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Brazil: On the “Che e-mails” and credibility of journalism

In the beginning of October, the well established Brazilian magazine Veja ran a cover story to mark the 40th anniversary of Che Guevara's death [pt]. A week earlier, the magazine's international news editor, Diogo Schelp, had contacted Jon Lee Anderson, foreign-affairs reporter for a well established American magazine, The New Yorker, and Guevara's biographer.

Anderson agreed to give the requested interview but it went no further; the feature on Che was published and the American, on reading it, sent a letter to the editor of Veja stating his opinion on the production and quality of the piece – according to him an “OpEd piece camouflaged as a piece of accurate journalism” – and forwarded the message to a few other contacts he had in Brazil.

This affair in other times would not have had as much as an audience among colleagues at both news offices, but the e-mail exchange has leaked into the blogosphere where the correspondence fueled a juicy, public and open debate about the quality, impartiality and credibility of Brazilian journalism.

Blacklisting

In an open letter answering Anderson [pt], published on one of Veja‘s blogs, Schelp complains about the New Yorker reporter's lack of ethics in making the correspondence public and finishes off stating: “You can rely on the fact that you are not going to appear in the pages of this magazine again”. In other words, he admits: Veja practices blacklisting.

Pedro Doria [pt] was the blogger who scooped the story, first publishing the critical letter by Anderson, followed by Schelp's reply. Then he wrote an analysis of Veja‘s behaviour and published a third e-mail in which Anderson replies to Schelp's public letter. All together, these four posts have amassed nearly a thousand comments. In the piece below, discussing Schelp's reply, he comments on the most concerning fact of all:

Por fim, ele reconheceu publicamente que Veja tem uma lista negra: quem cai lá não sai na revista. Não é o único órgão de comunicação grande que tem uma lista dessas, mas há um motivo pelo qual ninguém assume sua existência. É que não pode ter. Noticia-se, sempre, o que é notícia; e procura-se, sempre, quem melhor pode informar a respeito de um assunto. Quando uma publicação reconhece que tem uma lista negra, está dizendo que não tem pudores de usar sua influência para fazer com que alguém suma do mapa da relevância, independentemente de ser notícia ou não. (Não que, neste caso específico, Anderson vá sentir falta.)

Finally, he acknowledged publicly that Veja has a blacklist: those who fall onto it are not featured in the magazine. This is not the only major media company to have a blacklist, but there is a reason why nobody admits to having one. It is the fact that you can't have one. You report on what is news and should always look for sources who can better inform you about a subject. When a publication acknowledges that it has a blacklist, it is saying that it has no shame in using its influence to make someone vanish from the map of relevance, regardless whatsoever of what is news or not. (Not that in this particular case Anderson will miss out on anything.)

Carlos Brickmann [pt] still on blacklisting in two different moments:

Pior: quando se falava em “lista negra”, sempre se pensava no comando supremo do veículo, ou da empresa. Nunca se pensou que um repórter, por melhor que fosse, por mais alto que estivesse na hierarquia da reportagem, pudesse incluir nomes na lista negra.

Even worse, whenever a “blacklist” is mentioned, it is the supreme command of the media outlet or of the company that springs to mind. It was never thought that a reporter, no matter how good he is, or how high he has reached in the reporting hierarchy, could include names on a blacklist.

Lista negra é o oposto do jornalismo; é a negação da imprensa livre. A opinião é livre, mas levar ao leitor “all the news that’s fit to print” é a obrigação de cada jornalista.

A blacklist is the opposite of journalism, it is the negation of the free press. Opinion is free, but taking to the reader “all the news that's fit to print” is the obligation of every journalist.

Que bonito, né? O pessoal mostra como está preparado para o debate de opiniões e a visão pluralista da sociedade. A verdade é a seguinte: imprensa no Brasil é que nem bola de jogo de pelada – é minha e só joga quem eu deixar.

Nice, isn't it? These folks show how prepared they are for a debate of opinions and for the pluralistic view of society. The truth is: the press in Brazil is like the ball in a kick about, it is mine and those who get to play are the ones I let play.

