“New York x the Freguesia de Ó”: More Hell to Pay on Veja and Che

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“The murderous, stinking Che, according to Jon Lee Anderson: The fearless Anderson writes and signs his name to it.” “The American Jon Lee Anderson is a courageous writer, without fear of offending his Marxist friends, he writes in his biography of Che about the cold-blooded murderousness of the guerilla icon.”

In the Observatório da Imprensa, journalist Luis Nassif and public relations maven Carlos Brickmann follow up on

Nassif:

É patética a “represália” da Veja contra o jornalista Jon Lee Anderson – que criticou a capa sobre Che Guevara. Ironiza o fato de ele ser “corajoso, sem medo de se indispor com seus amigos marxistas”. Acha que esse patrulhamento rastaqüera vai afetar um dos repórteres mais prestigiados de uma das revistas mais sofisticadas do planeta.

Pathetic, the “reprisals” by Veja magazine against journalist Jon Lee Anderson — who criticized its cover story about Che Guevara. It jokes that he is “courageous, without fear of getting on the bad side of his Marxist buddies.” It thinks this nouveau-riche thought policing is going to affect one of the most prestigious journalists of one of the most sophisticated magazines on the planet.

Hiring Tina Brown was an example of “sophistication”? (Showing her the door, on the other hand, could be read as “sophistication regained.” I hardly ever read The New Yorker anymore.)

Rastaqüera is not a word that figures in the Houaiss unabridged dictionary (in its usability-nightmare online edition, at least) but has been defined by some amateur lexicographer I googled up as referring to

Indivíduo que chama a atenção por seus gastos luxuosos e ostentações, atitude típica do novo-rico.

An individual who calls attention to himself through ostentatious, luxurious spending, an attitude typical of the nouveau-riche.

É a Freguesia do Ó (com todo respeito) contra New York.

It is the Freguesia do Ó (with all due respect) against New York City.

Wikipedia on the Freguesia, a district in northeastern Saõ Paulo (boil Wikipedia before consuming, as always):

Atualmente o bairro sofre um aumento do ataque especulativo de empresas construtoras. Um dos motivos se deve justamente a presença terrenos descampados e casas velhas simples, de baixo valor comercial, em comparação a outros bairros. Isto se deve em grande parte a retificação pela qual o Rio Tietê passou, durante a administração do prefeito Prestes Maia, além das obras que abriram as avenidas Inajar de Sousa e General Edgard Facó nos anos 80, e nelas, a canalização dos rios Cabuçu e Verde (respectivamente).É considerado um dos bairros com melhor qualidade no fornecimento de água dentro da cidade de São Paulo.

Currently the neighborhood is suffering an increase in speculative attacks by construction firms. One of the reasons is the concentration of vacant lots and simple old houses, with little commercial value, in comparison with other neighborhoods, due in large part to the project to straighten the course of the Tietê River during the administration of mayor Prestes Maia, as well as the opening of Inajar and General Facó Avenues in the 1980s, and the channeling of the Cabuçu and Verde Rivers beneath them, respectively. It is considered one of the neighborhoods with the best fresh-water supply in the city of São Paulo.

I could not tell you about the armpits of Ernesto, but I can report first-hand that the Tietê really does stink.

Less so than before, thanks to years and years of (interminable, cost-overrun- and delay-plagued) clean-up, but as I was noticing the other day, standing on the platform at the Cidade Universitária station, the full Tietê stink seems to have simply been exported to the Pinheiros River.

Hard to imagine anything stinking worse than that. Sorry, local tourist board. But the commuters on that line know for a fact that I am right.

Wikipedia geography notes on Brazil are interesting. They tend to have two distinct types of author: Undergraduate and graduate geography students and local real estate promoters.

It is not hard to distinguish their respective contributions by examining the writing style and the focus of attention.

At any rate, the intention here is to contrast between New York sophistication and tropical provincialism — cf. Ô do Borogodô and a casa da mãe Joana. As Paulo Francis famously said,

O Brasil sempre foi a casa da mãe Joana de elites sub-reptícias que fazem o que querem. (Brazil has always been a backwater whose backstabbing elites do whatever they please) — Paulo Francis.

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Rastaqüerismo: “Why the Rich Keep Getting Richer” IstoÉ magazine, December 6, 2006. “Studies reveal that the number of millionaires in Brazil and the world is rising. In a style that is very much their own, many flaunt symbols of their wealth, a shift in the standards of behavior that this select group had observed before now.”

Depois “prova” que Anderson afirmou que Che “fedia”. Está certo que, em plena selva, o ar condicionado às vezes falhava. E comprova, com base do livro, que, durante a guerrilha, Che guerrilhava, isto é, matava os adversários. E eu que achava que ele pertencia à Cruz Vermelha.

Veja goes on to “prove” that Anderson reported that Che “stank.” It is true that in the middle of the jungle the air conditioning sometimes goes on the blink. And it proves, based on his book, that during the war, Che made war. That is, he killed the enemy. And here I thought he was a member of the Red Cross.

