From the Annals of Brazilian Lynch-Mob Journalism: Attuch x Veja In the Case of the Sinister Fat-Finger Data-Entry Error


Fundamental Zeitgeist reference texts for Martian media anthropologists in the Lusophone antipodes: The
Estado de S. Paulo’s very thorough and recognizably Journalistic 1.0 style guide — I collect these from all over — and Carlos Lacerda’s The Power of Ideas.

I call your attention here to a lesson from criminal law: A prostitute has a right to respect for her honor, just as someone convicted of a crime and imprisoned for it maintains all his rights save that of liberty. VEJA’s argument was backed in its pleadings by not a single piece of evidence to show that Leonardo Attach is a “journalist [whose integrity is] for sale,” a “fraudulent person,” the “author of an unseemly book” or a “gangster.”

The fact that Leonardo Attuch has been mentioned in legal cases, such that of KROLL (Cases Nos. 2004.61.81.001452-5, 2005.61.002929-6, and 2004.61.81.009148-9), which stem from criminal investigations, do not authorize the defendant to describe him as a [man whose journalistic integrity is for sale], a fraud, author of an [unseemly] book or a gangster — because VEJA, with all due respect, is not the Supreme Court of Brazil, or any sort of judicial authority at all.

I am clipping some more notes to file on the consquences of screaming nonexistence factoids into the gazillion-jigawatt megaphone here in Brazil. While waiting for the Mrs. to get back from her road trip. Some people knit. I do this.

O Barriga Verde notes the outcome of a libel case won by Leonardo Attuch in early 2007 against Veja magazine (Editora Abril, 2007):

Now, I personally tend to think that Leonardo Attuch is a terrible journalist, the general run of whose work is the worst sort of dubious, disingenuous rumor-mongering crud.

See, for example

I base that judgment on reading some of the stories he has published, against the background of what I understand to be the simple, minimum standards of factual reporting that govern editorial integrity and quality in the publishing profession — the Estado de S. Paulo editorial manual, the Reuters or AP manuals, the APA Stylebook (for academic publishing), Chicago, Words into Type, or what have you.

I collect these the way some people collect baseball cards.

Anonymous or nonexistent sourcing, gratuitious editorializing, ventriloquism, pure speculation, logic-chopping, ignoratio elenchi, the whole kit and kaboodle — the man’s work, or at least the work that I have read, is a living textbook of yellow-journalistic obfuscation and wilful noncommunication.

Maybe, like Paulo Francis or Christopher Hitchens, there was a time he showed himself capable of better. Send me a Collected Early Essays of, if one exists, and I will try to keep an open mind.

Those quality-assurance rules were developed over the years to protect a publication’s credibility and ensure that everything that gets reported as fact can be rigorously backed by sources on which the reporter has done reasonable due diligence.

Sometimes — especially on a tight deadline — due diligence can even fail. To “belly,” as journalists say here, is human. Still, following these rules is essential if you are to convince your reader that the mistakes you made were honest ones, as was the effort you made not to cause the reader to believe in nonexistent facts.

You ignore them at your peril, and when you seem to systematically and deliberately ignore them, as this sort of journalism does — “It’s not a conflict of interest, it’s an innovation synergy!” — you are basically announcing to the world that you no longer care whether what you are saying is credible to the “reality-based community” or not.

It is, I imagine, a bet on the proposition that you can make a better living peddling the incredible merely by virtue of its being more entertaining.

And it is a deal with the devil at the crossroads at midnight that a lot of Brazilian publishing and broadcasting ventures have quite apparently made.

Which is I do not care to read anything the guy produces.

Life is too short.

A imagem “https://i2.wp.com/www.siciliano.com.br/capas/8574132055.jpg” contém erros e não pode ser exibida.
Attuch’s
The Congressional Probe That Shock Brazil: Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, really. But the man is entitled to try.

Veja magazine, however, was found by the court in that case to have accused Attuch of being a crook over a crooked act never proven to have taken placed, based on the mere association of his name with a case involving something someone else is accused of doing wrong but has yet to be convicted of.
In doing so, it was found to have stated nonexistent well-founded facts, and lost a libel suit to its chief competitor in the race to the bottom in Brazilian journalism.

It makes for an interesting side chapter in the ongoing Brazilian “journalistic integrity” wars, while we are waiting for the other shoe to drop in

Our legal news-clipper summarizes the facts in the case, then quotes from the judge’s ruling.

