Nassif, In Disbelief: “The Phony Dossier,” or, Ecce Veja

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
“Exemplary reporting:” Veja on its relationship with Daniel Dantas, May 24, 2006. Source: Click to zoom. Transcript to come. The timeline as posted seems to be incomplete.

Veja does not confine itself to “character assassination” jobs on third parties. It destroys the reputations of its own journalists as well.

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” –Carl Sagan

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.Veja magazine (Editora Abril, Brazil), May 24, 2006

We were able to agree that it was an essential element of impartiality that when a matter was controversial the viewer or listener would be able to make a judgement based on a fair assessment of all the relevant arguments and information. Relevant information should not be excluded nor should the presentation clearly favour one view over another. We recognised that this requirement had to meet the familiar point that it was not necessary to be impartial between sense and nonsense.The Budd Commission on BBC Business Journalism.

Item: O dossiê falso.

Brazilian business journalist Luis Nassif has been writing a series that tries to reconstruct the back story behind one of the most mind-bendingly dishonest examples of bogus, logic-chopping psuedojournalism I have ever seen in my life: A Veja magazine cover story in May 2006 according to which senior government officials (government, opposition, and permanent civil service) owned offshore bank accounts stuffed with bribe money.


Veja‘s source: A slightly controversial (constantly persecuted and misunderstood, in his account of things) MIT-trained private equity investor and investment banker with a history of engaging in the gabbling ratfink, and with a predilection for the phony “dossier.”

Mr. Nassif is working to show that this episode fits a pattern of conduct at the glossy newsweekly. His careful case studies of similar episodes are not unpersuasive, and I have noticed some other questionable cases myself. We don’t purchase any Editora Abril products. Life is too short, and our content budget is limited.

Disclosure, then: At this point, having studied the issue some myself, my belief is in Nassif. I am unpardonably biased in favor of attempts to make sense and against attempts to make nonsense. But at least I am telling you this up front so that if you prefer to believe in gabbling nonsense, you can disregard the following.

A parceria de Veja com Daniel Dantas prosseguiu no decorrer de 2006. Várias matérias, dossiês, especialmente os mais improváveis, pareciam terem sido fornecidos pelo banqueiro.

Veja’s partnership with Daniel Dantas continued as 2006 wore on. A number of articles and dossiers, and especially the most implausible of these, were apparently supplied by the banker.

Na edição de 17 de maio de 2006, Veja fez sua aposta mais ousada.

In its May 17, 2006 issue, Veja made its most daring bet.

O diretor Eurípedes Alcântara recebeu um dossiê de Dantas, sobre presumíveis contas de altas autoridades do governo no exterior. O mesmo dossiê foi encaminhado a outro membro do quarteto de Veja, Diogo Mainardi.

Editorial director Eurípedes Alcântara received a dossier from Dantas on supposed offshore bank accounts in the names of senior government officials. The same dossier was forwarded to another member of the Four Horsemen of Veja, columnist Diogo Mainardi.

A tarefa de ir atrás das pistas do dossiê coube a Márcio Aith, o mesmo jornalista que cobrira o caso do dossiê da Kroll para a “Folha”.

The task of running down the clues fell to Márcio Aith, the same journalist who had covered the Kroll dossier case for the Folha de S. Paulo.

Até então, Aith construíra uma sólida reputação de jornalista investigativo. Passou pela “Gazeta Mercantil” e “Folha”, tinha conhecimentos sobre mercado, balanços, economia, e caminhava para se transformar em um dos grandes repórteres da sua geração.

To that point, Aith enjoyed a solid reputation as an investigative journalist. He had worked for the Gazeta Mercantil and the Folha, was knowledgeable about the markets, balance sheets, economics, and was on his way to becoming one of the great reporters of his generation.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Snippet of the “Dantas-Holder” dossier as it ran in Veja. Somewhat new information to me: the nature of the involvement of an Argentine cabinet minister in the affair, according to the (worthy of belief) Nassif.

I have been reading Elvira Lobato’s book Instinct of a Reporter (Publifolha: 2004) recently and it has done a lot to restore my belief that there is highly intelligent life in Brazilian newsrooms.

