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

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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.

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Nassif: Veja’s Deep Throats

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

Brazilian political and economic commentators perform their analyses before the fact. Before they know that it actually happened, they have an explanation for it. They present opinion divorced from information. –Ricardo Kaufmann (O Globo: “Chávez Won the Referendum Because He Manipulated the System!”)

A “senior adviser to Bush,” Suskind reports, says to him that “guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’

Rumor is both a process of information dissemination and a process of interpretation and commentary. Shibutani conceives of rumor as a collective activity that tries to make sense of unexplained events, but insists that it depends on two necessary conditions: The importance of the information and its ambiguity. —“Rumors: Voices That Insinuate”

O araponga e o repórter: “The Spy and the Reporter.”

Brazilian business journalist Luis Nassif publishes another installment in his series on the type of “journalism” practiced by Veja magazine (Editora Abril).

My wife and I laughed last week to see the leader of the opposition in the lower house of Congress, deputy Vergilio of Amapá, repeatedly telling the TV cameras that Veja is a “serious and responsible” news publication.

It demonstrably is not. Quite the contrary But as Nassif has pointed out in a number of cases, the ethos argument is an integral part of its “toxic sludge is good for you” marketing strategy.

If you tend to report a lot of nonexistent facts and otherwise perpetrate acts of heinous journalistic incompetence or bad faith, it does not matter. You just keep repeating, “We are excellent journalists,” and get your cronies to repeat it as well. Ad nauseam.

Nassif has made some perceptive comments on the magazine as an importer of what he calls “the neocon style.”

I hope that when he polishes up this series into a book that he will include a chapter that traces the history and characteristics of that “neocon style.”

The infamous remarks of an anonymous White House staffer to Ron Suskind of the New York Times Magazine (above) are perhaps the most succinct state of principles of this contempt for critical collaborative knowledge-seeking, according to which, despite what Sen. Moynihan famously said, one is entitled to one’s own facts, or even to form opinions in the absence of facts.

At any rate, I continue to translate pra inglês ver as I find time. This episode highlights a crucial difference between Brazilian Deep Throats and the Deep Throat source used by Woodstein in Watergate.

Woodstein checked out what their Deep Throat was telling them. The usual procedure: If you cannot corroborate, you cannot vouch for it, and if you cannot vouch for it, you cannot print it in the paper.

Brazilian Deep Throats, on the other hand, are given full editorial control. No fact-checking involved. Fax it in and we will run it. Hillary Clinton performed oral sex with Fidel Castro? Really? Well, okay, if you say so …

A matéria foi bombástica e ajudou a deflagrar a crise do “mensalão”. Uma reportagem de 18 de maio de 2005, de Policarpo Jr., da sucursal da Veja em Brasília, mostrava o flagrante de um funcionários dos Correios – Mauricio Maurinho – recebendo R$ 3 mil de propina (clique aqui)

It was a bombshell of an article and helped unleash the “big monthly allowance” scandal. A report published May 18, 2005 by Policarpo Jr. of the Brasília bureau of Veja showed how Maurinho, an employee of the federal postal service, was caught in the act taking a R$3,000 bribe [URL].

A abertura seguia o estilo didático-indagativo da revista:

The lead graf was typical of the magazine’s [pedantic and moralizing] style:

(…) Por quê? Por que os políticos fazem tanta questão de ter cargos no governo? Para uns, o cargo é uma forma de ganhar visibilidade diante do eleitor e, assim, facilitar o caminho para as urnas. Para outros, é um instrumento eficaz para tirar do papel uma idéia, um projeto, uma determinada política pública. Esses são os políticos bem-intencionados. Há, porém, uma terceira categoria formada por políticos desonestos que querem cargos apenas para fazer negócios escusos – cobrar comissões, beneficiar amigos, embolsar propinas, fazer caixa dois, enriquecer ilicitamente.

“Why? Why are politicians so eager to get appointed to government posts. For some of them, the post provides them with visibility that helps them with their election campaigns. For others, it is an efficient way of getting an idea, a project, a specific public policy, off the drawing board. These are the well-intentioned politicians. But there is a third category composed of dishonest politicians who seek government appointments merely in order to do dirty deals — charge commissions, benefit their cronies, pocket bribes, launder money into slush funds, get rich quick.”

A revista informava que tinha conseguido dar um flagrante em um desses casos na semana anterior:

The magazine reported that it had managed to catch one of the dishonest politicians in the act the previous week:

“Raro, mesmo, é flagrar um deles em pleno vôo. Foi o que VEJA conseguiu na semana passada.’

‘It is a rare thing, indeed, to catch this sort of bird on the wing. But that is what VEJA managed to do last week.”

