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Brazil: The Character Assassination of a Presidential Candidate

Her name has already been put forward by Brazilian President Lula da Silva as his preferred Workers’ Party (PT) candidate for the 2010 presidential election. Since gaining Lula's support, Dilma Roussef has received overwhelming attention from the Brazilian press. It seems, however, that the mainstream media have set aside good journalistic standards when it comes to news stories about Roussef.

This is a fact that has not been missed by Brazilian bloggers, who have questioned the true intentions behind a series of recent false media reports.

An economist, Dilma Roussef worked as Secretary of Energy in the state of Rio Grande do Sul before joining the federal government in 2003 as the Energy Minister. In 2005, she was appointed Chief of Staff of the Presidency. In her youth, Dilma Roussef was a member of the resistance movement against the military dictatorship that staged a coup d'état in 1964.

Recalling the maybe-candidate's life during the dictatorship, the biggest Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo (with a daily circulation of more than 300,000) published a front page news story on 5 April using a spam email as their main source, while alleging that the information was found in the Public Archives of São Paulo State (DEOPS). They published an image of a fake criminal record for Roussef that has been circulating on the Internet for more than a year. It does not exist in the public archives. The story was about Roussef's alleged role in an event 40 years ago that never actually happened, namely the kidnapping of then Finance Minister, Delfim Netto.

Was it just a lack of investigation? A naïve error? Was the paper's motivation the intention of creating sensationalism and selling more copies?

For blogger Rodrigo Vianna [pt], there is no doubt that there were political motivations:

O selo “capturado” não era comum em fichas desse tipo no DOPS. Documento pode ter sido forjado por sites de “extrema-direita”. A “Folha”, pelo visto, mantem as velhas parcerias…
Estava já evidente que a tal “reportagem” fora feita sob encomenda para ser usada no programa politico de 2010. O uso de uma falsa ficha do DOPS seria apenas um passo a mais na caminhada da “Folha” rumo ao esgoto.

The “captured” stamp was not common on this kind of file from the Department of Political and Social Order (DOPS). The document may have been forged by “extremely-right wing” websites. It seems that the “Folha de São Paulo” retains its old partnerships…
It was already obvious that such a “report” was tailor-made to be used in the 2010 political campaign. The use of a fake DOPS file by the “newspaper” is just another step towards the bottom of the drain.
Screenshot from Paulo Amorim's blog

Screenshot of the newspaper story from Paulo Henrique Amorim's blog

Roussef sent a letter to Folha de São Paulo asking for clarification on the material that was published without evidence – based on an event that did not happen – but the paper neglected to publish it.

Luis Nassif's blog brought this to light [pt] by publishing a copy of her letter. She wrote:

“Apesar da minha negativa durante a entrevista telefônica de 30/03 sobre minha participação ou meu conhecimento do suposto seqüestro de Delfim Neto, a matéria publicada tinha como título de capa “Grupo de Dilma planejou seqüestro do Delfim”. O título, que não levou em consideração a minha veemente negativa, tem características de “factóide”, uma vez que o fato, que teria se dado há 40 anos, simplesmente não ocorreu. Tal procedimento não parece ser o padrão da Folha de São Paulo.
(…)
“Por último, cabe deixar claro que a ficha falsa foi divulgada em vários sites de extrema direita, como: a) Ternuma (Terrorismo Nunca Mais), blog de apoio ao Cel. Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, ficha falsa postada em 30 de novembro de 2008; b) Coturno Noturno – Blog do Coronel: ficha falsa postada em 27 de março de 2009 (a ficha está “atualizada” apresentando uma foto atual) (http://coturnonoturno.blogspot.com/2009/04/desta-parte-dilma-lembra-tudo.html). A partir daí, outros sites na internet também divulgaram a ficha: a) http://fórum.hardmob.com.Br/showthread.php; b) http:/www.viomundo.com.Br/blog/dilma-terrorista/

