Nassif on the Cardsoso Lunch-Tab Blackmail Dossier: “Factoids Beget Factoids”

//” contém erros e não pode ser exibida.
Veja magazine, March 2002: “The Dossier Wars: Politicians and spies have set up a slander industry in Brazil.” Right: And Veja is that industry’s Yoyodyne. Ask Veja about the work that Jairo Martins later did for it (and testified to a congressional committee about).  

factoid (something resembling a fact; unverified (often invented) information that is given credibility because it appeared in print)

Writing in the Observatório da Imprensa (Brazil), Luis Nassif — who has been writing an admirable series on what he calls “the neocon style” in Brazilian journalism, and Veja magazine in particular — addresses the 24-7 hysterical shrieking political scandal of the hour here in Brazil.

A cabinet office preparing information for a congressional probe of executive-branch expense accounts during the last two presidential administrations had — good God almighty! — put together information on executive-branch expense accounts of the last two presidential administrations. See

It is my (unscientific) observation  that rank and file Brazilians of all persuasions tend to feel that their elected representatives are outrageously overpaid to do nothing but quack nonsensically about public morality while (1) wagging their fingers and shrieking loudly about phantom menaces, (2) hiring their wives, children, cousins, in-laws, and law-school roommates, and people they have gambling debts with, to cushy government jobs they do not even have to come in to work for, and (3) voting themselves regular pay raises.

Your typical rank and file Brazilian is no idiot, either. You can tend to see why they might think that. Nassif:

Não adianta. Não existe responsabilidade institucional da mídia de opinião. Seja qual for o governo, é permanente a tendência de mostrar os músculos e fabricar crises, criar factóides e “esquentar” qualquer informação como se fosse o último papel de Watergate.

There is no way around it. The Brazilian “opinion media” utterly lacks institutional responsibility. No matter what government is in power, it has a permanent tendency to flex its muscles, fabricating crises, ginning up factoids and “heating up” every piece of news as though it were the latest chapter in the Watergate saga. 

Tome-se a matéria de sexta-feira (28/3) na Folha de S.Paulo sobre o tal dossiê com os gastos da família de FHC – divulgado na última edição da Veja (ver aqui).

Take the article that appeared on Friday in the Folha de S. Paulo about this supposed “dossier” on the expense accounts of President Cardoso and his family — published in the last edition of Veja magazine.

Há um levantamento de dados sobre as despesas do Palácio no governo Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Não há compra de drogas, pagamento de prostitutas, desvio de recursos. Há uma ou outra conta mais elevada em restaurantes, aluguel de automóveis, como deve haver nas despesas pessoais da família Lula. Nada que denigra FHC. E são prerrogativas do cargo.

This is a collection of data on official expenses of the presidency during the Cardoso administration. There is no spending on hookers or drugs or siphoning off of public money here. There are receipts here and there for notable sums spent on restaurants or car rentals, as there must be in Lula’s personal expense account. There is nothing there to denigrate Cardoso. These are the perks of office.

Lula is more of a backyard BBQ guy, notoriously. But who is really going to begrudge the Sorbonne-educated Cardoso an occasional coq au vin?

We want our President to roll into town in his snazzy Air Force One, right? Sets the right tone for the Doha Round trade talks that are supposedly going to save our jobs?

Let Hugo Chávez drive his own red VW Beetle. Our guy likes to impress the natives with a fleet of big, black uparmored SUVs. He has important work to do (even if he has done it awfully badly), and people are out to kill him. So why begrudge him?

And we do not want him ordering ten buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken when feting the Prime Minister of Freedonia at a state dinner, do we? (Unless the Freedonia head of state is especially fond of Col. Sanders.)

Por outro lado, há um sistema de cartões corporativos que permitiram alguns abusos. Nada que não pudesse ser consertado com uma definição clara do que pode ou não ser gasto com ele.

On the other hand, there is a corporate credit card system that allowed some abuses to occur. Nothing that could not be fixed by defining more clearly what can and cannot be paid for with the things.

Cria-se uma crise política em torno da tapioca. Ameaça-se com uma CPI, com uma crise institucional e se chegar aos gastos pessoais do presidente e sua família. Cria-se um clima de escândalo antes mesmo de se conhecer os dados. O que saísse geraria escândalo, fossem pagamentos a cabeleireiros ou compras de tapiocas.

A political crisis erupted over purchases of tapioca from street vendors.

This is not the tapioca pudding you know and love, but a flat-bread dish native to the North and Northeast, I think. I think I have sampled it in Bahia. This was CartaCapital‘s cover-story take on the crisis as well: “The Great Tapioca Scandal.”

A congressional probe looms, with an institutional crisis, and the personal expenses of the president and his family are brought in. A climate of scandal is created even before the facts are known. Whatever emerged, be they hairdresser appointments or buying tapioca, would be scandalous. 

A Casa Civil entra no clima e se prepara para enfrentar a crise da tapioca na CPI. Procede a um levantamento de todas as despesas presidenciais englobando o período FHC. Até aí tudo normal.