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The Morning Brief: Guido Stripped to Speedo By Credit Remarks

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Notable subscription package on offer: 12 months of the Valor Econômico daily + 6 months of the CartaCapital weekly for just R$47 (US$27, or some 10% of a minium salary) a month in parcel payments! I find that offer attractive: I already read both of them religiously. The offer seems to imply that someone thinks there are a lot more people out there like me. In other news, the Gazeta Mercantil signs a content partnership deal with the New York Times. As if the New York Times had anything useful knowledge about the price of sausages, chopp and black-market botijões in Itaim Bibi.

If a rumor comes into your possession, better pass it along to the next guy, and quick: It could be lie. –Millôr Fernandes

The Jornal do Commercio (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) reports: The federal treasury minister insists that he never said what the press here spent the last few days screaming loudly that he said, or at least implied!

Rumor was that the government was contemplating limiting automobile financing to a period of 36 months.

Guido “Guns and Butter” Mantega says it just ain’t so.

We have heard such sharp exchanges between government and the press before, many times.

The most striking example, perhaps, was the rumor that President Squid would seek a third term, like Uribe and Uncle Hugo. There were and are no credible indications that this was anything but a gibbering fairy tale.

But Veja magazine’s designated blogger, for example, shrieked loudly and hysterically against this sinister but nonexistent factoid-phantasm, summoning patriotic Brazilians to take up arms and join the “counter-coup.”

This was the top story on New World Lusophone Bloomberg today as well, which ran the minister’s remarks in their entirety.

I think the arrival of Bloomberg-style business journalism here is likely to raise the level of the game quite a bit.

Help make the jogo a little more bonito.

O governo quer evitar que o crédito e o consumo cresçam de forma insustentável ao longo dos próximos anos, mas não cogita restringir os prazos dos financiamentos, afirmou o ministro da Fazenda, Guido Mantega. Para garantir que o ritmo atual de crescimento da economia não tenha que ser “abortado”, Mantega disse que serão concedidos estímulos para investimentos a setores-chave, como o automobilístico, aço e cimento. O objetivo é evitar descasamento entre oferta e demanda, que contribua para aceleração da taxa de inflação.

The government wants to avoid having consumer credit grow in an unsustainable manner in the next few years, but is not contemplating restricting the terms of financing contracts, said treasury minister Guido Mantega. To guarantee that the current rate of economic growth is not “aborted,” Mantega said incentives will be conceded to key sectors, such as automobiles, steel and cement. The objective is to avoid a disconnect between supply and demand, which tends to contribute to inflation.

O ministro pretende também reunir-se com representantes dos bancos para obter garantias de que o nível de alavancagem das instituições é seguro. Os financiamentos alongados de veículos preocupam especialmente o governo. Especialistas já alertaram sobre o perigo de bolha nesse tipo de crédito.

The minister also intends to me with representatives of the banking sector to obtain guarantees that the degree of leverage being used is at safe levels. Extended auto financing are of special concern to the government. Experts have already warned of a bubble in this type of credit.

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“Veja Ratfinked Cardoso’s Karl Rove”

School for scandal remains in session: “Straight-razor to the quick: the blade of the anticorruption federal police operation has already [chopped off the head] of [the owner of Gautama] and [the minister of Mines and Energy] and now is nearing the neck of the President of the Senate.” Violent imagery straight from the media playbook of Mexico’s Gente Nueva. The article did not accuse the Senator of any relationship to Gautama, however. It accused him of accepting money from a big construction firm, Mendes Junior, to pay personal expenses. Those charges, and others later shrieked about by the magazine, were never substantiated. Nothing was revealed. Veja‘s anonymous source: The palimony lawyer of the Senator’s baby mom, who later appeared in Veja’s sister publication, Playboy Brasil. Starkers.

Revista Veja perde ação contra ex-secretário-geral de FHC: Imprensa magazine (Brazil) reports on a civil libel action brought by a former government official against Veja magazine (Editora Abril) and a number of other news organizations.

The man, the former chief of staff [sort of] of the Cardoso presidency, also won defamation suits against O Globo and the Folha de S. Paulo.

This would make a perfect case study for journalist Luis Nassif, who is writing a book on Veja journalism — briefest of summaries: “It stinks!” — in installments and publishing the draft chapters to Google Pages.

Nassif and the Estado de S. Paulo were cited by the plaintiff in the case as exception to the lynch-mob atmosphere surrounding the case (see below).

