Life Imitates Art: Mainardian Martyrdom Narratives in Iraq and Brazil

Diogo Mainardi (Editora Abril) and Jô Soares (Globo): “Brazil is just like Iraq.” To the extent that its news and entertainment media companies labor to maintain a Lacerdist “buzz” culture, this may have some truthiness to it. See Seen on “The Brazilian Letterman Show”: Diogo Mainardi on the Journalism of Buzz

In some cases the sensationalist press wound up simply fabricating supposedly dangerous bandits to be duly pursued by police. Among innumerable examples, we can cite David Nasser of the program “Diary of a Reporter,” who called members of the death squad “… the missionaries of General Franca” (then state public security secretary), the “public-works contractors of God.”Red Rosa, the PR representative of the Rio death squad, once phoned a newsroom in order to announce the weekly death toll and confessed as follows: “I get an almost sexual pleasure from watching the bullets pierce the bodies of the criminals and the blood flowing like a red rose flowering out of the earth.” –“A History of Death Squads in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo”

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

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof –Matthew 6:34

In Iraq, It’s Hard to Separate Truths From Half-Truths and Outright Lies: Gina Chon and Sarmad Ali of the Wall Street Journal illustate the “culture of rumors” in Iraq, pre- and post-Saddam.

On which see also

There has long been a culture of rumors, created by absence of a strong, free news media and by individuals, sects and parties that use half-truths, or lies, to their benefit.

The W$J could be describing Brazil.

The martyrdom narrative of an Iraqi journalist who reported on his Web site that his family had been killed by death squads.

One recent example of the flow of misinformation is the case of Iraqi journalist Dhia al-Kawazz and his family. Late last month, Mr. Kawazz, who lives in Jordan, dramatically announced on his news Web site that 11 members of his family in Iraq had been massacred. On his Web site, he has often been critical of the Nouri al-Maliki government and said Iraqi police were involved in the deaths.

The story is plausible because these sorts of things do happen.

Tania Head, for example, was credible as a 9-11 victim because airplanes did crash into the WTC that day, leaving a mighty confusion in their wake. See

Iraqi journalists are targets for insurgents, militia members and other groups, and many local reporters have been killed, kidnapped and threatened. So Mr. Kawazz’s claims didn’t seem far-fetched. Local and international journalism advocacy groups denounced the news.

Which international journalism advocacy groups denounced the news?

The competent ones usually start cautiously: an expression of concern, with a demand for urgent clarification, followed by expressions of dismay over stalled investigations.


But the government immediately denied Mr. Kawazz’s claims, and — much to observers’ surprise — a few days later several of Mr. Kawazz’s family members appeared on TV to show they are alive. Since then, Mr. Kawazz has recanted his assertions and said he had been misled by another family member who told him that relatives had been killed.

“Never believe anything until it has been officially denied” is a professional joke — a bit of extreme exaggeration, with a grain of truth to it — not an actual journalistic principle.

“Trust,” movie actor and U.S. president Ronald Reagan said, “but verify.”

McClatchy Watch — “a blog about cluelessless at the Sacramento Bee” — summarizes it this way:

On Monday 11/26, McClatchy published a report indicating 11 members of a journalist’s family had been slain in Baghdad. By Wednesday the story completely fell apart. Bloggers were poking holes in the story. Also on Wednesday Reporters Without Borders was calling the incident a “fabrication.” The BBC published a report on Wednesday that the supposedly murdered family members were all live.

No update from McClatchy until Friday, when McClatchy wrote that the whole thing was a fabrication. (Terrible timing for McClatchy, since everybody else had known it a day or more earlier.)

But why did McClatchy print this story in the first place?

There were plenty of reasons McClatchy should have been suspicious of the report.

I have not looked at McClatchy’s coverage myself, or seen its correction, but if it is the case that the man fabricated the story, I will take a wild guess: Like most news organizations these days, McClatchy just prints anything that comes over the “trusted” content pipeline without boiling it first.

See also

There is no longer anyone working there with a nose for such potential fact-checking disasters, or a  job title that pays them to smell them out. They have been replaced by content managers.

As the editor of Brazil’s Último Segundo wrote in response to a similar complaint from the news site’s reader advocate recently:

This news service publishes nearly 1,500 articles a day. Most is content provided by agencies like Reuters, the AE and the New York Times. This portal only buys and reproduces news from agents with a history of credibility (as is the case with the Agência Estado).

Mighty Casey had a history of coming through in the clutch.

But in the big game, there was no joy in Mudville: Mighty Casey struck out.

Libération (France) has a history of credibility.

It also has new owners, and has been reengineered by the same global newspaper consultancy used by the Globo group in Brazil.


The material furnished by news agencies is published in the form received because we trust in the quality of our agencies. We could not do otherwise, given the volume of content we process daily. We should make this difference clear in the manual.

On the reporting in question, see

Life imitates Hollywood entertainment:

Rumors also affected Iraqi perceptions of U.S. soldiers. Influenced by action movies, Iraqis spread stories about U.S. Marines, whose dark glasses allegedly let them see through walls and clothes. People warned their wives, sisters and daughters against walking in front of the Marines wearing these glasses for fear that the soldiers would see the women naked. Some went so far as to claim that the glasses the soldiers wore were the same ones worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger in some of his action movies.

“Life imitates art” is also a favorite Larry Rohter topos. From Rohter’s 2001 series on the “monied Marxist sexologist” mayor of São Paulo at the time, and her “troubled love life”:

The 10 million residents of Brazil’s biggest, richest city were convinced that the days of political soap operas here had finally ended when Marta Suplicy became mayor at the start of the year. Little did they suspect that they were about to plunge into a new, even more complicated drama mixing political and sexual intrigue.

It is very common to see martrydom narratives employed by rumor-mill foremen in Brazil — very similar to the martyrdom narrative employed by Marcel Granier of RCTV in Venezuela.

See, for example

What is so objectionable about the martyrdom narratives that Veja and Globo bombard us with is the fact that Brazilian journalists do work in situations of risk here, including, yes, risk of assassination by death squads.

These sort of incidents create fear, uncertainty and doubt that make such cases harder to address and clarify.

Diogo Mainardi is not our colleague.

He carries the carteira assinada of a journalist, but he does not practice journalism; He practices the commedia dell’arte of journalistic diligence.

Diogo Mainardi does not live by our code.

Diogo Mainardi pisses on our code.

But Diogo Mainardi makes a claim upon our sympathy and solidarity nevertheless.

Diogo Mainardi is the Tania Head of our profession.

One day, there was a wolf, but no one believed the boy.

Stalinism looms: martyrdom narrative from the Editora Abril. “The Authoritarian Temptation: The PT’s attempts to monitor and control the press, television and culture.” Translation: “Shitfire, Dilma could decide those zero-down spectrum concessions we got were the fruit of crooked dealings! Get rid of her, I don’t care how!”

See also


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