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Brazzil - Opinion - May 2004

Brazil vs. NYT: Lula's Illogical Logic

The moral punishment of the gringo reporter by the press, politicos
and public opinion was not enough for Lula. Brazil should
take advantage of the episode and associate it to the great
Satan Bush. The expulsion would be a repeat of the success of
the punishment against two Americans who dared to give the finger.

Alberto Dines


Picture It was not an emotional decision. The act of ousting the New York Times idle-talking journalist was not a decision made with the liver, which is the organ of humors. The much criticized act of governmental folly was a decision matured in the brain, the headquarters of thought and exchange for the senses.

Worked out, measured and weighed in detail, it resulted from a strategic evaluation. Collective, though not unanimous, the decision was articulated during the day on Monday and crystallized on Tuesday, when it became clear that the deplorable journalistic piece signed by Larry Rohter, far from harming President Lula and the image of the government, generated a formidable wave of solidarity, the first since Lula took office in January of 2003.

It was imperative to fully capitalize on this wave, most of all because among all the manifestations of repudiation concerning the carelessness of the journalist and the lenience of the newspaper came the versions of a Yankee conspiracy to discredit the leading country in the continent. This version, however preposterous (considering the fragility of the story), needed fast validation, since it became clear that it would yield dividends both domestically and abroad.

The moral punishment of the gringo reporter by the press, politicos and public opinion was not enough. We should take advantage of the episode and associate it to the great Satan Bush. The expulsion would be a repeat of the thunderous success of the patriotic punishment imposed on the two Americans who rebelled against the identification of foreigners at the ports and airports earlier this year.

The losses resulting from an authoritarian gesture with the power to stain the democratic commitments of the PT would be well digested by all those who suffer the effects of the world economic crisis and well neutralized by the wave of discredit involving the press all over the world.

The refusal by the New York Times to recognize its own flaw made the decision by the government all the easier: instead of the showy apology it gave for the frauds committed by Jayson Blair, which did not harm anyone in particular, the great daily declined to offer any type of retraction in this case, notwithstanding the offense made to the president of a country who is a great friend of the U.S.

This duplicity of criteria from such a discerning newspaper could only be attributed to an insidious conspiracy to weaken the country that dared to contrapose itself to the imperialism of the White House.

It does not matter that New York Times practices opposition to Bush and is, in general, friendly to the Lula government. The New York Times may be liberal, but it is American, and that is enough. The same simplistic reasoning was expressed by the Brazilian left in 2000, when it could not distinguish between Bush and Al Gore.

The attempt to expel journalist Larry Rohter includes a touch of xenophobia and/or cult to the scapegoat that we should not ignore. This is the reason why the arbitrary decision was not assimilated by the Justice Minister but endorsed by Foreign Affairs.

The decision not to contest the granting by the STJ (Apellate Court) of the safe-conduct to the ousted journalist and to accept the final decision of the Judiciary Power, contrary to appearances, does not indicate repentance or a back-up. The government's reasoning is that they got what they wanted: after giving for the last many months unequivocal signs of fragility with a succession of hesitations and omissions in so many spheres, it finally showed that it is capable of an energetic gesture against the turpitudes cooked up by the foreigners who are to blame for all our ailments.

No longer defensive, the administration proved its machismo. Freedom of the press is an abstract value, unable to mobilize the crowds. This became clear when President Lula minimized the reactions from the world press and attributed them to "corporativism".

We are wrong to see the unfolding of the Rohter case as the result of a spasm, an instinctive reaction or a thoughtless gesture. It was not. And this is what is worrisome, even with the retraction by the journalist.

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 obsimp@ig.com.br.
Translated by Tereza Braga. Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator and interpreter based in Dallas. She is an accredited member of the American Translators Association. Contact: terezab@sbcglobal.net.
This article was originally published in Jornal do Brasilwww.jb.com.br.

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