“Despite my denials during a phone interview on 30 March about my participation in, or my knowledge of, the supposed kidnapping of Delfim Netto, the published article had “Dilma's group planned Delfim's kidnapping” as the headline on the front page. The title did not take into account my strong denials and had “factoid” features, although the event, which would have taken place 40 years ago, simply did not take place. Such reporting does not seem to be up to Folha de São Paulo's standards.
(…)
“Additionally, it is worth clarifying that the fake file has been published by many extreme right-wing websites, such as : a) Ternuma (Terrorismo Nunca Mais), a blog that supports Col. Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra – the fake file was posted on the 30 November 2008; b) Coturno Noturno o Blog do Coronel – the fake file was posted on the 27 March 2009 (the file has been “updated” to feature a recent picture). Since then, other sites have also distributed the file.
Fake files like the one above have done the rounds on the blogosphere for over a year. Bloggers note that the picture has been updated

Fake files like this one have made rounds on the internet for over a year. Bloggers noted that Roussef's picture has been updated

Coturno Noturno o Blog do Coronel – which can be translated as “Night Combat Boot, the Colonel's Blog” has military-camouflage design, and has mocked the Roussef's past, when she was arrested and tortured for fighting against the dictatorship in the early 1970s. The blogger [pt] threatens that this is only the beginning:

No dia 27 de março, o Blog publicou um post mostrando uma ficha da ministra Dilma Rousseff, que descrevia os seus velhos tempos que tanto a orgulham quando convém, com uma mudança bem humorada: a foto foi atualizada para mostrar a nova fisionomia embotacada e repuxada da candidata.
“Diga pra velha que eu volto! Diga pra ela se tratar!” E volto não tão crazy como antes, com o beneplácito dos leitores e pelo voto direto, mas com a minha melhor qualidade: a capacidade ilimitada de irritar petralhas até dos mais altos escalões. Candidata, a gente nem começou.

On the 27th of March, this blog published a post showing a file of Secretary Dilma Rousseff, that describes her past – which triggers her pride only when it is convenient to her – with a humorous twist: the picture was updated to display the candidate's new plump and stretched face.
“Tell the old lady that I'll be back! Tell her to look after herself!” And I'll be back not as crazy as before, with readers’ approval and in favor of the right to vote, but with my best characteristic: unlimited capacity to irritate “petralhas” [a fusion between the word 'petista' – a supporter of the Brazilian Workers' Party and "irmãos metralhas", the Brazilian translation for the cartoon characters the Beagle Boys] even those of the highest rank. Candidate, we haven't even begun.

The only retraction by Folha de São Paulo of its false report was published on 25 April, twenty days after the fake file made the paper's front page. This time, the story was not considered front page material; nor did it observe rules of the equal proportion when a newspaper publishes a second piece of information in order to correct a previous one. After reading the content of the paper's retraction, Blog do Melo [pt] reaches two conclusions and posts a copy of an article [pt] entitled “When the “we made an error” aims to veil a fraud” – written by journalist and professor of Fluminense Federal University Sylvia Moretzsohn:

Quando publicou a reporcagem sobre o tal sequestro de Delfim Netto (que nunca houve), a Folha queria atingir dois objetivos: mostrar que Dilma era uma “terrorista” (você entregaria o governo na mão de uma?) e fustigar os que combateram a ditadura, que para a Folha e Pinochet (veja vídeo acima) foi ditabranda. A jornalista Sylvia Moretzsohn (…) escreveu o seguinte artigo, publicado no Observatório da Imprensa [pt], onde mostra que o erramos da Folha significa fraudamos:
“(…) No entanto, errou, também, duplamente: primeiro, ao dizer que o jornal havia reconhecido ser “falsa” a tal ficha; segundo, e mais importante, ao tratar como “erro” algo que é evidentemente uma fraude. Delimitar com clareza a distinção entre uma coisa e outra é fundamental para uma crítica justa, dadas as implicações – jurídicas, inclusive – que cada uma dessas práticas importa.'”