The Casa Civil got into the spirit of the thing and prepared itself to face the tapioca crisis in Congress. A study of all presidential personal expenses, including the FHC administration, is done. So far, all perfectly normal.

Parte dos dados vaza para a imprensa. Para quem? Para a revista Veja. Nem o mais improvável dos “aloprados” buscaria a Veja para atacar o ex-presidente FHC. Logo, o vazamento dos dados partiu de alguém que não atuava em sintonia com a Casa Civil.

Part of this data leaks to the press. To whom? To Veja magazine. Not even the most unlikely “bonehead” [in the governing party] would seek out Veja to attack ex-president Cardosos. Therefore, the leaking of the data came from someone who was not acting in concert with the Casa Civil.

Que “furo”?

What “scoop”?

O ponto central da história não é saber se o levantamento foi feito ou não, se as informações estavam sendo organizadas ou não. É saber qual foi a motivação para o levantamento e para o vazamento de dados.

The crux of the story is not knowing whether the study was done or not or whether the information was collected and organized or not. It’s knowing the motivation for collecting and leaking the data. 

Tem duas possibilidades.

There are two possibilities.

O governo diz que estava organizando os dados para poder fornecer à CPI quando solicitado.

The government says it organized the information in order to provide it to the CPI when asked.

Veja conclui, com a facilidade que lhe é peculiar, que o levantamento visava chantagear a oposição. Quais as evidências? Nenhuma.

Veja concludes, with that facility that is peculiar to it, that the intention was to blackmail the opposition. What evidence does it have? None.

Alberto Dines, the crustiest grand old man in Brazilian journalism — his lighting into the Communist Party daily Vermelho this week for a column criticizing him was a classic of screaming about “the new Hitler-Stalin pact” and jumping up and down — pointed out, quite properly, I thought, that what was especially objectionable about the Veja article was that it provided no source for the information it ran, or any explanation of why it provided no source.

There are two things that the Veja way of (neo-Lacerdist) journalism tend to find quaint, outmoded, and insisted upon only by those benighted souls who have yet to “get” the Internet: (1) Sourcing of information, and (2) equal time for persons accused of wrongdoing or involved in public cases and controversies.

The reader wants the whole truth and nothing but the truth about Veja‘s sources?

The reader can’t handle the truth! If that were not the case, Veja readers would not pay Veja to lie to them. So the reasoning goes. (Personally, I refuse to pay Veja to lie to me. Ignoring what Veja has to say has yet to cause me to miss news of any importance.)

É essa a questão central que a reportagem da Veja não esclarece. Mostrou tudo menos o essencial. Quem foi chantageado com esse relatório? Qual a prova de que se destinava a chantagear? Qual a testemunha que ouviu, alguma vez, que a intenção era a chantagem para evitar a CPI?

This is the central question the Veja report does not answer. It showed us everything except what really matters. Who was blackmailed with this report? What evidence is there of an intention to blackmail someone with it? Where is the witness who heard that the intention was to use blackmail to avoid the CPI?

Agora vem a matéria da Folha. Os jornalistas informam ter recebido o relatório na quinta-feira (27/3). Ora, havia um relatório circulando na praça, o que a Veja recebeu. Ou é crível imaginar que, depois do carnaval do final de semana, relatórios continuaram jorrando da Casa Civil? A não ser que o jornal apresente outras evidências, ele recebeu cópia do relatório que a Veja tinha.

Now comes the Folha‘s article. The Folha reporters say they received the report on Thursday, March 27. So there was a report making the rounds, and Veja got a copy. Or can it be credibly imagined that after the circus that rolled into town over the weekend, reports like this kept flowing out of the Casa Civil? Unless the newspaper has evidence to the contrary, it received a copy of the report that Veja already had.

Received from whom?

Então, o relatório não era novidade. Não era novidade o fato de que a Casa Civil estava alimentando o sistema com os dados. A própria Dilma Rousseff já tinha admitido. Qual o furo da Folha então: a de que o trabalho foi pedido pelo “braço direito” da Dilma, a secretária executiva da Casa Civil. Em qualquer ministério, é o secretário executivo quem comanda o dia-a-dia. “Furo” seria se o pedido tivesse sido por alguém de fora da Casa Civil.

In that case, its reporting had nothing newsworthy about it. It was not newsworthy that the CC had fed data into the systemm. Rousseff had already said so. So what was the Folha’s “scoop”? The the minister’s “right hand” had ordered the job done, the executive secretary [chief of staff, sort of] of the ministry. But this is true of any ministry: The executive secretary runs the day-to-day work. The shocker would have been if someone outside the ministry had ordered it done. 

Contas ao largo


Depois, para “esquentar” a matéria, os procedimentos de sempre, afirmações colhidas uma fonte chamada Planalto.

Next, to “heat up” the article, the usual ploy: statements collected from a source named [“inside sources say”].

“A cúpula do governo avalia que a situação política da ministra da Casa Civil, Dilma Rousseff, se agravou e que ela precisa dar uma resposta rápida. Do contrário, corre risco de cair.”

