Miriam Leitão: “Authoritarian” Moral Panic Moment No. 999

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“They think that Abril supports Cardoso’s plan of government. They have it wrong. It is not Abril who supports Cardoso. It is Cardoso who supports Abril’s plan of government.” –Roberto Civita, Grupo Abril

Moral crusades advance claims about both the gravity and incidence of a particular problem. They typically rely on horror stories and “atrocity tales” about victims in which the most shocking exemplars of victimization are described and typified. Casting the problem in highly dramatic terms by recounting the plight of highly traumatized victims is intended to alarm the public and policy makers and justify draconian solutions. At the same time, inflated claims are made about the magnitude of the problem. A key feature of many moral crusades is that the imputed scale of a problem … far exceeds what is warranted by the available evidence.

Mino Carta, editor of Carta Capital, engages in a battle of the typewriters with the irrepressible (or let us say, insufferable) Miriam Leitão of O Globo over another Globo-driven scandal of “authoritarian tendencies” in the government.

[There is a similar constant talking point about São Paulo governor Serra, of the opposition PSDB, as well: That he is “authoritarian.” I can never manage to see any sense in either talking point.)

On which see also

Some people (my wife, for example) like the soaps. Or monster-truck racing. I get a kick out of watching Brazilian journalists play dueling banjos with Globo — a game that has some of the key aspects of both genres.

Globo practices “moral panic” journalism. It may differ in degree at times, but it does not differ in kind from cases like this one, from Peru:

For another sample of (anonymously sourced) “moral panic” journalism in the Leitão style, see also

Let me reproduce the bate-boca and then try to give you some backround on the teapot in which the tempest was brewed: The dismissal of four economists from the IPEA, a government policy think-tank now part of the portfolio of Roberto “Is He, or Is He Not, the Minister of the Future?” Mangabeira Unger, if I am not mistaken.

Leitão plays it as a martyrdom narrative. Martyrdom narratives are the preferred genre of moral panic practiced by this sort of journalist. Compare, for example,

The strange saga of Daniel Dantas also tends to get played as a martyrdom narrative — “at the mercy of dark forces beyond comprehension or control!”:

A similar tempest in a teapot broke out last year, by the way, over a suggested reading list for career diplomats in Brazil’s foreign service, with hysterical shrieks of “Communist brainwashing.”

Globo is dishonest as a general policy and practice. (It is perfectly capable of being honest, and has a lot of world-class journalistic talent. But those people do not tend to advance into management.)

And Miriam Leitão is its Olympian muse in this regard.

Miriam Leitão dispensa apresentações, mas há momentos em que ela é mais Miriam Leitão, e outros em que é menos. Por exemplo. Ela superou-se como Miriam Leitão durante a campanha da reeleição de Fernando Henrique Cardoso, conduzida à sombra da bandeira da estabilidade. Miriam Leitão anunciou ao País que era para acreditar, com empenho infatigável, maciço e diuturno. Foi um sucesso.

Miriam Leitão needs no introductions, but there are moments in which she is more her usual self that others. For example: She outdid herself in being Miriam Leitão during the Cardoso reelection campaign [in 1998], conducted under the solemn banner of stability. Miriam Leitão announced to the nation that it this promise was to believed in, tirelessly, massively, day after day after day. The effort was a success.

O próprio doutor Roberto, nosso colega Marinho, confiou na sua colunista e partiu para alguns investimentos de largo porte, condizentes com a imponência das Organizações Globo. Exatos doze dias depois de empossado, o reeleito desvalorizou o real.

So much so that Dr. Roberto, our fellow journalist Marinho, believed his own columnist and made some very large investments, on a scale consistent with Globo’s power and glory. Exactly 12 days after Cardoso was sworn in for a second term, he devalued the currency.

I am just reading a fascinating book on the subject, the “confessions” of Cacciola, the owner of the Marka Bank, sentenced along with Cardoso’s Central Bank president, whose extradition is currently being negotiated with Monaco.

As told to Eric Nepomuceno.

Cacciola tells the same story: “I believed in Cardoso’s promises on monetary policy. I had a copy of the government’s memorandum of understanding with the IMF. They broke their promise, and I got totally, totally hosed on my short position in the dollar.”

In the process, Mr. Cacciola provides one of the better layman’s explanations I have read of what a hedge is, and how it works.

But cannot quite explain how or why he left unhedged the perpetual risk that politicians will say anything to get elected. Recognized the world over, and richly illustrated with colorful case studies from ancient and modern history.

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Apologia pro vita sua and “witness to history” read of the week.

O artigo de hoje de Miriam Leitão no O Globo é outro momento de glória da veterana jornalista. Conta detalhes infinitesimais do Caso IPEA, a dar voz exclusivamente aos demitidos, aqueles quatro economistas que organizam desagravos. Marcio Pochmann não foi ouvido, é óbvio.

Miriam Leitão’s article for O Globo today is another glorious moment for the veteran journalist. It details the IPEA Affair in the minutes of details, while hearing exclusively from the aggrieved economists who were fired. Marcio Pochmann (IPEA director) was not heard from, obviously.