Press freedom watchers have expressed (to some extent justifiable) concern about the extreme litigiousness of the relationship between the Brazilian news media and the public figures it covers, but often fail, I think, to draw a distinction between

  1. SLAPP suits designed to punish those who publish inconvenient but corroborated facts — which do seem to be thick on the ground here (Bishop Macedo v. Elvira Lobato of he Folha may be such a case, for example), and
  2. Genuine cases of what we refer to here at NMM as “the gabbling ratfink” — vicious, unbridled, mendacious, moral panic-driven, rumor-mongering, gabbling, quacking, flimsy, alarmist claptrap, perpetrated with “actual malice” or the journalistic equivalent of reckless disregard for the Reality Principle.

Conducting a public information service while giddily intoxicated with the power of monopolizing the gazillion-jigawatt megaphone.

Brazil needs something like a New York Times Co. v. Sullivan to help it conceptualize this difference.

News coverage and activism around this issue, meanwhile, needs to engage in the lost art of fact-checking to shine light on the difference between freedom of expression and the screaming of vicious lies — “The Tutsi have already massacred 300,000 Hutu!” — into the gazillion-jigawatt megaphone.

Here, for example, no summary of the case in all the (scant) news coverage I have read bothers to summarize what nonexistent facts were allegedly alleged.

It is impossible to judge whether the judges judged correctly — whether Veja was a victim of oppression or a perpetrator of the gabbling ratfink — without knowing what factoids it was found to have misstated for fun and profit.

The plaintiff in the case also applied for sanctions against the federal prosecutors in his case — and won suspensions for both of them. He published an indignant letter in the Observátorio da Imprensa in 2002 about the “lynch mob” journalism to which he was subjected. I translate that below.

Revista Veja foi condenada a pagar indenização de R$ 150 mil por danos morais ao ex-secretário-geral da Presidência no governo Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Eduardo Jorge Caldas Pereira.

Veja magazine was sentenced to pay damages of R$150,000 for defamation to the former secretary-general of the federal presidency under the Cardoso administration, Eduardo Jorge Caldas Pereira.

Em votação unânime na tarde da última terça-feira (18), a 4ª Turma do Superior Tribunal de Justiça – formada pelos ministros Aldir Passarinho Junior, Fernando Gonçalves, Massami Uyeda e João Otávio de Noronha – confirmou a condenação da revista.

In an unanimous vote, the 4th Chamber of the [local equivalent of the Circuit Court of Appeals, in terms of hierarchy] — Passarinho, Gonçalves, Uyeda and Noronha — upheld the condemnation of the magazine.

De acordo com informações do site Consultor Jurídico, esta é a quarta decisão que Eduardo Jorge vence. Ele já recebeu indenizações do jornal O Globo e Correio Braziliense. Já o diário Folha de S.Paulo também foi condenado a pagar indenização e já fez o depósito do dinheiro. A revista Isto É também foi condenada, mas tem recurso no STJ.

According to Consultor Jurídico, this is the fourth case Caldas Perreira has won. He has already been paid damages by O Globo and the Correio Braziliense. The Folha de S. Paulo was also ordered to pay damages, and has deposited the amount in escrow. IstoÉ magazine was also ordered to pay damages, but an appeal is pending.

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Colombia: EL TIEMPO Regrets The Leak Journalism

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The photo in question: Not the Ecuadoran security minister.

EL TIEMPO (Bogotá) runs a photo it claims shows the Ecuadoran minister of internal and external security with “Raúl Reyes” of FARC, supposedly captured from the laptop of the FARC commander during the raid that killed him and other members of FARC party camped in the Ecuadoran jungle.

It then retracts that statement, saying its anonymous source inside the National Police disinformed it. The photo is not of the Ecuadoran official.

Ecuador now refuses to resume diplomatic relations with Uribeland — “the other Bolivarian republic” — citing this story as an instance of what it calls a government-sponsored, media-driven “smear campaign.”

EL TIEMPO belongs to the Santos family, which recently sold a substantial stake to a Spanish media group with promises that its editorial independence would be respected. The vice-president and defense minister of Colombia are both named Santos.

J.J. Rendón reportedly works for them. But see also

Another instance of what looks to have been a disinformation gambit in the Rendón-Segretti-Mainardi style:

See also

Given that sensational initial reports tend to stick in the memory more than corrections do, I imagine the idea here is that the rumor of an Ecuador in cahoots with the narco-FARC will persist in the popular imagination despite the correction.

We saw a case of this in Brazil recently (where rumors that the current government is in cahoots with the narco-FARC are thick upon the ground as well.)

An opposition senator screamed that the Brazilian government was secretely shipping weapons to Venezuela, taking sides in the diplomatic crisis and helping to militarize it!

The defense minister here explained that this was some sort of routine transaction involving a modest consignment of police revolvers or something.

