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A Strange Silence

A Strange 
Silence

In a list of 150 countries classified by the he Gini index—an
indicator
used internationally to measure income distribution—Brazil appears
as number 148 in a list of 150 countries. And the country is losing its
battle to reduce this blatant inequality.
By Marta Alvim

In its April, 2000 edition, monthly magazine Caros Amigos, a small publication
headquartered in São Paulo, ran a story widely known yet largely ignored by Brazil’s
mainstream media for nearly a decade. "President, take responsibility!" was the
title of the cover story and alluded to 8-year-old Tomás Dutra, the supposedly
illegitimate son of president Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC) and TV Globo journalist
Miriam Dutra. The affair between the journalist and then senator Cardoso took place
between 1988 and 1990, during which time the couple were often spotted in Brasilia’s
nightlife scene.

Media reports on extra-marital escapades by local celebrities are not strange to
Brazilians. The long list of philanderers include late presidents Juscelino Kubitchek,
João Goulart and Tancredo Neves; impeached president Fernando Collor de Mello; singer
Roberto Carlos, and former soccer player Pelé, to name a few. However, Brazilians’
reaction to such news is usually blasé. And for the most part, those exposed for
adulterous behavior will get out of the jam with their prestige intact. So, why do
Brazil’s mainstream media insist on ignoring the president’s faux pas?

According to several media honchos interviewed by Caros Amigos, the subject is
just not relevant enough to be publicized. Others have implied that the editorial line of
their publications doesn’t approve of gossip and the reporting of such private matters.
However, as many readers have pointed out, the same criteria don’t apply to other public
figures, much less to Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, the left-wing candidate who was
Fernando Collor de Mello’s main opponent in the 1989 presidential election. While news
about Collor’s illegitimate son didn’t surface until after he had won the race, the media
carefully scrutinized Lula’s private life during the entire campaign. Carioca daily
O Globo went so far as to run an editorial with prudish overtones, in which it
cautioned voters against the wisdom of electing a candidate (Lula) with a history of
supposedly extra-marital indiscretions. Lula has since acknowledged his out-of-the-wedlock
daughter.

The silence surrounding the Cardoso-Dutra controversy is even more disturbing since
there is ample evidence to support the theory. In fact, journalists Gilberto Dimenstein
and Josias de Souza had already given an account of the imbroglio in A História Real
(The Real Story), a book where the authors describe the behind-the-scenes maneuvers of the
1994 presidential election. Then and now the media have been silent. Even when the
Clinton-Lewinsky scandal came to light, the Brazilian media gave extensive coverage to the
matter, but again failed to mention the national "state of affairs".

Tomás Dutra was born in 1991, when FHC’s name started to rise in the political arena
as a potential presidential candidate. Sources close to the case have described in detail
the exchange between Cardoso and Dutra as she went into his office to inform him of the
pregnancy. According to those witnesses, an enraged Cardoso not only kicked a floor fan
but also threw the journalist out of his office after cursing at her. Others have revealed
how two of FHC’s closest friends—former Minister of Communications, the late Sérgio
Motta and current Minister of Health José Serra—successfully pressed TV Globo into
transferring the journalist to Lisbon, Portugal, after Tomás was born. Miriam Dutra still
lives abroad and is now a TV Globo correspondent in Barcelona, Spain.

Instead of patronizing Cardoso’s behavior and theorizing about the moral significance
of his actions, Caros Amigos’s article was more an analysis of the often-ambiguous
relationship between the media and power—economic, political or otherwise. For doing
so, the magazine has been vilified by many of the local media luminaries who have labeled
its article sensationalistic, and the magazine itself "brown press." Still, the
lingering question remains: are the Brazilian media so ethical and respectful that they
won’t publicize the president’s personal affairs, or could it just be that the emperor has
no clothes after all?

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