Behind every great fortune there is a crime –Balzac
Continuing to read José Venâncio de Resende’s oral history of Brazilian business journalism — Studs Terkel interviews the employees of Charles Foster Kane’s New York Inquirer — I come across a moment that rings uncannily true for me.
I feel that I have already met the man described here — Henry Maksoud, of the Maksoud Plaza Hotel fame — and have lived something like the experience recounted. Get me drunk sometime and I will tell you the story, or stories.
The same chapter also describes how Maksoud, after making a job offer to journalist Cláudio Abramo, then decided to clear the decision with the SNI, the spy agency of the Brazilian military dictatorship.
In his brief tenure as a correspondent for Visão, Pimenta Neves produced a number of articles on politics and a few on economics. “I did an enormous article for Visão about the bicentennial of the United States that, modesty aside, I thought was pretty interesting. In one part of the article, I referred to the ‘robber barons’ who played a very important role in American ‘savage capitalism’ during the economic development of the country – in American industry, American infrastructure …”
The ‘robber barons’ were on my American History advanced placement examination in high school, not long after this incident.
Hell, I used to bicycle to the Huntington Library on weekends, housed in the palace of one of the biggest robber barons of them all.
Pimenta Neves later came to a very sad end, after a love affair with a coworker came to an even sadder end.
Why it is best to keep your work and your personal life firewalled off as much as possible.
“With that brand of ignorance that was all his own, Maksoud imagined that I was saying that the great American entrepreneurs, the grand capitalists. were all a bunch of thieves. He was scandalized, and he ordered that part cut out of the article.
And then he did a really sordid thing: He asked an assistant of his, an American military man he had hired, to write a letter in his name to the American embassy, saying, ‘If I were a correspodent for [the Soviet news agency] Tass, I could not have done more to help the Soviet Union from inside the United States.’”
The gambit reminds one of that speech from John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate, in which Sen. Thomas Jordan says:
There are people who think of Johnny as a clown and a buffoon. But I do not. I despise John Iselin and everything that Iselinism has come to stand for. I think if John Iselin were a paid Soviet agent, he could not do more to harm this country than he’s doing now.
“He was enraged, in the first place, just because I had written that article — he thought I was publishing anti-American propaganda. But he was even more angry when I quit. I had already told Visão I was going to leave when my contract was up.”
Pimenta Neves says he was informed of the letter’s existence by an American government official.
“After a few months, I resigned. But Maksoud was furious about that article – the history of the United States. He published the whole thing, except for that passage, which he asked Frederico Branco to rewrite. But I was really angry because he had promised he would not fire any of my team after I left. And then he fired them.
I asked Muylaert to explain the origins of that letter, but he said he knew nothing about it, that if he had, he would never have allowed it to happen But accusing me of spying for Tass was so unbelievably stupid that no one could believe it had actually happened.”