“The top leadership of the government believes the political situation of Rousseff has worsened and that she needs to respond quickly. If she does not, she runs the risk of losing her job.”

Tenha-se a santa paciência! Que mané cúpula! Imaginar que a peça central do segundo governo Lula, a maior unanimidade que se tem nesse governo, “corre risco de cair” por conta dessa notícia é exagerar na autolouvação do furo. Até se aceita esse tipo de liberdade poética do senador Arthur Virgílio. Supor que a “cúpula do governo” admitiu, é demais.

Oh, please! What [freaking] “top leadership”? Imagining that a key player in Lula II, with the widest support of anyone in the administration, “risks falling” because of this story is to engage in a sense of inflated self-importance about the significance of this “scoop.” One can accept this kind of poetic license from Sen. Virgílio, but to suppose that “top administration leadership” admitted this is just too much.

E continuam os factóides:

More factoids follow:

“No segundo mandato, é a primeira vez que um membro poderoso do governo e próximo do presidente Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva é ligado a um escândalo.”

“This is the first time during the second Lula administration that a powerful member of the government, close to [President Squid] has been tied to a scandal.”

Dias atrás, a Folha havia “denunciado”o que chamou de mentira do ministro Tarso Genro. Ele teria declarado que os dados haviam sido solicitados pelo TCU (Tribunal de Contas da União) e o TCU o teria desmentido.

A few days before, the Folha had “accused”Minister Genro of Justice of what it called a “lie.” He supposedly said that the data had been requested by the TCU (federal independent audit tribunal) and that the TCU had denied this.

Como – ao contrário da Veja – a Folha se permite laivos de contraponto, deu a palavra ao ministro:

But since the Folha — unlike Veja — permits a token nod to the other side, it let the minister of justice have his say:

“Indagado pela Folha sobre o fato de o TCU (Tribunal de Contas da União) tê-lo desmentido, Tarso disse que quem errou foi o jornal, por ter divulgado informação `equivocada´.

“Asked by this newspaper about the fact that the TCU had contradicted him, Genro said that it was this newspaper that had erred by publishing “incorrect” information.”

`O que eu disse é que a Casa Civil estava fazendo reparos na organização dos documentos para dar maior transparência, por orientação do TCU. Trabalhando os documentos, que não eram sigilosos, colocando-os dentro do sistema, e que vão estar à disposição quando a CPI precisar. Ele [o tribunal] confirmou o que falei´.”

“What I said was that the CC was reorganizing these documents in the interest of greater transparency, on the instructions of the TCU. Working with those documents, which are not secret, entering them into the system, and making them available when the commission of inquiry asks for them. The TCU actually confirmed what I said.”

E de factóide em factóide la nave va, enquanto as contas externas vão levando o país pouco a pouco para o centro da crise internacional.

And so we sail on blithely from factoid to factoid, while the external balance of trade leads Brazil slowly into the heart of the international crisis.

Nassif publishes a newsletter called Dinheiro Vivo and is of the opinion that the Brazilian balance of trade is sending out warning signals that the powers that be are blithely ignoring. Commodity prices are the key. That sort of thing.

I have not the slightest idea whether he is right about that or not — I slept through a lot of Econ 101 — but one takes his basic point.

Don’t these people have something better to do with their time on the public dime?

Percentage of Brazilians which think the Squid II government is adequate, good, or top-notch: 73%, according to two recent polls.
Percentage who think it sucks to the max: 11%.

You occasionally hear commentators here praising us gringos for the tradition we have, by which ex-presidents do not comment on the administration of the sitting president.

Clinton has never said Bush sucked. When Carter said something to that effect, people whacked him with their hats until he took it back, remember?

Here, however: Fernando Henrique Cardoso all over the boob tube, waxing indignant and calling people Nazis right and left.

Me, I have some natural sympathy for the Toucan vision of the universe and the nature of homo economicus, myself — I voted Bloomberg in New York, after all — but I find the art of the gabbling ratfink a real turn-off.

And I bet you I could introduce you to some Brazilian voters with a similar reaction, too.

The pathetic thing is that the opposition press here cannot seem to find anything substantial to oppose. Its predilection for tempests in teapots is becoming a national joke.

Worse than that, however, is that it seems to be too freaking lazy to sail out in search of an actual tempest. It would rather sit on its ass, blogging rumor and innuendo.

After all, this is a government we are talking about here. Governments, even governments that do a good job of not totally fucking some things up, always manage to fuck other things up to some extent. That is what governments do.

Really, you find yourself having to guard against the knee-jerk reaction according to which criticisms of the government by the press here are all bound to be complete gabbling nonsense.

Not all of them possibly can be. There is intelligent conservative, oppositionist opinion to be had, but you have to waste an awful lot of time picking the flies out of the oatmeal, while the folks at Veja try their damndest to convince you that those are raisins.

Since when do raisins have wings and cluster on steaming mounds of horse manure?


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