Veja Vu All Over Again: Nassif Today On Dantas’ Inferno

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May 31, 2006: “Justice Minister Bastos is hushing up (
abafando) scandals for President Squid.”

To deliver a pointless message powerfully is the definition of hype. –Roy H. “The Wizard of Ads®” Williams

Luis Nassif comments in the Observatório da Imprensa on the Daniel Dantas “dossier” coverage in Veja magazine.

It’s being reported this week that the Brazilian Federal Police have concluded that that dossier was as phony as a truckload of Sino-Paraguayan Marlboros. See

Amorim now says he has confirmation of this:

Nesta segunda-feira, dia 17, a PF confirmou ao Conversa Afiada que as contas das quais a reportagem da Veja tratava não existem. E Dantas foi enquadrado na Lei de Imprensa, pelo crime de calúnia.

On Monday, December 17, the feds confirmed to this column that the accounts the Veja report dealt with do not exist. And that Dantas was charged under the Press Law for the crime of slander.

On which, more in a bit. Nassif:

A abertura de inquérito pela Polícia Federal contra Daniel Dantas, pelo falso dossiê sobre as contas de petistas no exterior, traz à tona um outro fato relevate: e o papel da revista Veja? E o papel do jornalista Márcio Aith e dos diretores de redação?

The opening of a federal inquiry against Daniel Dantas over the phony dossier on accounts held by PT party members abroad, raising another relevant fact: And what about the role of Veja magazine? And the role played by journalist Márcio Aith and the senior editors?

And Romeu Tuma, too, don’t forget. He was in the most opposite of the opposition parties at the time, but was also a former head of the federal police.

I believe Aith was executive editor at the time, not sure.

Foi passado o dossiê para a revista. No próprio levantamento feito por Aith (que a Carta de Redação diz que levou meses para ser apurado, o que não deve ser verdade) constatou-se que o dossiê era falso. Se falso, o correto seria uma capa denunciando o novo “dossiê Cayman”.

The dossier was delivered to the magazine. In the account of the episode written by Aith (which the Letter from the Editor says took months to investigate, which is not likely true) he stated that the dossier was false. If so, the correct thing would have been a cover story denoucning this latest “Caymans dossier.”

The original “Caymans dossier” was a phony set of documents implying that President Cardoso, José Serra (now governor of São Paulo) and then-Governor Mario Covas (got some useful projects done, or at least off to a good start, battled the public employees unions, tried to de-Malufify the state, was widely regarded as the opposite of a crook, died of cancer, to be succeeded by Alckmin) owned a bank in the Antilles.

Em vez disso houve uma longa ginástica para, de um lado, se proteger, e informar que o dossiê era falso e, de outro, para salvar a cara da fonte. Inclusive com afirmações tipo “se ele disser o que sabe, o governo cai”. Além de colocar um parajornalista para entrevistar Dantas, a entrevista sair no mesmo espaço da reportagem. Isso na mesma matéria em que se comprovava que seu dossiê era falso.

Instead, there was a lengthy exercise in contortionism designed to, on the one hand, protect himself, and on the other, to save face for his source. Including such statements as “if he told what he knows, the government would fall.” Besides assigning a parajournalist to interview Dantas, the interview was published alongside the report — the very same report in which it is show that his dossier was phony.

The “parajournalist” referred to is Diogo Mainardi.

On the back story to the Nassif-Mainardi beef, see

Por isso, aquele samba do crioulo doido, sem pé nem cabeça, em que o acusado de dossiê falso era apresentado como dono de dossiês verdadeiros, um nonsense completo. Na época, participei de um programa Observatório da Imprensa, com Luiz Garcia, de O Globo. Garcia observava que as semanais tinham desaprendido de fazer reportagem. Também. Mas o “imbróglio” era outro: era livrar a cara perante a Abril e, ao mesmo tempo, proteger Dantas.

[This is all baseless, crude, gibbering nonsense,] in which the man the magazine accused of presenting it with a false dossier is presented as the owner of genuine dossiers.

Actually, Veja said it could not be sure at all whether the dossier, which could not be authenticated, did not contain true statements.

Like the lovable Sgt. Schultz of Hogans Heroes, it knew nothing! nothing! It was thoroughly mystified. “The truth is out there.” [Cue spooky theremin music.] It was completely epistemologically uncommitted to the truth or falsity of anything at all.