It just doesn’t tend to get promoted to editorial management. Lobato’s description of her work with editor Josias de Souza, for example, leaves the impression that de Souza was actually a decent professional before becoming the Folha‘s designated blogging rumor-monger in chief.

Marcelo Beraba — Ms. Lobato’s husband, if I am reading this right — also figures prominently in the blow-by-blow account of major stories the reporter has covered in her career.

Beraba later became the Folha‘s very fine ombudsman, whose daily column the paper did all it could to publish in an obscure corner of its Web site where no one would ever read it.

This is a very fine, very practical, hard-nosed book, spelling things out in words of one syllable. It ought to be translated into English and taught in gringo J-schools as part of a course in how to keep your professional integrity intact under extreme banana-republican conditions.

Saiu a campo e, em pouco tempo, constatou que o dossiê era uma falsificação. Tinha tudo para uma reportagem memorável.

He hit the bricks and very quickly established that the dossier was a fabrication. He had all the elements for a memorable piece of reporting.

O levantamento tinha sido feito por Frank Holder, ex-agente da CIA especializado em América Latina que, depois, largou o serviço secreto e montou uma firma de investigação – a Holder Associates – posteriormente adquirida pela Kroll.

The investigation had been done by Frank Holder, a former CIA agent specializing in Latin America who, after leaving the spy game, had set up an investigation firm, Holder Associates, that was later acquired by Kroll.

Aith foi atrás de Holder na Suíça. Ouviu sua versão de que a lista tinha sido obtida no curso da investigação italiana sobre a parte brasileira dos escândalos da Parmalat. O repórter foi atrás de autoridades policiais de Milão – que investigavam o caso Parmalat – que afirmaram desconhecer a informação.

Aith went to see Holder in Switzerland. He heard his version of the story according to which the list of accounts had been obtained in the course of an Italian investigation into the Brazilian angle on the Parmalat scandals. The reporter sought out officials in Milan who were looking into the Parmalat affair and heard from them that they had no such information.

Holder, então, mudou a versão e informou que o dossiê tinha sido levantado pelo argentino José Luiz Manzano, ex-ministro e, segundo Aith, um dos símbolos da corrupção do governo Menen [sic].

Holder then changed his story, saying the dossier had been compiled by the Argentine José Luiz Manzano, a former cabinet minister and, according to Aith, one of the symbols of corruption in the Menem government.

This is new information to me, as to the curriculum vitae of Manzano. Let me see what else I can dig up on the guy for my running notes.

Aith foi atrás de Manzano que confirmou o dossiê e incumbiu assessores de passar mais dados. O material entregue apresentava inúmeras inconsistências. Estava configurado um novo dossiê Cayman.

Aith sought out Manzano, who confirmed the dossier and assigned aides to pass along more data. The material he presented contained numerous inconsistencies. The thing was turning into a new “Caymans dossier.”

The original “Caymans dossier” was a phony set of documents implying that then-president Cardoso, as well as José Serra (health minister under Cardoso II, later mayor of the capital city and now governor of the only semigovernable state of São Paulo) and the São Paulo governor at the time, Mario Covas (got some useful public-works projects done, or at least off to a decent start; battled the public employees unions; tried to start de-Malufifying the state; was widely regarded as the polar opposite of a cheerful, plundering machine-political Quimby; died of cancer, to be succeeded by Alckmin) owned a bank in one of the Antilles together.

Phony as a Sino-Paraguayan Prada handbag.

Authorship of the gabbling ratfink never established, though the names of Maluf and Collor were bruited about at the time.


Aith tinha conseguido juntar informações suficientes para lhe garantir a reportagem da sua vida, um quase certo Prêmio Esso de Reportagem.

Aith had gathered enough information to produce the scoop of a lifetime, almost certain to win him an Esso Prize for Reporting.

The Esso Prize may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Didn’t I read that they just gave one to Miriam Leitão of O Globo?