O “ataque” apenas comprova que Anderson fez uma biografia isenta de Che. O que aumenta o valor de suas críticas contra o padrão Veja de jornalismo.

This “attack” only shows that Anderson wrote an impartial biography of Che. Which increases the value of his criticism against the Veja standard of journalism.

I am happy to promote the myth of New York ultrasophistication, of course — it is good for the municipal brand, and we do own real estate there — but there is also someone I want you all to meet someday, just so you grok some of the nuance and complexity of our great city: Brooklyn borough president Marty “Fuhgeddaboudid!” Markowitz.

Last spotted by this reporter during the Coney Island Mermaid Parade — in which we marched with the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, by the way, wearing a cangaceiro hat and strumming our cavaco.

New York City is plagued by Veja-style journalism as well, note — although at least it comes packaged as what it is: A cheap tabloid rather than a weighty, glossy authoritative weekly in the genre of Look and Time and Life the like.

I am referring, of course, to Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post. See

The New York Post, however, does better journalism, on the whole.

On the Brazilian press on New York sophistication, a vision often based mainly on bad TV shows, badly dubbed and poorly understood, see also

Brickmann, meanwhile, on the same incident:

Tudo começou com uma briga em que ninguém tem razão. Ao fazer uma capa para Veja sobre Ernesto “Che” Guevara, o repórter pediu uma entrevista a um jornalista americano que escreveu festejada biografia do guerrilheiro. Por algum motivo, a entrevista não se realizou. O americano não gostou da reportagem; e, em vez de enviar uma carta ao autor, ou à revista, ou a ambos, enviou-a também a uma lista de correspondência, que a divulgou pela internet. Nela, insulta o repórter. Este reagiu protestando não contra as críticas ou os insultos, mas contra a divulgação da troca de mensagens entre ambos, que qualificou de antiética.

It all began with a quarrel in which nobody is right. While preparing a cover story on Che for Veja magazine, the reporter requested an interview from an American journo who had written a celebrated biography of the guerrilla leader. For some reason, the interview never came off.

The Veja reporter said his e-mail spam filter must have eaten the message. Twice. “The dog ate my homework.”

The American did not like the article and, instead of sending a letter to the author, or the magazine, he sent it instead to an Internet mailing list. In it, he insults the reporter. The reporter reacted by protesting, not against the criticisms or insults, but against the publication to the mailing list, which he characterized as unethical.

The letter was addressed to the reporter and cc:d to the mailing list — your standard “open letter” format — so it can hardly be claimed he did not speak directly to the man about his objections.

But did Anderson really insult this Veja reporter?

Anderson wrote [my retranslation back into English]

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.

The man stated what he thought the criteria of good journalism were, and how he thought Veja fell short. I share this view.

Veja journalism routinely violates all the canons of information services quality control with all the enthusiasm of Malcolm MacDowell taking a baseball bat to a shop window in Clockwork Orange.

But not take my word for it: Take a standard ethics and integrity manual for journalists. Take a Veja article. Find the violations of basic principles: Equal time for those accused, representing the views of all parties to a controversy, fact-checking, sourcing, not editorializing in the news hole.

Worrying about what people will think if you run a scandal piece that does not check out factually, while at the same time paying the source of that piece to appear naked in another of your magazines.

Finding cases in which it does abide by these basic principles can be as difficult as finding Waldo.

Another basic source for analyzing Veja journalism:

The Veja reporter took this professional critique as an insult and gave Anderson a finger-wagging lecture on journalistic ethics in return.

But calling this an insult is a bit like saying that the 70% of Americans who disapprove of George Bush’s job performance, or those who take a dim view of Clinton or Obama’s qualifications for office, hold “insulting” views of those officials.

I think John Kerry is a decent guy — for a Massachussetts politician — but was an abysmal failure of a candidate. Have I insulted him? He did, after all, lose the election. (And yet, for some reason, the president of the party who presided over this debacle kept his job. Go figure.)

The other day, my wife fumbled a new carne seca and abóbora recipe she was trying out.

She asked me how I liked it.

It was inedible.

I thought, “Will she be insulted if I tell her the truth?”

I decided to be honest, but indirect: “Um, let’s order a pizza.”

She was not insulted. Together, we did a technical critique of the dish and she said she now realized that you cannot cook the carne seca and the abóbora together in the pressure cooker. They should be mixed just before serving. Otherwise, the flavor of both gets lost.

She was right. The next iteration was yummy, served with a creamy risotto.

There are times when I do tell white lies because my wife is obviously in a mood to get insulted if I do not like what she cooks (which is not often, by the way.) But mostly she really wants to know my honest reaction.

Até aí, normal: bate-bocas, com ou sem bons motivos, são freqüentes na profissão – ainda mais quando envolvem, como no caso, diferentes visões da mesma personagem. O grave é uma frase do repórter brasileiro enviada ao americano: “Você pode ficar certo de que não aparecerá mais nas páginas desta revista”.