In other words: “We vouch for nothing. We merely pass along rumors. We are world-class journalists. Buy our magazine!”

Quack.

At the time, I was a guest on an OI program with Luiz Garcia of O Globo. Garcia observed that the newsweeklies had forgotten how to do straight reporting. That, too. But the [intention of this] “imbroglio” was entirely other: To save face for Abril and at the same time to protect Dantas.

If you get into the technical details of the logic-chopping involved — a subject that interests me; see Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt: An Essential Bibliography — the nonsense is a little more intricately crafted than that, I think. From the May 24, 2006 follow-up on the story:

Using all legal means, VEJA tried to confirm the veracity of the material handed over by Manzano [and compiled with Frank Holder, with whom they 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 implausible 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.

We have no reason at all to believe it, “as we made clear” — but we choose to believe it anyway.

The implicit theory being that Dantas’ “blackmailing” of the government was successful blackmail, based on further charges of guilty-looking conduct by the targets of the blackmail — Bastos taking a meeting with Dantas, was it?

In other words, there was an element of pyschological ventriloquism to the theory — attributing to motives to the conduct of persons without asking them why they did what they did.

You are questioning me about, say, that guy who says I stole his girlfriend.

I never met the lady. I was happily loving up Neuza at the time, “eight days a week,” as everyone who knows us will testify.

During the interview, I wipe my nose a lot because I have a real sumbitch of a cold that day.
You report that I seemed very nervous under questioning and was “acting guilty.” My snuffling is interpreted as a sign of emotional torment. That sort of nonsense.

Ecce Veja.

On the “Caymans dossier,” the Folha has this useful — up to a point — backgrounder:

O dossiê Cayman é um conjunto de papéis com autenticidade não comprovada que atestam a existência de uma empresa em nome de integrantes do PSDB em paraísos fiscais, que teria sido criada para envio ilegal de dinheiro. Alguns dos papéis que compõem o dossiê foram comprovados ser falsos, após terem vindo à tona, em 1998.

The Caymans dossier is a collection of papers, of unproven authenticity, that attest to existece of a firm owned by members of the PSDB in fiscal paradises, supposedly created to receive illegal fund transfers. Some of the papers in the dossier were proven false after surfacing in 1998.

A empresa –CHJ AIT– teria sede nas Bahamas, e estaria no nome do ex-presidente Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002), do governador de São Paulo Mário Covas (morto em março de 2001), e dos ministros de FHC José Serra (Saúde) e Sérgio Motta (Casa Civil, morto em abril de 1998).

The company — CHJ AIT — was supposedly domiciled in the Caymans Bahamas and owned by Cardoso, Covas and two cabinet ministers, Serra (Health) and Sérgio Motta (Casa Civil, deceased in April 1998).

“Caymans” instead of “Bahamas” was a translator’s barriga — “brain-fart,” roughly.

As minister of communications, Motta presided over the privatization of Telebrás — a deal that, let us say, did not go all that smoothly and remains the subject of world-class levels of FUD, blood and mud down to the present day.

Cópias desse suposto dossiê foram espalhadas e vendidas a candidatos da oposição durante as eleições de 1998. Entre eles, estaria Paulo Maluf (PP), ex-prefeito de São Paulo (1993-1996). O ex-presidente Fernando Collor de Mello (1990-1992) é acusado de, junto com seu irmão Leopoldo, de comprar o dossiê por US$ 2,2 milhão.

Copies of this alleged dossier were distributed and sold to opposition candidates during the 1998 campaign. Among them, allegedly, was Paulo Maluf, former mayor of São Paulo (1993-1996). Former president Collor is accused, along with his brother Leopoldo, of buying the dossier for US$2.2 million.

Accused by whom? Alleged by whom?

But the question of who ginned up the thing, and what ever became of them, remains as murky as the Rio Pinheiros. Possibly people from the Collor-Claudio Humberto gabbling ratfink apparatus. Who knows? The Folha doesn’t. Has it tried hard enough?

Veja‘s Letter from the Editor referred to here was illustrated by an old engraving of Thomas Jefferson, of all things.