Há um princípio básico de jornalismo: quando está configurado que a fonte tentou enganar o jornalista, é obrigação do jornalista denunciá-la. Eurípedes resistiu a divulgar o nome de Dantas. Houve discussão interna. Não havia como fugir do levantamento de Aith mas, por outro lado, Eurípedes queria defender o aliado.

A basic principle of journalist is that when it becomes clear that a source is trying to put one over on the journalist, the journalist has an obligation to out the source. But Alcântara resisted publishing Dantas’ name. There was debate inside Veja. There was no way to get around what Aith had discovered, but, on the other hand, Alcântara wanted to defend his ally, Dantas.

Aith cedeu. De um lado, admitia-se que a fonte era Dantas. Mas foram tais e tantas as tentativas de salvar a cara do banqueiro, que a matéria transformou-se em um pterodáctilo, um bicho disforme e mal acabado.

Aith caved. On one hand, it was admitted that Dantas was the source. But there were so many attempts to save face for the banker that the article became a pterodactyl — a deformed and unfinished creature.

Or a Jabberwocky, perhaps. Or a saci pererê.

Or a jackalope, if you are up on your obscure, tacky American folklore:

O “prego sobre vinil” era claro.

The “nail taken to the LP record” was obvious.

Slang for the crudest sort of editorial interference in a piece of careful reporting and writing. Such as scratching out “the sun rose” and scribbling in “the sun set.” Sending around memos informing the staff that from now on, war is peace and love is hate.

Aith cometeu o erro de sua vida, concordando em assinar a matéria. Ganhou um boxe especial, cheio de elogios, e a primeira mancha grave na sua até então impecável folha de serviços jornalísticos. Veja não se limitava a apenas a “assassinatos de reputação” de terceiros, mas a destruir a reputação dos seus próprios jornalistas.

Aith made the mistake of his life by agreeing to let the piece be published under his byline. It ran with a sidebar about Aith, full of praises [for his credentials], but [actually] constituted the first serious blot on his previously spotless professional reputation.

Veja does not confine itself to “character assassination” jobs on third parties. It destroys the reputations of its own journalists as well.

I had not thought of it in that light because I was not that familiar with Aith’s resumé or clippings file. Nassif is kind to note that Aith has bona fides and that this was possibly not characteristic of his entire body of work. Compare

Paulo Francis was an extremely fine commentator in his day who degenerated sadly toward the end of his career. Kind of like Christopher Hitchens. It can happen to the best of us. If it ever happens to me, please put me out of my misery.

Começava pela capa. A chamada não mencionava dossiê falso. Pelo contrario, apresentava a falsificação como se fosse algo real:

It began with the magazine’s cover. The coverline did not mention the phony dossier. On the contrary, it presented the fabrication as though it were genuine:

“Daniel Dantas: o banqueiro-bomba. O seu arsenal tem até o numero da suposta conta de Lula no exterior”

“Daniel Dantas, the [suicide-bomber banker]. His arsenal even includes the number of an alleged offshore bank account belong to President Lula.

A matéria não tinha pé nem cabeça. As investigações de Aith já tinham confirmado tratar-se de uma falsificação preparada por Dantas.

The article made absolutely no sense. Aith’s investigations had already confirmed that the dossier was a fabrication rigged up by Dantas.

Mas o “lead” da matéria falava o contrario:

But the story’s lede stated the contrary:

“O banqueiro Daniel Dantas está prestes a abrir um capítulo explosivo na investigação sobre os métodos da “organização criminosa” que se instalou no governo e o estrago causado por ela ao país”.

“Banker Daniel Dantas is about to open an explosive new chapter in the investigation of ‘organized crime’ methods used by the government, and the mess it has caused in Brazil.”

Mainardi on Globo’s late-night Jô Xô repeats the unsubstantiated rumor that senior government officials have bribe-stuffed offshore bank accounts — defending the practice with a gibbering tautology.

