Seen on “The Brazilian Letterman Show”: Diogo Mainardi on the Journalism of Buzz

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“Exemplary reporting:” Veja on its relationship with Daniel Dantas, May 24, 2006. Source: Click to zoom.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence –Carl Sagan

buzz noun a confusion of activity and gossip

Main Entry: 2buzz
Function: noun
1 : a persistent vibratory sound
2 a : a confused murmur b : RUMOR, GOSSIP c : a flurry of activity d : FAD, CRAZE e : speculative or excited talk or attention relating especially to a new or forthcoming product or event <one of the few new shows that’s getting good buzzTV Guide>; also : an instance of such talk or attention <their first CD created a huge buzz>
3 : a signal conveyed by buzzer; specifically : a telephone call
4 : HIGH 4

Mass hysteria and stupidity can make a real difference to a business’ bottom line. … –Rhymer Rigby. “Craze Management.” Management Today. London: Jun 1998. p. 58

DIOGENES: The things you must concentrate on are these: always be bold and reckless and jeer indiscriminately at everything, from kings on down. … Speak in a harsh, rough voice … In word, behave exactly like a wild beast. Forget about shame, propriety, moderation.

BUYER: Get away from me! Everything you’ve said is nauseating. It’s inhuman.

DIOGENES: But, listen. It’s so easy. Anyone can do it. No course of study required, not debates, no nonsense. My road is a short-cut to fame … – Lucan, “Philosophies for Sale”

Qui non intelligit res, non potest ex verbis sensum elicere

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence –Donald Rumsfeld, former U.S. government employee

This segment from the Jô Soares show (Globo, Brazil) with Diogo Mainardi of Veja magazine provides a neat little summary of the theory of “journalism” as practiced at Brazil’s Editora Abril.

It is really not all that different from the kind of “journalism” advocated by the likes of Jeff “Buzzmachine” Jarvis or whatever genius through it would be a good idea to start a new section in the Wall Street Journal — not a newspaper traditionally known for murmuring in a confused and excited manner and charging you $1.50 a copy for the privilege of slogging through it — called “The Buzz.”

The story so far:

Veja published an article in May of last year reporting that banker Daniel Dantas had hired risk management consultancy Kroll to produce a dossier claiming to document illegal offshore bank accounts in the names of members of the government, a prominent member of the opposition — Sen. Tuma, former head of the federal police, who recently switched parties from the opposition DEM to the (quasi- or crypto-?)situationist PTB — and other senior officials.

One of those officials, Federal Police chief Lacerda, has since been named to head ABIN, the “Brazilian CIA.” At some point in this whole grotesque affair, a prior head of the spiritual heir to the dictatorship-era SNI (Lucas Figueiredo: O Ministêrio do Silêncio) lost his job. I never did get a very clear picture of that subplot.

The following week, Veja defended the article as follows:

Using all legal means, VEJA tried to confirm the veracity of the material handed over by Manzano [and compiled by Frank Holder of Kroll, with whom executive editor Aith met in Zurich.] Submitted to examination by an expert hired by the magazine, the material presented numerous inconsistencies, but none of them sufficiently strong to completely eliminate the possibility that the papers contained true information. … The magazine made it clear that it could not prove the authenticity of these papers, which could all be a fraud. Even so, it is difficult to believe that the banker would have spent so much time and money to hire and equip international spies only to come away with a bunch of phantom documents.

Despite evidence to the contrary — which we do not have to show you — we find the story plausible. This is our right as opinion journalists:

During his appearance on , Soares asks Mainardi in a perfunctory, and rather incoherently worded, way whether the reporting of rumors does not present a problem of some sort. Globo nods in the direction of journalistic ethics, mumbling as it does so. Reminded me quite a bit of Neal Cavuto’s interview with Rupert Murdoch a while back:

Mainardi refers to it, characteristically, as a legal, not an ethical, issue. Veja tends to take the same view as J.J. Rendón on such matters: If it is legal, it is ethical.

See also

These people apparently get this stuff from Federalist Society seminars.

I think there is an interesting, serious study to be done of Veja‘s legal strategy in the context of the 1967 Press Law here.

The provisions of this dictatorship-era decree-law on right of reply, for example, seem to contain loopholes that Veja exploits frequently in order to deny that right.

For example, when Aith confronted Martins, who had won a libel verdict against Mainardi, on TV Cultura’s Roda Viva a while back, he made a big point of characterizing Martins’ letter requesting equal time as “insulting.”

“You cursed us” (xingou ele de) by calling Mainard “a court jester” (bobo da corte) and so on, he says.

I tend to think of cursing someone as insulting them with strong language, such asthe Brooklynite “freaking douchebag.” But maybe I tend to think of PT-Br xingar as perhaps stronger than it actually is, by (false?) analogy with Sp. chingar. Houaiss gives its origin as Afro-Brazilian — Angolan quimbundo.

But then again, Houaiss also tells us — this dictionary needs a good re-edit — that xingar is both a synonym and an antonym of the verb to insult. I swear. It does.

So I wonder.

Octávio Paz:

¿Quién es la Chingada? Ante todo, es la madre. No una madre de carne y hueso, sino una figura mítica. La Chingada es una de las representaciones mexicanas de la Maternidad, como la Llorona o la “sufrida madre mexicana” que festejamos el diez de mayo. La Chingada es la madre que ha sufrido, metafórica o realmente, la acción corrosiva e infamante implícita en el verbo que le da nombre.