(Perhaps an allusion to prominent national leaders with “natural” offspring — there is a great film out with Nick Nolte about Tom and Sally Hemmings — like Lula, Cardoso, Renan Calheiros, and the Clinton-like character played by John Travolta in the political black comedy Primary Colors).

Worth clipping to the file.

Quando VEJA revelou, na semana passada, que o banqueiro Daniel Dantas usou espiões internacionais para levantar a vida financeira de petistas, o presidente Lula reagiu com violência verbal. Mesmo sem ler a reportagem e conhecendo apenas relatos sobre seu conteúdo, atacou os profissionais que a fizeram e concluiu: “Sinceramente, é de uma leviandade e de uma grosseria que um ser humano comum não pode admitir, quanto mais um presidente da República”.

When VEJA revealed last week that Daniel Dants used international spies to look into the financial lives of PT members, President Lula reacted with verbal violence. Without even reading the report, based only on hearsay about its contents, he attacked the professionals who produced it and concluded: “Sincerely, this has a degree of [disingenuousness] and [crudeness] about it that no ordinary person could take, much less a president of the republic.”

Any criticism of the quality of Veja magazine’s “journalistic” practice — it not generally accepted practice for nonfiction news publications to report nonexistent facts, for example; this is not especially controversial, except among those who used the term “reality-based community” as a dirty word –is “verbal violence.”

On “Veja is the victim of violent assaults, just like the early Christian martyrs,” see also

Na página 50 da presente edição, VEJA comenta as repercussões da reportagem e publica novas descobertas sobre as relações de Dantas com o governo petista. Neste espaço se tratará da concepção de Lula de que um presidente da República merece mais consideração que um cidadão comum. Isso exige uma reflexão. Ela nos vem da lembrança de que os fundadores do sistema democrático de governo, aqueles americanos que se rebelaram contra a tirania monarquista do rei George III da Inglaterra no século XVIII, cuidaram principalmente de coibir o poder e as regalias pessoais do presidente.

On p. 60 of the present edition, VEJA comments on the repercussions of the report and publishes new discoveries about the relationship of Dantas to the PT government. In this space we will deal with Lula’s conception, that the president of the Republic deserves more consideration than a common citizen. This demands reflection. This reflection comes to us by remember that the founders of the democratic system of government, those Americans who rebelled against the monarchist tyranny of King George III of England in the 18th Century, were principally concerned with inhibiting the power and person privileges of the president.

Not uniformly. These people have obviously not read their Federalist Papers.

The Athenian city-state is generally regarded as the first fully elaborated constitutional democracy, emerging around 500 BC — though proto-democratic represenative institutions are recorded in Sumer and India well before that time.

Squid is not the president of the United States. Brazil, for good or ill, is governed by the Constitution of 1988 (with its 60 amendments and counting.)

Preocupados em não criar um novo rei com o cargo de presidente, ficou estabelecido que:

Concerned with not creating a new king in the form of a president, it was established that:

O presidente não pode processar ninguém, mas pode ser processado por qualquer cidadão.

The president cannot sue anyone, but can be sued by any citizen.

Now there is a bizarre generalization — if intended as an observation about American constitutional law. Are we talking about POTUS or the POB?

The U.S. executive branch and its agencies sue people all the time. What they are referring to, apparently, is this principle:

Without exception, U.S. government agencies cannot sue for slanderous comments made against them. This restriction exists so that people could freely express their opinions about the government without fear of consequences. For example, it’s perfectly legal to criticize the prosecutor’s office even if the statements are false or inaccurate. In this case, the only thing the prosecutor can do in his/her own defense is to offer explanations through the mass media. [cite]

That is, government institutions cannot bring libel suits.

But public officials can try, and have tried.

After retiring, General Westmoreland sued CBS for alleging that he exaggerated progress while running the Vietnam War. The case was settled out of court.

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1064) was a landmark case that set the “actual malice” standard for such cases, a principle upheld in the Westmoreland case. Sullivan was a Southern office who decided to take personal offense when an ad taken out in the Times by the NAACP suggested the police department he oversaw had unleased a “wave of terror” on rights demostrators.

In that case, “actual malice” was defined as “knowledge that the information was false” or that it was published “with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” This decision was later extended to cover “public figures”, although the standard is still considerably lower in the case of private individuals.

“Reckless disregard of whether if was false or not.”