O primeiro parágrafo inteiro, em vez de realçar o furo de Aith – a descoberta de que era um dossiê falso – dizia que:

The entire first paragraph, rather than setting forth Aith’s scoop — the discovery that the dossier was phone — stated:

“Na sessão, o senador Arthur Virgílio (PSDB-AM) revelou o teor de um documento no qual o banco Opportunity, controlado por Dantas, diz ter sofrido perseguição do governo Lula por rejeitar pedidos de propina de “dezenas de milhões de dólares” feitos por petistas em 2002 e 2003. A carta, escrita por advogados de Dantas e entregue à Justiça de Nova York, onde o banqueiro é processado pelo Citigroup por fraude e negligência, é só o começo de uma novela que, a julgar pela biografia de Dantas, não se resume a uma simples tentativa frustrada de achaque”.

“During the session, Sen. Virgílio of Amapá (PSDB) revealed the contents of a document in which Opportunity, controlled by Dantas, says he suffered persecution at the hands of the Lula government because he rejected requests for bribes running into the ‘tens of millions of dollars’ from PT party members in 2002 and 2003. The letter, written by lawyers for Dantas and submitted to a New York federal court, where the bank faces a lawsuit filed by Citigroup claiming fraud and negligence, is only the beginning of a soap opera that, judging from Dantas’ track record, cannot be dismissed as merely a frustrated extortion attempt.”

Veja lies. Not my words, but those of a Portunhol-speaking acquaintance of mine, a foreign correspondent for a major metro daily from another South American nation.

Prosseguia a matéria:

The article went on to state:

“Para defender-se das pressões que garante ter sofrido do PT nos últimos três anos e meio, Dantas acumulou toda sorte de informações que pôde coletar sobre seus algozes. A mais explosiva é uma relação de cardeais petistas que manteriam dinheiro escondido em paraísos fiscais”.

“To defend himself from pressures he says he suffered from the PT in the last three and a half years, Dantas has accumulated all the information he could on his persecutors. The most explosive is a report on PT “cardinals” who allegedly stash money secretly in fiscal paradises.”

Ia mais longe:

Veja took it even further:

“Além disso, Dantas compilou metodicamente não só os pedidos de propina como também as contratações e os pagamentos efetivamente feitos para tentar aplacar as investidas do atual governo sobre seus interesses. Se pelo menos uma parte desse material for verdadeira, o governo Lula estará a caminho da desintegração”

“Furthermore, Dantas has methodically compiled not only the bribe demands but also the contracts and payments that were actually made in the attempt to placate the current government’s assault on his business interests. If only a part of his material were true, the Lula government could well be on its way to falling apart. ”

Esse tipo de menção ao poder terrível do banqueiro era um convite ao achaque. Na mesma matéria, Veja justificava a publicação do dossiê como forma de prevenir achaques:

This type of allusion to the banker’s terrific power was an invitation to extortion. In the same article, Veja justified publishing the “dossier” as a way of preventing extortion attempts:

“Ao mesmo tempo, isso (a publicação do dossiê) impedirá que o banqueiro do Opportunity venha a utilizar os dados como instrumento de chantagem em que o maior prejudicado, ao final, seriam o país e suas instituições”.

“At this same time, this (publishing the dossier) will prevent the Opportunity banker from using this information as leverage for a blackmail scheme in which, after all, it would be Brazil and its institutions that suffered the most harm.”

A conclusão final era risível:

The final conclusion was laughable:

“Por todos os meios legais, VEJA tentou confirmar a veracidade do material entregue por Manzano. Submetido a uma perícia contratada pela revista, o material apresentou inúmeras inconsistências, mas nenhuma suficientemente forte para eliminar completamente a possibilidade de os papéis conterem dados verídicos”.

“Through all legal means available, VEJA tried to confirm the authenticity of the material handed over by Manzano. Submitted to an expert hired by the magazine, the material presented numerous inconsistencies, but none of them were sufficiently conclusive to completely eliiminate the possibility that the papers contained true facts.”

Só então entrava na reportagem o conteúdo apurado por Aith.

Only then did the substance of Aith’s reporting enter into the story.

A entrevista armada

The rigged interview

Pior: em uma matéria em que Dantas era desmascarado como autor de documentos comprovadamente falsos, Eurípedes colocou um membro do quarteto ligado a Dantas – Diogo Mainardi – para permitir ao próprio banqueiro fazer sua defesa (clique aqui).