A disputa entre Attuch e a “Veja” começou quando a revista publicou o editorial “O mais vendido”. Nele, era dito que o “negociante de notícias Leonardo Attuch” estava envolvido “em uma nova fraude” porque seu livro, A CPI que abalou o Brasil, tinha aparecido na lista de mais vendidos equivocadamente.

The dispute between Attuch and Veja began when the magazine published an editorial called “Best Seller.” In it, it was stated that the “[reporter whose integrity is for sale] Leonardo Attuch” was involved in “yet another fraud” because his book, [The Congressional Commission of Inquiry That Shook Brazil], appeared erroneously on a list of best-selling books.

A revista “Veja” descobriu e veiculou que a livraria Siciliano, dona da editora que publicou o livro, forneceu à imprensa números errados sobre a venda dos exemplares de Attuch. Em vez de 452 exemplares em uma semana, apenas 38 foram vendios. A explicação da editora foi de erro no cadastro.

The magazine discovered and printed that the Siciliano bookstore, which owns the publishing house that brought out the book, furnished inaccurate numbers on the number of copies Attuch’s book sold. Rather than 452 copies in a single week, only 38 were sold. The explanation provided by the publisher was a [record-keeping] error.

This summary seems to be in error. In the body of the ruling reproduced below, the actual number stated is 84. It sold 84 copies that week, that is. According to the court papers cited here.

Leonardo Attuch entrou na Justiça com uma ação de indenização por danos morais. A defesa da revista afirmou que Attuch escreveu, posteriormente, artigos que também a ofendiam, argumento não acatado pelo juiz. “Neste caso, cabe à requerida buscar seus direito em ação autônoma”, disse o juiz em seu argumento. “A revista tinha o direito de excluir o livro da lista e informar os seus leitores, mas não tem o direito de qualificar Attuch como negociante de notícias, pessoa fraudulenta, autor de um livro indecoroso e quadrilheiro”, completa.

Leonardo Attuch sued for damages to his reputation. Veja‘s defense asserted that Attuch later wrote articles that offended Veja, an argument not accepted by the judge.

It’s like a playground dispute between ill-behaved three-year-old girls, isn’t it? “Well, you started it.” “No, you started it.”

It is more proper for Veja to try those claims in a separate matter, the judge said.

“The magazine did have the right to take the book off the list and inform its readers, but not to characterize Attuch as a ‘journalist [whose integrity is] for hire, fraudulent person, author of an [unseemly?] book, and a gangster.'”

A resposta veio na forma de uma nota oficial: ‘Constatamos que houve erro de informação na lista referente ao período de 6/12 a 12/2. Por erro de cadastro no sistema, foram computadas, além das vendas internas (nas lojas Siciliano), as vendas para redes de livrarias e distribuidores. Isso ocorreu somente com o título A CPI que abalou o Brasi.l Foram dados, portanto, como vendido livros que estão apanhando poeira em estoques’. A nota termina assim: ‘Favor considerar, como venda total nas livrarias Siciliano, 84 exemplares’. Com os dados corretos, ou seja, 368 exemplares a menos -, o volume ficcional não teria sido alçado a nenhuma lista de vendagem.

Veja response came in the form of an official note: “We find there was an error in the information on the list for the week of December 6 [sic] to February 12. Because of a [data entry error] in the system, both internal sales (in Siciliano shops) and sales to libraries and wholesalers were counted together. This occurred only with [Attuch’s book]. Thus, books were counted as sold that were actually gathering dust on the shelves.” The note ends this way: “Please note that the total sales in Siciliano bookstores was 84 copies.” With the correction, which was 368 copies less than the erroneous figure, the book would not have made any best-seller list.

That date seems to suffer from a simple typographical error. See note below.

Note how few books you have to sell to become a Brazilian best-seller. [The last time we were at FNAC, Mainardi’s book was listed as FNAC’s No. 2 bestseller in the nonfiction category, I think it was]. It speaks volumes about the decrepitude of the Tupi culture industry: Books are way, way too freaking expensive, so no one reads them.

Até que a fraude seja completamente esclarecida e a Siciliano, inocentada de cumplicidade com o novelista investigado que ela publica, veja decidiu não computar os dados daquela livraria na elaboração de suas listas. Leonardo Attuch, porém, continua à venda (g.n.).”Agora, listo os adjetivos usados pela publicação para qualificar Leonardo Attuch: negociante de notícias, pessoa fraudulenta, autor de um livro indecoroso e quadrilheiro.

[Veja wrote:] “Once the fraud was clarified and Siciliano cleared of any complicity in inflating the sales numbers of the author it publishes, Veja decided to no longer use that bookstore’s numbers in compiling its bestseller lists. Attuch however, remains on sale.” I now [the judge writes] list the adjectives Veja used to describe Attuch: [journalistic integrity for sale], fraud, author of an unseemly book, and gangster.