The senator quietly said he accepted that explanation.

The hysterical screaming got a lot more play, of course.

La Dirección General de la Policía Nacional emitió un comunicado en el que asume que el documento gráfico fue suministrado por una fuente de esa institución. EL TIEMPO ofreció disculpas al ministro.

The National Police  issued a press release in which it admits that the photo was handed over by a National Police source. EL TIEMPO has apologized to the minister.

La institución ordenó una investigación interna para establecer quienes fueron los responsables de la entrega de la fotografía y de la información sobre la misma.

The National Police has ordered an internal investigation to establish who was responsible for leaking the photo and the information about it.

El personaje que apareció en la fotografía es en realidad el dirigente comunista argentino Patricio Etchegaray.

The person who appeared in the photo is in fact the Argentine communist leader Patricio Etchegaray.

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Readers to the Brazilian Dailies: “Check Yourself or to Heck With Yourself”

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“Exit polls give victory to Chávez in referendum”: The
Folha de S. Paulo front page on the day after. Not as bad as Miriam Leitão of O Globo writing “Chávez Won the Referendum Because He Manipulated the System!” Chávez lost the referendum. Quack.

Readers ‘efforts in support of greater accuracy is one of the most striking developments in contemporary journalism.

Leitores e checagem: “Readers and fact-checking.”

Mario Magalhães, ombudsman of the Folha de S. Paulo, does fine work, waving a banner with the inscription “This newspaper belongs to its readers (who after all are the people who pay our salaries).” More power to the guy.

If you can find the tiny little link to his column, buried way down the newpaper’s Web site, it is well worth bookmarking it and making it the first thing you read in the Folha every day.

File under

O editor de um excelente diário britânico costuma dizer que os jornalistas estão errados ao pensar que sabem muito mais que os leitores.

The editor of an excellent British daily is wont to say that journalists are wrong to think they they know a lot more than their readers do.

Em minha opinião, o raciocínio fica no meio do caminho: os jornalistas se equivocam ao ignorar que, sobre os assuntos a respeito dos quais informam, há sempre algum leitor que sabe mais do que eles (nós).

In my opinion, this line of reasoning does not go far enough. Journalists are wrong to ignore the fact that, regarding the subjects they cover, there is always some reader who knows more than they (we) do.

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France: Rogue in Vogue

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Dostoyevskian themes, but the title reminds you a little of an old Cheech & Chong movie.

Paul-Eric Blanrue at Chris Laffaille of Scali say they have met with “people close to Kerviel” and benefited especially from “the revelations of Mr. X,” a man “on the inside,” who is explaining to them “the workings of a runaway machine.” The authors, a historian and a journalist, have already published an “instant” book on Sarkozy and Bruni. 

L’affaire Kerviel suscite une salve de livres (Les Echos, France): Rushing books into print on the curious case of Société Générale’s “rogue trader,” Jérôme Kerviel. My French is rusty, mind you: This is the best I can do without a dictionary in hand, as fast as I can type.

Le premier ouvrage “flash” sur le scandale qui a fait perdre près de 5 milliards d’euros à Société Générale vient de paraître sous la plume d’un journaliste du “Monde”. Trois autres livres sont en préparation.

The first [“instant”] book on the scandal that lost Société Générale €5 billion will appear under the name of a Le Monde journalist. Three others are on the way. 

“Alexeï Ivanovitch à Roulettenbourg, Jérôme Kerviel à la Société Générale, c’est un peu la même histoire. Une histoire en apparence très compliquée et très technique, mais au fond, peut-être, très simple et très humaine”. Pierre-Antoine Delhommais, journaliste au Monde et auteur du premier livre “flash” paru sur l’affaire Kerviel, voit un personnage dostoïevskyen dans le jeune trader de 31 ans qui a fait perdre 5 milliards d’euros à sa banque. D’ailleurs, tous les chapitres de “Cinq milliards en fumée, les dessous du scandale de la Société Générale” sont émaillés de citations du “Joueur”.

What Alexeï Ivanovitch was to Roulettenbourg, Jérôme Kerviel was to Société Générale, it is sort of the same story. It is a story that seems quite complex and technical, but the heart of the story may be quite simple and quite human.” Delhommais, Le Monde reporer and author of the first [“instant”] book on the Kerviel affair, sees a Dostoyevskian character in the young trader of 31 years who lost the bank €5 billion. And all of the chapters of [€5 Billion Up in Smoke: Behind the SG Scandal] are headed with quotations from Dostoyevsky’s “The Gambler.”

Which Dostoyesvsky wrote extremely quickly in order to clear his gambling debts.

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