Worse: in an article in which Dantas was unmasked as the author of demonstrably phony documents, Alcântara assigned a member of the Four Horsemen tied to Dantas — Diogo Mainardi — to let the banker present his defense.” [link]

Não era uma entrevista normal. Sua leitura induzia qualquer leitor atento a suspeitar que as perguntas foram formuladas por quem respondeu. Não se deram sequer ao trabalho de utilizar o padrão de formatação da revista para entrevistas ping-pong. É como se Mainardi tivesse ido até Dantas, recebido o questionário preparado pelo advogado, remetido para a revista, que o publicou na íntegra. Nem edição houve.

It was not a normal interview. Reading it would lead any careful reader to suspec that the questions were written by the person answering them. Veja did not even take the trouble of using the standard back-and-forth format for a Q&A. It was as though Mainardi went to Dantas, grabbed the Q&A prepared by his lawyer, and brought it back to the magazine, which ran it as is, in its entirely. They did even bother to edit it.

Cada pergunta levantava uma bola para o banqueiro bater em sua tecla de defesa: a de que seus problemas eram decorrentes de perseguição política – na mesma matéria em que se demonstrava que ele próprio recorria a dossiês falsos para achaques.

Every question was a [softball pitch] for the banker to [hit out of the park] in promoting his own defense theory: that his problems were all due to political persecution. This as part of the same package in which he is shown to have used phony dossiers in the service of attempted extortion.

O nível do ping pong era da seguinte ordem:

The “ping-pong” (back and forth, Q&A) was on the order of the following:


Why did the government want to remove Opportunity from Brasil Telecom management?

Porque havia um acordo entre o PT e a Telemar para tomar os ativos da telecomunicação, em troca de dinheiro de campanha.

Because there was a deal beween the PT and Telemar to take over telecom shares in exchange for campaign funding.


Telemar wound up buying the company of the President’s son, L’il Lula. Why did they also deal with him? Was it a favor to President [Squid]?

Lula Jr. is a partner in a videogame manufacturer, Gamecorp, with some electronic media tie-ins. Play TV, I think it is (which competes for the teenaged boy demographic with VH1 and Abril’s (awful) MTV Brasil).

Nós procuramos de todas as maneiras diminuir a hostilidade do governo.

We sought by all possible means to pacify the government.


Former Bank of Brazil president Cássio Casseb told Citibank that Lula hates you.

I am reminded of that moment on the playground in the sixth grade when a friend of a friend of a certain classmate of mine told me that Seanann Card said she “liked” me. We were 11 years old, so we had a good excuse for behaving in a juvenile manner: We were juveniles.

Casseb disse também que ou a gente entregava o controle da companhia ou o governo iria passar por cima.

Casseb alo said that either we turned over control of the company or the government was going to run us over.

A entrevista, na qual provavelmente a única participação de Mainardi foi a assinatura, terminava apresentando Dantas como vitima de achacadores, e não como quem tinha acabado de produzir um dossiê falso, com o claro intuito de achacar:

The interview, [Nassif goes on to say,] in which Mainardi’s only role was probably providing the byline, wound up presenting Dantas as a victim of extortion artists rather than as a man who had just tried to foist a phony dossier on the public in a bid to mount an extortion scheme of his own:

“Agora releia a entrevista. Mas sabendo o seguinte: Daniel Dantas cedeu aos achacadores petistas. Ele e muitos outros”.

“Now reread the interview, bearing the following in mind: Daniel Dantas caved in to the extortion artists from the PT. As did a lot of other people.”

Pelas informações que correram na época, o máximo que Aith conseguiu, como contrapartida ao fato de ter concordado em assinar aquele texto, foi uma matéria na edição seguinte, contando em detalhes como o dossiê chegou à revista: entregue pelo próprio Dantas ao diretor Eurípedes Alcântara (clique aqui). Eurípedes só cedeu à segunda matéria porque percebeu que a falta de limites o colocara na zona cinzenta que separa a legalidade da ilegalidade.