O negócio é o de sempre: levantar suspeitas e desfechar acusações contra o governo do ex-metalúrgico, enquanto os demitidos perdem-se em bravatas. Mas, em verdade, verdadeira e factual, este do IPEA não é o caso que houve, e os quatro estão longe de serem os sábios varões desenhados pela mídia nativa. Quanto ao fato de discordarem da política do Banco Central, há muitos mais ferozes do que eles dentro da administração governista. Entre os quais figura com destaque Marcio Pochmann. As demissões têm, no entanto, outra origem. E não excluam, no rol, a incompetência.

It is business as usual: Raise suspicions and launch accusations against the government of the former metalworker, while the aggrieved parties [outdo themselves in expressions of extreme indignation.] But in actual, factual truth, this IPEA case is not what it is being portrayed as, nor are the four wise men quite the wise men the native media have presented. As to their disagreement with the polices of the Central Bank [cited as the cause of their dismissal], there are many more ferocious opponents of that policy in the government camp. Among them Marcio Pochmann himself. The firings have, meanwhile, other causes. Not excluding incompetence from the list.

What Mino is referring to:

Oh, damn, I try to look up the column and get this freaking “virtual edition” instead.

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“The firing is the most visible expression of the festival of obscurantism and bad manners that have attacked the government research institute.”

Memorable quote:

What is odd is that this is not one of those witch-hunts targeting ideological enemies of the economic policy. In truth, the opposite seems true. Michel and Sicsú have published articles against the fiscal and monetary policy, even as the prevailing groupthink can be summed up as follows: Against the Central Bank, in favor of spending. Some of the arguments they use are embarrassing, revealing their ignorance of economic theory.

Miriam Leitão, of course, is qualified to judge other people’s knowledge or lack thereof of economic theory. You can see why Mino focuses in on her history of failed prognostications in his riposte.

This sort of ethos argument is very common. But it is most often an empty claim.

Consider Globo’s “debunking” of “quack science” that at other times it had enthusiastically endorsed, to take but one of many examples of this:

Leitão proceeds to characterize Pochmann’s actions as “a classic authoritarian moment.”

Look, who knows what the internal politics of the IPEA are all about anyway, or the politics of life tenure for Brazilian thinkocrats in the bureaucratic latifúndio? I certainly do not.

But the striking thing is the way that Globo trots out at least one of these “authoritarian moments” just about every blessed day.

It seems to be the only song they know on that gazillion-jigawatt banjo of theirs.

See, for example,

These people have the primitive neurological structure of a shark.

They are incapable of any behavior outside of the simple act of swimming forward with their mouths open.

It is the only behavior they know.

If they stop doing that, they die.

It is quite something to watch.

There is even a sort of primitive majesty to it.

Who has not pressed their nose to the glass at the aquarium and marveled at the strangeness of these atavistic creatures?


“The Authoritarian Temptation: The PT’s attempts to monitor and control the press, television and culture.” Translation: “Dilma could decide those zero-down spectrum concessions we got were the fruit of a skeevy plundering of the commonwealth! Bork her with all you’ve got!

So what is up with the IPEA, anyway?

And why should it matter? I cannot see that it really does. Globo, once again, seems to be trying to get me emotionally worked up about trivialities.

In the meantime, I am reminded of the videoscandal in Ecuador a while back in which the principal complainant turned out to be a government economist who thought he should have been kept on by the new President, but was not.

He made wild accusations. An Ecuadoran television network ginned up an astonishing, one-source videoscandal complete with massive doses of stock footage of mountains of money every time the guy mentioned alleged financial misdeeds.

Short possible moral of the story: There are people in Brazil who feel that the State is, and ought to be, the personal property of the permanent state bureaucracy.

Exalt John Galt but believe they have a natural right to a risk-free sinecure for themselves and their issue down to the nth generation.

Believe that if elected governments try to implement policies they do not agree with, but that the voters endorses, then elected policymakers can go fuck themselves.

And Globo is their Messenger.

Much as Televisa is in Mexico.

When PAN senator Santiago Creel — sort of a Mexican Cardoso — came out against the Ley Televisa, they launched a massive campaign suggesting he was the man who let Zhenli Ye Gon, the Sino-Mexican methamphetamine mogul, operate freely in Mexico.

Ideology is really a red herring, I think, in these nasty little turf wars.

These sorts of people scream bloody murder all day long about “the dictatorship of the labor unions” except when it comes to the corporate rights to life tenure of people who life comfortably off the public dime.

In the U.S., Supreme Court justices make something like 25 times the minimum wage, for example. In Brazil, it is north of 60x and rising.

The main principle here is that the State is, was, and ever shall be the latifundio of the Soviet apparatchiks — God’s elect — and needs to stay that way. Come hell or high water.

Brazilian journalists realize full well that Globo, and its rivals, practice this kind of sleazy “moral panic” journalism. And have the professional-respect to be embarrassed by it, as they should be:

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