O fato de um periódico publicar que um cidadão está sendo investigado por autoridades policiais, como mera notícia, não se inscreve na órbita do ato ilícito. Na verdade, VEJA, imputou ao requerente a prática de fraudes, que visariam a forjar aumento das vendas de seu livro intitulado “A CPI que abalou o Brasil”. E o desqualificou como quadrilheiro e autor de livro indecoroso.

The fact that periodical would publish the fact that a citizen is being investigated by police, as a mere item of news, does not enter into the realm of the illicit act. In fact, VEJA imputed the practice of frauds to the plaintiff, supposedly designed to increase sales of his book. And it called him a gangster and author of an unseemly book.

I cannot quite see why indecoroso would be an issue here. I guess I need to dig into a good dictionary to understand the Gongoristics of the word better.

Em sua contestação, a ré informa que Leonardo Attuch escreveu, posteriormente, artigos que a ofendiam, motivados pelo editorial, em alguns sites. Neste caso, cabe à requerida buscar seus direito em ação autônoma. A revista tinha o direito de retirar o título da coluna dos mais vendidos em razão de a livraria Siciliano tê-la enviado, a pedido, informativo sobre erros de cálculo de exemplares vendidos.

In its defense, the defendant later wrote articles that offended it, motivated by its editorial, on some Web sites. But it is proper for it to address that matter in a separate case. The magazine did have the right to withdraw the book from its bestseller list due to Siciliano’s sending, at its request, an explanation of errors in its calculation of the copies sold.

O fato de Leonardo Attuch ser mencionado em processos, como por exemplo, nos da empresa KROLL (processos 2004.61.81.001452-5, 2005.61.002929-6, 2004.61.81.009148-9), decorrentes de investigações criminais, não autorizam a ré a qualificá-lo como negociante de notícias, pessoa fraudulenta, autor de um livro indecoroso e quadrilheiro porque a revista VEJA, com todo o respeito, não é o Supremo Tribunal Federal do país e tampouco tem qualquer jurisdição.

The fact that Leonardo Attuch has been mentioned in legal cases, such that of KROLL (Cases Nos. 2004.61.81.001452-5, 2005.61.002929-6, and 2004.61.81.009148-9), which stem from criminal investigations, do not authorize the defendant to describe him as a [man whose journalistic integrity is for sale], a fraud, author of an [unseemly] book or a gangster, because VEJA, with all due respect, is not the Supreme Court of Brazil, or any sort of judicial authority at all.

Trago à tona a lição do Direito Penal: uma prostituta tem direito à sua honra tanto quanto um condenado, com sentença transitado em julgado, preserva todos os seus direitos menos o direito à liberdade. A contestação da revista VEJA veio aos autos desacompanhada de qualquer documento que comprovasse ser Leonardo Attuch negociante de notícias, pessoa fraudulenta, autor de um livro indecoroso e quadrilheiro.

I call your attention her to a lesson from criminal law: A prostitute has a right to respect for her honor, just as someone convicted of a crime maintains all his rights save that of liberty. VEJA’s argument was backed in its pleadings by not a single piece of evidence to show that Leonardo Attach is a “journalist [whose integrity is] for sale,” a “fraudulent person,” the “author of an unseemly book” or a “gangster.”

Não se alegue depois cerceamento de defesa porque o advogado Lourival J. Santos concordou, a fls. 265, com o julgamento conforme o estado do processo. Uma leitura detida da contestação do semanário revela que ela adota a estratégia de atacar o autor para confundir o Juízo, no caso, em vão, porque patente o dano moral contra o autor na matéria publicada em 22 de fevereiro de 2006.

Limitation of the right to defense cannot be alleged here because attorney Lourival Santos agreed to this manner of proceeding. A close reading of the pleadings for the defense show that Veja adopted the strategy of attacking the plaintiff in print in order to confuse these judicial proceedings, but in vain, as it happens, because the offense against the plaintiff in the article published on February 22, 2006, is quite plainly evident.

No próprio corpo da matéria a revista informa que a Siciliano admitiu um erro de informação na lista de livros referente ao período de 06 a 12 de fevereiro, justificando-o tecnicamente como um erro de cadastro no sistema: “foram computadas, além das vendas internas (nas lojas Siciliano), as vendas para redes de livrarias e distribuidores. Isso ocorreu somente com o título A CPI que abalou o Brasil.”O dolo de praticar o dano moral contra Leonardo Attuch revela-se no próprio editorial logo depois de a VEJA estampar a explicação da Siciliano, quando ela conclui que os livros do autor estão “apanhando poeira em estoques”.