According to reports circulating at the time, the most Aith managed to do to compensate for having let his byline appear on this [nonsense] was to publish an article in the following edition that detailed how the dossier came to the magazine: Handed over personally by Dantas to the editor in chief, Alcântara (click here). Alcântara only agreed to the follow-up article because he realized that his failure to observe proper boundaries had put him in the grey area between legality and illegality.

De nada adiantou o escândalo, de nada adiantou saber da capacidade do banqueiro em inventar dossiês. A mídia estava completamente anestesiada. Mesmo com o absurdo dessa matéria, o quarteto de Veja continuou com autorização para matar.

The scandal came to nothing. Learning of the banker’s propensity for producing phony dossiers accomplished nothing. The rest of the news media was completely anesthetized. And despite the absurdity of this article, the Four Horsemen of Veja were allowed to keep their license to kill.

As referências a informações e dossiês de Dantas, ao seu poder ameaçador, passaram a ser freqüentes nas notas de Lauro Jardim e Mainardi.

References to information and dossiers from Dantas, and to their power to threaten the government, became frequent elements in the columns of Lauro “Radar” Jardim and Diogo [“I Am a Martyr to Freedom of Expression”] Mainardi.

A ponto de, na semana passada, em seu podcast no site da Veja, Mainardi continuar acenando com dossiês italianos para chantagear críticos. Minha série sobre a Veja estava ainda nos primeiros capítulos, mas já estava claro que Mainardi seria um dos próximos personagens.

To such an extent that last week, in his podcast for Veja’s Web site, Mainardi continued waving around Italian dossiers in a bid to blackmail his critics. My series on Veja was just getting started, but it was already clear that Mainardi would play a starring role.

No dia 7 de fevereiro passado, coloquei o seguinte post em meu blog:

On Febuary 7, I published the following note on my blog:

Do último podcast de Diogo Mainardi:

On Mainardi’s latest podcast:

Clique aqui para ouvir. Ele me relaciona entre os jornalistas “quintacolunistas” e enfatiza por duas vezes a palavra “dinheiro vivo” para se referir às malas de dinheiro da Telecom Itália.

Click to listen.

I am going to decline that invitation. My brain has limited capacity, and I prefer to minimize the amount of gibbering bullshit I feed it.

He associates me with “fifth columnist” journalists and repeats the phrase [“cold, hard cash”] in reference to the briefcases full of money belonging to Telecom Italia.

No final do podcast, manda um aviso:

At the end of the podcast, he issues a warning:

“Da próxima vez, antes de reclamar de mim, lembre-se: teimo em falar sobre o caso Telecom Itália porque ele pode revelar não apenas o destino das malas sujas de dólares, como o jogo sujo de sua escolta de jornalistas”.

“Next time, before complaining about me, remember: I dare to speak about the Telecom Italia case because it may reveal not only the destination of the dirty money but also the dirty game of the journalists [who carry water for the scheme].”

Esse mesmo recado aparece com destaque na chamada do podcast, no portal da Veja.

The same message is given prominent play in the text introducing the podcast on the Veja Web site.

O Houaiss descreve assim a palavra chantagem:

Houaiss defines the word “blackmail” as follows:

“pressão exercida sobre alguém para obter dinheiro ou favores mediante ameaças de revelação de fatos criminosos ou escandalosos (verídicos ou não)”.

“Pressure exerted on someone in order to obtain money or favors by means of threats to reveal scandalous or criminal facts (whether true or not.)

I researched a bunch of dictionary definitions of “scandal” and found that most lexicographers insist on “whether true or not” as an integral part of the definition.

Which about says it all with respect to Veja magazine: They could give two shits about whether it’s true or not. So long as it moves copies off the newsstand. The Gricean maxim — be sincerely committed to the truth of what you assert — is systematically flouted, as they say in philosophical semantics.

Do lado de outros grandes veículos, silêncio, complacência, aceitação conformada do estupro semanal a que o jornalismo está sendo submetido.

From the major news agencies and organizations, silence, complacency, resignation in the face of the weekly rape to which the profession of journalism is being subjected.

Estupro semanal: “raped on a weekly basis.” Strong words, but not a complete exaggeration. You really do have to read this nonsense to (dis)believe it.


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