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Why Is Brazil Press So Infatuated with Marina Silva’s Candidacy?

Marina in Isto ÉBrazilian senator Marina Silva, from Acre state’s Workers Party (PT) was featured on major newspapers across the country in a recent weekend as DataFolha polling released its latest study showing the senator had only 3% of the presidential votes.

The coverage by major newspapers and weekly magazines indicates a different treatment of the senator. Marina went from being the press’ “Amazon enigma,” as columnist Luciano Martins Costa declared in Observatório da Imprensa, to the object of novelty and amazement – feelings which do not mix with good political journalism.

“Pure oxygen has entered the 2010 presidential campaign. The new candidate is Marina Silva,” encapsulated Época. But the big magazine most excited about the “novelty” represented by Marina Silva’s candidacy is IstoÉ which gave the senator a cover story titled “Brazil is more than PT and PSDB”

The story featured Marina photographed from below (technique which confers the senator a powerful stature, following the worst traditions of personality cult), near a tree trunk and sunrays beaming through the forest’s canopy. The photo’s caption “informs” that she has “12% to 24% of votes according to polls.”

Opposing and Favoring Voices

The “polls” mentioned were actually only one done by the Instituto de Pesquisas Sociais, Políticas e Econômicas (Ipespe) on July 22nd and 23rd, requested by Partido Verde (Green Party) investigating four different scenarios.

A visit to Ipespe’s website reveals high degree of interest in the campaign, which raises suspicions because neither the polling group nor IstoÉ released details about how the poll was conducted besides the fact that two thousand people were contacted by phone.

The magazine featured in bold letters the following: “The numbers reveal the Senator’s strong presence in the A and B social classes.” It is not known – and the magazine does not say – what data it used to support this claim because the mentioned classes were not even heard by the pollsters since only people who made up to 10 minimum salaries were heard. The magazine owed its readers this information and the explanation for the bold letters enthusiasm.

The magazine’s editorial signed by Carlos José Marques exaggerated qualities about Marina, which will be reinforced throughout the magazine and insisted on the positive numbers revealed by the “polls” as if these numbers were representative across the country and age groups.

According to the editor, “this campaign is about to be launched with at least 10% of voters preference.” The editor said, Marina “started as a protagonist.”

The editor’s imprudence is comical when contrasted with a more representative poll by DataFolha, which revealed the senator only had 3% of the vote. But the editorial raises questions about which interests are behind such enthusiasm. It is, after all, a campaign which most analysts say will benefit José Serra’s PSDB.

The first pages of IstoÉ’s story chronicled the construction of Marina Silva’s candidacy and the opposition by the Palácio do Planalto. The next pages featured favoring and opposing voices which included two research institute presidents, politicians and social scientists.

The better part of the long coverage was the choice, although obvious, of Blairo Maggi (PR-MT), Mato Grosso’s governor and mega-cattle rancher who had always been at odds with environmental permits and environment ministers – notably Marina Silva.

The Report Is Disappointing

Although the coverage includes a political-biographic profile signed by three professionals, it is journalistically unsatisfactory – omitting the senator’s international respect and her performance as environment minister. It also includes a peculiar “analytic” section signed by Luciano Suassuna who claims the “new has always won” in presidential elections after the dictatorship.

“New, not age or experience-wise,” explains the author who simply ignores that both FHC and Lula did not represent novelty when they were reelected. This was a dispensable text which only added to the pretentious enthusiasm farced as journalism by the magazine.

Of all the “celebrity” commentators in the article – actress Letícia Sabatella, cartoonist Ziraldo, philosopher Marcia Tiburi – the dermatologist Ligia Kogos, the least famous, was the only one to disapprove of the senator’s candidacy.  What is the journalistic merit of such survey besides creating the impression that the senator would be favored by possible “opinion makers?”

The article ends with an impression of adoration, lacking information and analysis. In terms of political diagnosis, the weekly magazine’s article although wordy falls short of other columns and an article titled “Marina goes to war,” by Celso Marcondes from CartaCapital.

As a cover story, the article is lacking in comparison with other stories in the same magazine such as Luiza Villmaéa’s interview of Vanda Pignatto, first lady of El Salvador and the journalistic piece by Crina Rabelo on Susan Sontag’s intimacy.

Pretext for Others’ Projects

The Marina Silva interview which ends IstoÉ’s coverage allows us to understand why her candidacy raises such excitement. [She brings] the irrefutable importance of sustainable development, clarity, intelligence, sensitivity and political tact. Besides the usual questions about her relation to religion, the PT (Workers Party) and the Senate crisis the senator’s political trajectory is comparable to that of Barack Obama and – as  Época magazine pointed out – Lula.

Nonetheless, to grasp the enthusiasm this candidate creates and to justify the submission of a major media outlet to this same enthusiasm are two different things. It is unacceptable, especially when such excitement might not even be authentic, but a pretext to benefit a third party’s political ambitions.

Maurício Caleiro is a journalist and filmmaker, Ph.D in Communications from UFF (Universidade Federal Fluminense).

Translated from the Portuguese by Aldo Jansel. You may reach him at ajans001@fiu.edu.

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