Who is La Chingada? Above all, she is the mother. Not a mother of flesh and bone, but rather a mythic figure. La Chingada is a Mexican archetype of Motherhood, like La Llorona or “the long-suffering Mexican mother” whom we celebrate on the tenth of May. La Chingada is the mother who has suffered, figuratively and literally, the corrosive and degrading act that gives the verb its name.

In Chile and Argentina, chingar means something like “to fail.” In Central America, to bob the tail of an animal. Go figure. The RAE says it originates in the Iberian Gypsy dialect known as caló, zincaló, or roman. End philological excursus.

The Press Law of 1967, if I read this right, has an exception to the right of reply if the reply is “insulting” to the publication of whom the right is being requested.

So apparently the key to denying the right of reply — which both Veja and Globo routinely do — is to act all insultedo senhor xingou ele — when someone points out that the journalism you practice tends to grossly misrepresent the current configuration of the world as best we, the open community of rational inquirers, understand it, based on the available evidence.

For the very first time anywhere, I hereby report the name of the love motel where George Bush had gay sex with Pat Robertson, according to, oh, say, Ariana Huffington.

(This attribution, if I were not, like, totally kidding, would be libelous: the huffing one has not to my knowledge ever made any such claim.)

There is no evidence that George Bush ever had gay sex with Pat Robertson, or anyone else. Huffington does not even claim there is, to my knowledge.

Have I published “information”?

I spread the rumor that Diogo Mainardi is a stealth employee of the United States government.

Again, I have absolutely no solid, factual basis for asserting anything of the kind. None. Sincerely. No information, solid or otherwise, to that effect.

You, idiot that you are — papagaio de todo telejornal — repeat the rumor that I am spreading, on your blog, say, or during a session of “cheap boteco philosophizing.”

Have you passed along “information”?

Or noise?

Mumbling into his beard, Jô Soares — sort of a real-life Brazilian Krusty the Clown — poses a perfunctory question about the quality of the “information” Mainardi is peddling:

Mainardi: It is a fact (that the Kroll dossier made claims that Veja was unable to substantiate, but ran anyway):

Someone else invented it. I am just repeating it. I am not responsible for its accuracy. I am a Veja journalist.

Mainardi is not named as one of the reporters on the Kroll dossier story, but seems to take credit for having acted diligently in Veja’s commedia dell’arte of dubious diligence:

Freedom of expression means that if I choose to believe that Larry Rohter frequents underage prostitutes — an actual rumor, spread (not very virulently or successfully, it seems to me) on the Internet about the Times‘ man in Copacabana — despite lacking any evidence for that claim, then that is my right as a free citizen of the Globo-lized metrosexual globe.

I do not believe that, mind you, because I do not have any reason to believe it. None.

It is not even something I really want to believe, about anyone — despite Rohter’s weird and very public preoccupation with Bruna Surfistinha and soap-opera sex scandals.

Rohter’s deficiencies as a journalist are primarily what interest me, as someone who has to decide every day whether or not to buy the New York Times for a dollar to read on my commute to Boston on the Acela.

And yet you now know about the existence of this nasty little rumor (for which no factual evidence was ever provided, mind you, that I ever saw.)

If you chose to, you could repeat the rumor, citing me as the source.

But I could then deny that I had “reported” any such thing.

I do not endorse that rumor. I sincerely doubt it very much. My kneejerk guess is that it some sort of J.J. Rendón-style gabbling ratfink. An application of the lex talionis: an eye for an eye, a gabbling ratfink for a gabbling ratfink.

Because I have said very clearly that I do not believe the rumor, and have no reason to believe it.

Veja journalism in a nutshell.

Except that Veja would tell you that, despite evidence to the contary, it still found the “Rohter the pedophile” story plausible.

Moving on with the interview: David “Fear and Misinformation Abound”-style fear, uncertainty and doubt is the moral of Mainardi’s personal story about his trip to São Paulo on the Rio-Sampa airbridge.

There is always something that makes it hard for you to leave home in Rio, he says: Stray bullets, the collapsed Zona Sul tunnel, the malfunctioning airports.

“The fact that there are so many imponderables in life [as she is lived in Brazil these days] is a cause for anxiety, right?” he says. The Schopenhauerean (Cliff Notes version) pessimism of Diogo Mainardi.

Emotion words are stressed and repeated: Anxiety, depression, shame, and scandal.

Other frequently repeated Globo and Veja talking points or “master narratives” or “memes” in the segment: “Brazil is Iraq.”

Gloria Maria on Fántastico earlier this year, on the war on drugs in Rio de Janeiro:

Examples can be multiplied.

Another Mainardi mainstay: metaphors of political violence, as in the title essay of Mainardi’s latest book of collected columns (massively, massively promoted at our local FNAC and the big Livraria Cultura at the Conjunto Nacional up there on the Av. Paulista.)


As a foreign correspondent friend of mine whispered to me once, in Portuñol — the journalist works at a metro daily in another South American capital — “Veja lies. Did you know that?”

I did know that.

These people are simply unbe(freaking)lievable, as we say in Brooklyn.

And Globo is their gazillion-jigawatt megaphone.

I am uploading the segment, along with some other recently (and hastily) subtitled clips for the NMM(-TV)SNB(B)CNN(P)BS Latin American media Zeitgeist newsreel. To confirm my (hasty) subtitling, see:


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