Debating attitudes towards journalism

Some bloggers discussed the tone in which Veja reacted to the affair answering Anderson through Reinaldo Azevedo, one of Veja‘s in-house bloggers. Daniel Lopes [pt] had been following closely the e-mail exchange and decided to contact Anderson himself about Schelp's open letter. This generated a counter-reply last week, which he publishes in both, English and Portuguese. He calls Veja‘s attitude arrogant.

Reinaldo tentou desqualificar os argumentos do jornalista gringo, juntamente com “a canalha” que concorda que a matéria de Veja foi péssimo jornalismo. Com a arrogância costumeira, indiretamente acusou Pedro Doria de “petralha” e dono de um “blog mixuruca”.

Reinaldo tried to disqualify the gringo journalist's arguments, along with “the scoundrels” who agree that Veja‘s piece was bad journalism. With his usual arrogance, he indirectly accused Pedro Doria of being a “petralha” [a pejorative neologism to describe PT's supporters] and an owner of a “insignificant blog.”

However, it is in Reinaldo's post where most of Veja‘s readership came to defend the magazine's attitude and piece on Che, among many other comments that were ‘removed’ by the blog administrator. An anonymous reader thanks Veja for the piece:

Reinaldo, Brilhante o seu texto. Sou remanescente da época “CHE”, mas como tive que trabalhar desde os 15 anos para ajudar a minha família, não me sobrou tempo para conhecer esse canalha com profundidade. Tal como os Beatles, que considero os pais da libertinagem, drogas etc., esse Porco Fedorento e seus seguidores não conseguiram fazer a minha cabeça, pois quem tem como ideal vencer na vida pelo trabalho não tem tempo para ficar correndo atrás de mitos. Você já viu a figura de seus sicários desde aquela época até os dias atuais?? Sujos, barbudos, mal-cheirosos, preguiçosos, mas contestadores daqueles que conquistaram seu espaço.

Reinaldo, your text is brilliant. I am from the “CHE” era, but as I have had to work since I was 15 to help my family, I did not have much time left to know that scoundrel very well. Like the Beatles, who I consider and believe to be the parents of vice, drugs etc… That stinking pig and his followers failed to convince me, because one who has the ideal to better themselves in life through work does not have the time to follow myths. Have you seen the photos of his bloodthirsty lot from that time to now? Dirty, bearded, smelly, lazy but still contesting those people who took their place.

The best of the debate is among the nearly thousand comments at Pedro Doria's posts, which have both sides presenting their opinions and much reflection on journalism and the illusion of a free press. As says Brancaleone [pt]:

Vira, mexe, remexe e de novo caímos naquela de “Imprensa verdadeira”. Não existe isso. Nenhum jornal, revista, rádio ou TV de qualquer lugar do mundo tem o poder divino de informar a verdade porque não existe verdade na informação. Toda a informação tem a opinião de quem informa. Não existe no universo alguem que informe alguma coisa sem ser parcial, interessado ou falso.

Every now and then, and again, we come back to the same issue of “truth in the press”. This doesn't exist. No newspaper, magazine, radio or TV from anywhere in the world has the divine power to tell the truth because there is no truth in information. All information has the view of those who report it. There is nobody in the universe who can report anything without being partial, interested or false.

Renato [pt] believes that the fact that it was Che is besides the point:

Seja Che ou a Madre Teresa ou o Papa o problema não é a Veja ter dado sua opinião, mas o mal jornalismo exemplificado no caso. Aos defensores aviso que hoje é o Che mas amanhã pode ser alguém em quem vocês acreditam. Eles vão atacar ou promover simplesmente porque lhes interessa.

Be it Che, Mother Teresa or the Pope, the problem is not that Veja has given their opinion, but the kind of evil journalism this case has been an example of. To those who defend it, I say that today it is Che but tomorrow it may be someone you believe in. They will attack or promote people simply according to their interests.

On reading Anderson's e-mails, Catatau [pt] reflects on what is lacking in Brazilian journalism:

Está tudo aí: o papel do jornalista como divulgador de informações, a cautela quanto a enunciar juízos ou teses (especialmente amplas e taxativas), a tentativa de rigor e imparcialidade, e afins.

