ela contou de como a execução do homem Ernesto Guevara criou o mito do Che que morreu para nos salvar. Na época, a revista preocupava-se mais em compreender o mundo do que em doutrinar.

There was a time when Veja did good journalism. In 1997, on the thirtieth anniversary of Che’s death, the magazine told the story of how the execution of Ernesto, the man, created the myth of Che, who died to save us. In those days, the magazine was more interested in understanding the world than in indoctrinating its readers.

Che era um símbolo para o tempo maniqueísta e polarizado inventado pela Guerra Fria. Mas aí entra, interessantemente, a tese da Economist. O mito de Che atrapalha a esquerda.

Che was a symbol for Manichaean, polarized times invented by the Cold War. That is what makes The Economist‘s analysis interesting: That the myth of Che is holding back the left.

Conquistamos democracias em vários pontos do continente. Países como o Brasil vivem, já, o período contínuo de democracia mais longo de suas histórias. Junto com a democracia veio uma estabilidade monetária ímpar. Estas são conquistas valiosas. Conquistas que trouxeram, diga-se, a esquerda ao poder. O mito de Che prega uma revolução que não faz mais sentido. Revolução, hoje, seria Golpe de Estado – afinal, não vivemos um regime de exceção ou mesmo uma pseudo-democracia dominada por um poder estrangeiro. Somos, a maioria de nós, Estados legitimamente soberanos. (Soberanos o suficiente para permitir que um presidente aqui, um aprendiz de ditador acolá, fale mal à vontade dos EUA sem comprometer o saldo positivo da balança comercial.)

We have created democracies in various countries on the continent now. Countries like Brazil are living through the longest periods of continuous democracy in their histories. Together with democracy came an unprecedented monetary stability. These are valuable conquests. Conquests that have brought, let it also be said, the left to power. The myth of Che preaches a revolution that no longer makes sense. Revolution, today, would mean a coup d’etat — after all, we do not live in a state of exception or a pseudo-democracy dominated by a foreign power. Most of us are legitimate, sovereign states. (Sovereign enough for one president here, the apprentice of a dicatator from another era, to cross the United States without compromising the positive balance of trade.)

He may be referring to Lula and General Geisel, whose defeat of the hard-liners opened the way for democratization. (A story told extremely well by historian Elio Gaspari, in four volumes.)

Falamos de oligarquias como se nossos países não tivessem mudado, já. Uma esquerda insiste em olhar com desconfiança para o industrial, o banqueiro ou o comerciante. É o industrial que, se tiver sucesso, vai aumentar o salário do pobre e permitir ao filho do pobre a oportunidade de ser classe média e, um dia, pequeno industrial. Não é má a idéia de um país de pequenos burgueses.

We talk about oligarchies as if our countries had not changed in the meantime. One faction of the left insists on eyeing industrialists, bankers or business owners with suspicion.

You do see quite a bit of that.

But it is the industrialist who, if he succeeds, is going to raise the salary of the poor and give their children the opportunity to join the middle class, and one day become small business owners themselves. The idea of a nation of small shopkeepers is not such a bad one.

Insistir num ideal revolucionário nos distrai dos problemas reais. Temos, brasileiros, chilenos, argentinos, mexicanos, países melhores do que tivemos. Mas ainda temos vícios antigos. Um legislativo corrupto, por exemplo – embora, agora, a corrupção seja evidente e constantemente denunciada. É bom ter liberdade para tal. Nossas eleições, por conta da lei, ainda são viciadas. É preciso uma profunda reforma fiscal. Há problemas ainda mais graves e urgentes: educação, saúde e habitação. Destes, educação é o mais revolucionário no sentido de que transforma a sociedade de uma forma profunda. Lança num mundo de oportunidades uma turma que, apenas uma geração antes, estava condenada à pobreza.

Insisting on a revolutionary ideal distracts us from real problems. We — Brazilians, Chileans, Mexicans, Argentines — have better countries than we used to. But we also suffer from timeworn vices. A corrupt legislative branch, for example — although now corruption may be more visible, and more constantly denounced. It is good to have the freedom to do so. But our elections, because of the electoral laws, are still flawed. A fundamental fiscal reform is needed. And there are even more urgent problems: Education, health, housing. Of these, education is the most revolutionary, in the sense that it transforms society in a profound way. It opens a world of opportunity to a group of people who just a generation ago were condemned to perpetual poverty.

And so on.

On “the revolutionary potential of education,” see also

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