.Justice WILLIAM J. BRENNAN JR., in his majority opinion, placed the legal issues in the context of “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” Brennan maintained that erroneous statements are inevitable in free debate and must be protected if freedom of expression is to have the “breathing space” it needs to survive.

“Breathing space” is not the same thing as the right to latitude of infinitely latifundiarian proportions, however.  “Actual malice” is a vaguely defined ceiling, but the notion of the limit is firmly in place, waiting for further jurisprudence to define and refine.

When Veja turns out to have published nonexistent facts that any reasonably diligent first-year journalism student would likely have caught, as in the Ibsen Pinheiros case — R$1,000 is not US$1 million — it tends to avoid the “malice” charge by pleading “the Homer Simpson defense”:

We are just incredibly, incredibly incompetent.

Or a variant thereupon, the “Judy Miller defense”:

“You are as only as good as your sources.”

That is to say: “We do not bother to corroborate what people tell us. Sometimes we even ignore evidence to the contrary. We just run rumors without asking any questions when we are told to. That’s what we do. Buy our infotainment product.”

Thanks, but I think I won’t.

The issue of so-called SLAPP suits — strategic lawsuits against public participation, in the general tradition of the Montgomery, Alabama good old boy Sullivan — is not exactly settled, I would tend to guess.

There has been work recently on libel reform that you read about, to clarify some of these issues, I read. But then I am not a lawyer. I am just pulling vague factoids out of my dusty college Con Law notes. (I got an A- and a warning that law school would only make me unhappy. Good advice.)

Gallup/Times Mirror (Jun. 22-Jul.13, 1985) (2104 adults interviewed in person), on the issue, around the time of the Westmoreland case:

Some people feel that in a free society news organizations should be able to say anything about a person, whether true or false, without having to face libel suits. Others believe that even in a free society news organizations should be subject to libel suits if they say critical things about people that are false…Which position comes closer to your opinion?

  1. News organizations can say anything 4%
  2. Should face libel suits if they say things that are false 89%
  3. Don’t know 7%

I am a 2 on the cusp of 3.

We gringos, if I may generalize scandalously about my own nationality, tend not to like being lied to, by anyone, about anything. S

So okay, Clinton got a blow job, and lied about it.

But you said he murdered Vince Foster.

You are obviously an idiot, at best.

I am not listening to you anymore.

O presidente é um servo do povo e, portanto, deve aos cidadãos obediência litúrgica e hierárquica.

The president is a servant of the people, and thus, owes liturgical and hierarchical obedience to the citizens.

Maybe I was wrong: They seem to be cribbing generally from Hamilton’s Federalist Papers No. 69 — without attribution, characteristically.

O mandato presidencial é uma missão constitucional a que um dos cidadãos do país se submete muitas vezes a contragosto e em prejuízo de suas atividades privadas. Thomas Jefferson, o terceiro presidente dos Estados Unidos, disse: “Um homem honesto não sente prazer no exercício do poder sobre seus iguais”.

The presidential mandate is a constitutional mission. … Thomas Jefferson … said: “An honest man does not feel pleasure in the exercise of power over his equals.”

Yada yada yada.

Thomas Jefferson was a slaveowner who exercised power over his unequals.

Judging from the productiveness of his relationship with Sally Hemmings — whose descendants was recently recognized by Jefferson’s legitimate descendants — he apparently took some pleasure in it, too.

There’s a good recent movie with Nick Nolte in it about that contradiction in the man’s character. Rent it.

Quando deixa o comando do governo e volta a ser um cidadão comum, o presidente é promovido a povo.

Yada yada yada.

São lições que precisam ser lembradas a Lula, que tem amigos como o ditador cubano Fidel Castro, que há meio século recusa sua promoção a povo, e o venezuelano Hugo Chávez, que pretende adiar a mesma promoção pelas próximas duas décadas. Além disso, cercado de bajuladores, Lula acabou convencido de que é um “líder”, um “guia”, enfim, alguém superior aos cidadãos comuns. Nada menos republicano. Nada menos democrático.

Yada yada yada.

Veja delivers a finger-wagging lecture on the democratic tradition according to which it was invented in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1954 by Scooby Doo and Shaggy — just like Elvis, the hula hoop and the Frisbee.

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