Brazil vs. NYT: The Autopsy of a Hangover

     Brazil vs. NYT: The Autopsy 
of a Hangover

    It became obvious that
    Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the
    charismatic labor leader that after 25 years came to be President
    of the Republic, had forgotten the valuable contribution of
    the media to his biography. Or he wanted a complete and
    unrestricted rerun. Impossible, at this stage of the game.
    by: Alberto


    "Emily, get out of the way." That was how Colin Powell spoke, while
    on the air, to the assistant director for communication of the State Department
    who was trying to interrupt the interview that he was giving via satellite
    to NBC.

    This was exactly what
    Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva ought to have said to
    Minister So and So or adviser Thus and Such—who, more royalist than the
    king himself—were trying to add more wood to the fire in the case of
    the New York Times. He did the opposite: he went right ahead and expelled
    journalist Larry Rohter and gave room for doubt about his commitment to democracy.

    Until Tuesday afternoon
    (May 11), he was the master of the situation, enveloped by federal solidarity.
    By that same night, because of a hasty decision, he had become a punching
    bag for Brazilian irritation.

    Instead of paying attention
    to the expertise of his press secretary and his Minister for Justice—who,
    as good professionals were presenting him with solutions—he went instead
    to the firebrands who were creating more problems.

    Result: relations between
    the administration and the press, which could already have been considered
    unsatisfactory, became precarious.

    Excess of visiblity

    This is not a question
    of concern only to the government and to the party in power, this is a question
    that concerns society as a whole. The press is only the intermediary between
    the governors and the governed.

    In this mediating position
    it was able to identify the weaknesses of the aggressive text signed by the
    correspondent of the NYT, as well as capturing the popular sympathy
    for the victim of the aggression.

    But one day after the
    decision to expel the journalist, and surprised by the change in mood on the
    part of the media, the President accused the press in a frontal assault of
    being "corporativist".

    Thus it became screamingly
    obvious that Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the charismatic labor leader
    that after 25 years came to be President of the Republic, had forgotten the
    valuable contribution of the media to his biography. Or, if he had not forgotten
    it, he wanted a complete and unrestricted rerun. Impossible, at this stage
    of the game.

    The adjective was buried
    in the mountains of foolishness uttered at the time. But it was off-the-cuff,
    and thus significant: the press is only well-behaved when it obeys the dictates
    of the palace, when it refuses, it is "corporativist". Or, who knows,
    a slave to the White House, and the American neo-cons.

    It is important to remember
    that in the last six months, starting in December 2003 (when reality began
    to collide with campaign promises), there have been various bumps, elbows,
    fissures between the government and the press, aggravated by the incomprehensible
    difficulty in bringing the great communicator that Lula da Silva is within
    the reach of the communications media.

    The worst of it is that
    in moments of acute crisis the government inevitably and openly turns to marketing
    tricks, bringing to public attention its principal architect, instead of keeping
    it offstage, as the manuals recommend.

    Someone needs to warn
    President Lula da Silva that journalism and political marketing, in spite
    of certain convergences as far as final objectives are concerned, have opposite
    functions and actions.

    Every marketer likes journalists,
    bad or good. But good journalists, in principle, generally are suspicious
    when the marketers (or spin doctors) are too present, appearing, like all
    doctors, only when there is something seriously wrong.

    Still in the ABCs

    The gratitude of the victors
    in the last presidential elections to those working in political marketing
    is understandable, but the excessive presence and overvaluing of these geniuses
    puts the eminently political work, which has in the press and in journalism
    its principal tool in second place.

    In this week full of so
    many emotions and libations, the difference between journalists and "image
    doctors" became obvious, between those who have their feet on the ground
    and those who prefer the high jump.

    The division is not a
    strict one, because along with the journalists there are jurists and politicians,
    and in the group of those who cultivate the image, there are other journalists,
    cartoonists, diplomats and generalists (like the Minister Tarso Genro, who
    decided to describe the American press as "one of the worst in the world").

    The latter put their money
    on radicalization, on conspiratorial and apocalyptic theories. They saw in
    the wave of solidarity with the President the opportunity to loose the demons
    of xenophobia and provoke confrontation. They shot themselves in the foot.
    And the government along with them.

    Now, in doing an autopsy
    on the hangover, it is important to look at the systemic faults that provoked
    it. Larry Rohter’s article only became so prominent because, after 16 months
    of intense training, the Lula administration has still not gotten past the
    ABCs of making decisions and communicating them.

    It thought that an upgrade
    in the name of the former Department of Communication to the pomp of Strategic
    Direction would magically open the way to popular recognition.

    It ought to have done
    like Colin Powell, who in the middle of a satellite interview asked his advisor
    Emily to get out of the way. That is the way that meddlers ought to be treated.

    Alberto Dines, the author, is a journalist, founder and researcher at LABJOR—Laboratório
    de Estudos Avançados em Jornalismo (Laboratory for Advanced Studies
    in Journalism) at UNICAMP (University of Campinas) and editor of the Observatório
    da Imprensa. He also writes a column on cultural issues for the Rio
    daily Jornal do Brasil. You can reach him by email at

    This article was
    originally published in Observatório da Imprensa —

    Translated from
    the Portuguese by Tom Moore. Moore has been fascinated by the language and
    culture of Brazil since 1994. He translates from Portuguese, Spanish, French,
    Italian and German, and is also active as a musician. Comments welcome at

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