It's all there: the role of journalist as information spreader, the caution regarding stating opinions or theories (especially if broad and limited), the attempt to reach accuracy and impartiality, and the like.

Marcia Benetti Machado [pt] goes on:

para mim não importa especificamente a discussão entre Schelp e Anderson, embora eu tenha lido tudo e tenha opinião formada. Schelp errou. a reportagem foi mal apurada, sim, e a tréplica de Anderson esclarece bem as fontes escolhidas pela revista. prova-se mais uma vez que Veja faz “jornalismo de tese” – e “jornalismo”, aqui, é apenas uma licença poética, pois conceitualmente isso não é jornalismo.

To me the discussion between Schelp and Anderson does not matter specifically, although I have read everything and have made up my mind. Schelp was wrong. The report was poorly researched, indeed, and the counter-reply by Anderson explains well the sources chosen by the magazine. It is a proof once again that Veja does “theoretical journalism” where “journalism” is just poetic license, because conceptually it is not journalism.

Douglas Duarte [pt], who has met Anderson a few times in the course of making his feature documentary about Che, Personal Che, believes the piece was just propaganda:

O artigo de Veja – discutam de quem é a culpa – é uma peça de propaganda e não de reportagem. Digo isso como jornalista e depois de ter lido as quatro biografias mais importantes, entrevistado os dois biógrafos mais respeitados e atravessado um sem-número de outras peças de propaganda – contra e a favor. A da Veja sequer descobre lamas novas para jogar.

Veja‘s article – you say who is to blame – is a piece of propaganda and not reportage. I say this as a journalist and after having read the four most important biographies, interviewed the two most respected biographers and having gone through a number of other pieces of propaganda – both for and against Che. Veja‘s doesn't even discover new mud to sling.

Time changes editorial lines

In a post called Che and nazi-journalism, Luiz Raatz [pt] says that the magazine is beyond just news from the right wing perspective:

A revista vem se especializando em atacar o que lhe é estranho. Qualquer coisa nociva e externa ao que o semanário julga normal deve ser extirpada. É um princípio fascista. A limpeza étnica do comportamento. Não pode ser punk. Não pode ser metaleiro. Não pode ser comunista. Não pode ser petista. Não pode ser a favor dos direitos humanos. Veja quer o holocausto da esquerda. Mandar todos que discordam de seu ponto de vista para o campo de concentração e exterminar suas idéias na câmara de gás.

The magazine has been specializing in attacking what is strange to it. Anything harmful and external to what the weekly magazine judges to be normal is eliminated. This is a facist principle. The ethnic cleansing of behavior. There can't be punk. There can't be heavy metal. There can't be communist. There can't be a PT [Labour Party] supporter. There can't be human rights campaigners. Veja wants the leftwing holocaust. To send everyone who disagrees with their point of view to concentration camps and cut their ideas short in the gas chamber.

Other bloggers compared this last Veja piece with another story on Che Guevara [pt] published 10 years ago in the very same magazine. Student of journalism Luana Farias [pt] puts the two stories side by side to check how much the editorial line has changed in a decade:

A atual possui caráter predominantemente dissertativo. Não identifica de onde os autores apuraram as informações, o que leva a crer que a matéria foi feita da redação. Parte de tese própria segundo a qual o mito de Che é uma farsa produzida pela ”máquina de propaganda marxista”, diz o texto. E se destina a comprová-la. A de 1997 foi apurada na Bolívia e se ocupa, majoritariamente, de ouvir declarações e descrever fatos que testemunha. (…) Dorrit Harazim concentra-se nas fontes que encontra pelo caminho, pessoas que o admiram, nas cidades bolivianas onde Che é um ser místico, literalmente adorado como santo.

The lastest story has predominantly a dissertation character. It does not identify the sources that the authors had to the information, which suggests that the story was written inside the news office. Part of the thesis, according to the text, is that Che's myth is a farce ”produced by the Marxist propaganda machine”. And it is intended to prove this true. The 1997 article was written in Bolivia and had as its main objective to hear statements and to describe events that were witnessed. (…) Dorrit Harazim focuses on the sources that she finds on the way and people who admired him in the Bolivian cities where Che was a mythical being, literally worshiped as a saint.