So far, the usual: exchanges of hot air, with or without good intentions, are frequent in the profession, especially when they involve, as in this case, different visions of the same personage. The serious thing here is what the Brazilian journalist wrote to the American: “You can be sure that you will never again appear in the pages of this magazine.”

Trata-se de algo que sempre se comentou, de que muito se falou, mas que até agora não tinha confirmação formal (e, aliás, sempre foi oficialmente negada): a existência de uma “lista negra” em veículos de comunicação. Pior: quando se falava em “lista negra”, sempre se pensava no comando supremo do veículo, ou da empresa. Nunca se pensou que um repórter, por melhor que fosse, por mais alto que estivesse na hierarquia da reportagem, pudesse incluir nomes na lista negra.

This is something that is constantly commented on, about which much has been said, but which until now has not been formally confirmed (and what is more, has always been officially denied): The existence of a “black list” at news organization. Worse: When “black lists” were talked about, one always though about the senior management of the news organization, or the owners of the business. One never thought that a reporter, no matter how good, no matter how high-ranking in the newsroom, would include names on a black list.

This is a melodramatic statement, on the fact of it: A black list of one.

But it is also something of an anticlimax. The dramatic revelation here, that Veja (and Globo as well, typically) runs stories without soliciting, or permitting the publication of, the views of persons criticized in those stories, is not really all that dramatic or revelatory.

It is readily observable, week after week, year after year.

Veja thinks giving equal time to all parties to public case or controversy, and other principles expounded by Bill Keller in his famous “integrity” memo to the Times, is a Communist plot. It often says as much, by word and by deed.

Brickmann is an ad and public relations guy, but remember, under Brazilian labor law, advertising (propaganda) and journalism are classified as the same thing. Thus, for example, Richard “Rashomon” Edelman would be classified as a journalist here. A monument to the man would be constructed on Richard Edelman, Journalist Avenue.

Este é um tema que vale a pena discutir, aqui no Observatório da Imprensa e em todas as instâncias jornalísticas. Seria interessantíssimo conhecer a opinião de Luiz Weis, cuja coluna neste Observatório tem sido preciosa, pela escolha de temas e pela análise de cada um deles. E, naturalmente, de Alberto Dines, que há muitos anos pensa jornalismo e já comandou grandes veículos [ver aqui uma pesquisa no Google].

This is a topic worth debating, here in the Observatory and in other journalism pubications. It would be very interesting to know what Luiz Weis, whose column here is precious, for the choice of topics and the analysis he provides, has to say about the matter. And naturally, what Dines, who for years has been thinking about journalism and has headed major news organizations, has to say.

I am never particularly interested in what Weis has to say. He tends to chop logic in defense of the indefensible. See

And Dines has gotten awfully shrill lately, though I still regularly read him. Wearing ear protection so as not be deafened by the heavy rhetorical artillery.

Lista negra é o oposto do jornalismo; é a negação da imprensa livre. A opinião é livre, mas levar ao leitor “all the news that’s fit to print” é a obrigação de cada jornalista.

A “black list” is the opposite of journalism. It is the negation of a free press. Opinion is free, but bringing the reader “all the news that’s fit to print” is the obligation of every journalist.

“Fit to print” according to whom?

The recent history of Veja makes it quite clear to me: If you want equal time to respond to allegations they make against you, you have to drag them through the courts for years.

When they lose libel cases in which they are found to have reported (sometimes shockingly) nonexistent facts, they position themselves as martyrs to the freedom of expression.

The journalistic principle of equal time, they tend to argue, as does Ali “Opus Dei” Kamel of Globo, is a Communist plot. See

These people are just unbelievable.

I thought about buying Anderson’s bio, in Portuguese, the other day, but it was selling for $R70 at the Siciliano bookstore — in a paperback edition, mind you — or 18% of a minimum monthly salary designed to support a family of four.

Even listed at $82 on Amazon for the hardcover, that is roughly only 9% of an equivalent minimum monthly salary back home, I reckon.

The paperback from 2001 is going for $21.06, or some 2% of my very rough estimate of what a full-time minimum-wage earner can bring in.

Books (and CDs and DVDs) in Brazil are absurdly expensive.

They tend to come out in tiny editions that are hard to distinguish from vanity self-publishing.

They tend to be written either by people who mock the people who cannot afford to buy and read them, for being illiterate or semiliterate and in any event congenitally stupid, or else they have to do with spiritual self-help and why modern science is a Communist plot.

(I am not exaggerating: I was proposed a translation project recently involving a book with precisely that thesis. Literally.)

Selling 10,000 copies — that is, reaching 0.005% of the population — makes you a best-seller and, as Larry Rohter said of Bruna Surfistinha’s book, a “cultural phenomenon.” It is a monopoly-plagued mass-market culture industry that is actually consumed by a tiny, tiny minority. It is edited and published by a bunch of know-nothing Savanarolas who actively market ignorance as bliss.

It is astonishing to see.

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