In the body of the article in question, the magazine reports that Siciliano admitted an error in its figures for the period from February 6-12 …

Note that above the judge had written “from 6/12 to 12/2,” which is probably a typographical error for “from 6/2 to 12/12.”

They use the DD/MM date format here.

To err is judicial, too.

Which is why they have judicial review.

For Veja’s capacity to turn clerical errors into vast conspiracy theories, see also

Justifying it in technical terms as a [data entry] error: [the judge repeats the explanation; judges tend to be painfully thorough]. “The wrongful conduct of slandering Attuch is found in the editorial, just after VEJA has printed Siciliano’s explanation, when it concludes that the author’s books are “gathering dust on the stockroom shelves.”

And so on and so forth.

The gist being that Veja was using potential accusations against Attuch in connection with that Dantas case — in which his name has been mentioned, but he has not been charged, in connection with alleged shady dealings, which he hotly denies, and evidence of which may or may not ever appear off the hard drives of the Kroll and Opportunity computers apprehended as evidence in the case — to suggest that a small clerical error was part of an overall pattern of dishonest conduct.

Which does, indeed, seem like a filthy little smear campaign.

Sufficient unto not wanting to read anything Attuch writes is having read what Attuch has already written, and found it ridiculous.

What really strikes you about it is the pettiness of it: Ratfinking a fellow journalist, from a publication that competes with Veja in the art of the gabbling ratfink, over a few lousy copies of a book published on a competing imprint.

A book that, whether it sold 84 or 400 copies, is hardly Hillary Clinton’s pre-candidacy Profiles In Courage reprise (which was bought by at least one in every 300 Americans, according to sales figures I am remembering off the top of my head, but I bet they are ballpark close.)

It is a bit like watching two bums wrestling over the used stub of a cigarette in the gutter. There is a sort of sick way in which the spectacle is kind of grimly humorous, but most it is just depressing.

There is another angle to the story, of course: Veja itself has pending reputational difficulties over its relationship to Dantas. There have been some very public challenges to the credibility of the explanations of that relationship it has produced so far. Which I do not find very convincing myself, by the way.

It might, in that case, be interested in demonizing Attuch as the vendido in the case — the bode expiatorio, the Guy Fawkes for the bonfire of the vanities to come.
But who knows? Here I am, speculating just like some kind of gringo Diogo Mainardi. But note that I am not asking you give me a penny for this monkey dance. It’s not worth it. This is just some stupid blog. You get what you pay for.

The only thing that anyone is “guilty” of, in a metaphorical sense, in my considered opinion, is habitual journalistic malpractice.

This may or may not actually be a crime, given the ambiguous status of the zombie Press Law of 1967 in Brazil, but I sincerely think it should not be.

I tend toward market solutions toward these sorts of things: If enough of us point out the sort of nonsensical trash is being marketed as journalism here — “toxic sludge is good for you” — and loudly refuse to pay to read it, maybe Abril (and Editor Três) will finally fire some of these people.

And bring in some people capable of producing something that actually is worth reading.

I do not necessarily have to agree with its point of view. I prefer a little friction to keep my idées from fixing. Just let it be something that not quite so mind-bendingly freaking stupid.

Civil libel ought to suffice those cases of publishing that Bush had gay sex with Clodovil, when he did not actually do so.

The judge’s little lecture on the human dignity of a hooker was a nice rhetorical turn, though: Worth the price of admission.

In my heart of hearts? I secretly believe that feminism, not capitalism or socialism, is the only world ism around with a credible outside chance of actually accomplishing even a pale shadow of one or two of its utopian aims. But only if avoids delusions of grandeur — and excessive academic jargon.

The Institute of São Paulo Attorneys (IASP) recently named Mr. Santos, Veja‘s attorney in the case, as president of its Commission for the Study of Public Liberties.

Foi fundada, em maio deste ano, pelo renomado IASP – Instituto dos Advogados de São Paulo, a importante e muito oportuna Comissão de Estudos de Liberdades Públicas, a qual tem como objetivo fundamental colocar a Entidade no centro dos mais elevados e profícuos debates, estudos e realizações jurídicas em defesa das liberdades constitucionais, compreendendo seminários, congressos, publicações, pareceres, discussões de projetos de lei e outros eventos alusivos ao tema liberdade, em toda a sua extensão.

Know one knows more about taking liberties, after all, than Veja.

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