Now netcitizens wonder: in which Veja should they believe? The one that in 1997 ran a cover story called “The Resurrection of Che Guevara” or the 2007 edition “Che: The Farce of the Hero”?

If you want to dive deeper into contemporary South American journalism with a penchant for the Brazilian press, a good blog in English to visit is The New Market Machines. On this specific subject, Brayton has a very well put together piece, Veja (Brazil) and The New Yorker: The Che Letters.

4 comments

  • jean fernandes bastos

    Realmente a “veja” me cheira, facismo e Hitlerismo, não jornalismo, seu “jornalismo” é tendencioso, ela se mostra claramente adepta do neo-facismo e sua própria decadência, tenho vários amigos, que não assinam mais a veja, porque no lugar de trazer notícias, ela quer mesmo é doutrinar as pessoas, vejo também que jornalismo imparcial é uma farsa, em qualquer lugar do mundo, sempre o jornal ou revista e outros, estarão a serviço de seus editores, e prestando, claro, um grande desserviço a sociedade.

    Translation by GVO:

    Indeed, to me “Veja” smells of fascism and Hitlerism, not journalism, its journalism is biased and it shows clearly that it is adept at neo-fascism and as for its own decay, I have many friends who don’t subscribe to Veja anymore because instead of news, the magazine wants in fact to indoctrinate people, I also see that impartial journalism is a farce everywhere in the world, there will always be newspapers, magazines and others to serve their editors, and thus, do a great disservice to society.

  • David

    Já que vocês traduzem, eu prefiro escrever nativamente.

    Realmente, Veja é motivo de piadas aqui. O site social Orkut, por exemplo, tem inúmeras delas onde um burro é visto lendo a revista… Isso mostra a sua credibilidade social. Tendenciosa, mas creio que isso exista em muitos locais mundo afora… lembro de numa visita aos EUA ter me impressionado com a parcialidade de programas como O’Reilly Factor…

    Além disso, colunistas com transtorno bipolar como Diogo Mainardi (alternando entre opiniões ora anarquistas ora fascistas, mas sempre extremista) formam a “elite” jornalística da revista.

    Faz anos que não compro revistas jornalísticas, pois sempre “garimpo” as notícias na Internet (pelo menos amplia horizontes e é grátis).

    Traslation by GVO

    As you translate the comments, I prefer to write in my mother tongue.

    Indeed, Veja is a a bit of a joke over here. In the networking site Orkut, for example, there are many of jokes, in one of them a donkey is seen reading the magazine … This shows their credibility among societ. It is biased, but I believe that bias exists in many places worldwide … I remember that in a visit to the United States I was impressed by how biased the programs like O’Reilly Factor are…

    Also, the “elite” team of the magazine’s journalists are made of columnists who have bipolar disorder, like Diogo Mainardi (who alternates between opinions that are sometimes anarchists other fascist, but always extremist).

    I haven’t bought news magazines for years, because I always pick and chose news on the Internet (at least it broadens horizons and it is free).

  • André

    Os comunistas de plantão estão nervosos porque a Veja disse a verdade?

    Translation by GVO

    Are the Communists on duty nervous because Veja has told the truth?

  • Hi, André

    The main problem is not where it told the truth or not, but how biased it conducted the piece. As Anderson said in his second (not answered yet) open letter:

    “As I said in my “open letter” to you, to write such an article using the kind of sources you did is equivalent to writing a profile of George W. Bush quoting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez. In other words, it is not something that would or should be taken seriously. It is a novelty exercise, something to snicker over, but it is NOT journalism. To tell your readers, as you did in the opening art of the article, that “Veja talked with historians, biographers, former comrades of Che and of the Cuban government” gives the misleading impression that you had actually done your homework, that you were offering your readers a well-rounded piece of journalism that was going to show them something new. Unfortunately, most of what you have written here is sheer propaganda, mere re-hashings of things that have been said and re-said, without much basis, in Miami for the last forty-odd years” (Jon Lee Anderson)

    This should make not only communists, but people who care about free press, concerned.

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