On publishing the swine-story about the supposed kidnapping of Delfim Netto – which never happened – Folha wanted to achieve two goals: show that Dilma was a ‘terrorist’ (would you put governmental power in the hands of one?) and to target those who opposed the dictatorship, which for Folha de São Paulo and [Chilean dictator] Pinochet (see video in the blog) was the mild “ditabranda”. Journalist Sylvia Moretzsohn (…) wrote the following piece, published on Observatório da Imprensa [pt]:
“(…) Nevertheless, they made a double-mistake: first, when they claimed that the newspaper would have acknowledged such a file as a “fake”; secondly, and more importantly, they deemed as an “error” something that is evidently a fraud. Delimiting with clarity between one thing and the other is fundamental for just criticism, given the consequences – including legal ones – that any of these actions may have”.

We can find further critiques of the way that the newspaper made its mea culpa in Rodrigo Vianna's blog [pt]. He mentions another fake file for São Paulo's Governor José Serra on which the politician is described as Nosferatu, a terrorist and a vampire, and his past as a militant student activist is also mentioned (Dilma and Serra both fought against the dictatorship, as did many other current Brazilian political figures):

Mais de 20 dias depois, a “Folha” publica neste sábado (sem chamada de capa, ressalte-se) um texto estranhíssimo, sob o título: “Autenticidade de ficha de Dilma não é provada”.
Não é provada por quem? A quem caberia provar, se não ao próprio jornal que estampou o material em sua primeira página? Ora, até para manipular e fazer campanha antecipada é preciso um pouco mais de cuidado. Mas a “Folha” dá mostras de caminhar rapidamente rumo ao esgoto.
O pessoal da policia paulista que não gosta muito do Serra fez circular pela internet uma “ficha” do Serra. A autenticidade “não pode ser assegurada – bem como não pode ser descartada”. Foi essa a frase da “Folha” para definir a “ficha” da Dilma. Será que a “Folha” publicaria a “ficha” do Serra?

More than 20 days later, Folha de São Paulo published this Saturday (without headlines on the front page, mind you), a weird piece of writing with the title: “Dilma file's authenticity not proven”. Not proven by whom? Who should prove it, if not the paper itself, which had highlighted the material on its front page? Well, even to manipulate and bring the election campaign forward, they should be a little more cautious. But “Folha” shows signs that it is heading quickly down the drain.
Personnel of the police of São Paulo state who don't really like Serra – he is one of the potential opposition candidates – released a Serra “file” on the Internet. They said its authenticity “cannot be proved – just as it cannot be denied”. This was also Folha's definition of Dilma's file. Will Folha publish Serra's file too?
The fake file of São Paulo governor José Serra

The fake file of São Paulo governor José Serra

After having been the target of Folha de São Paulo's shallow, sensationalist article about her political-militant past, Dilma Roussef was again the focus of the media soon after. This time because of a health treatment. Last week, she had an operation to remove a linphoma and will undergo chemotherapy for three months. Again, Rouseff's name appeared everywhere in the blogosphere, and again mainstream media behaviour fed the blog fervour.

The journalist and blogger Paulo Henrique Amorim, who coined the term Partido da Imprensa Golpista (PIG) – an acronym of Portuguese words meaning Party of the Coup-plotting Mass Media – analyses the media reaction in a few of his posts. In the first, before the news was made public [pt] he said Folha published on its front page, off the record, false news about Dilma Rousseff’s cancer:

Isso não é notícia que se dê em off. (…)
Segundo o que dizem os médicos de um hospital que deixa vazar uma informação dessa gravidade, a candidata do presidente Lula à presidência da República tem, hoje, depois de totalmente extirpado o câncer, tanta chance de ter outro câncer quanto qualquer pessoa.
A edição de hoje da Folha deve ser conservada em formol, porque se trata de uma antologia do jornalismo em decomposição que se pratica nesta subdemocracia.

This is not the kind of news to be reported off the record. (…)
According to whichever doctors from the hospital who leaked this serious information, Lula's candidate for the presidency has, today, after having her tumour completely removed, the same chance of having cancer again as any other citizen.
Today's issue of Folha has to be kept in formalin, because it presents an anthology of journalism in decomposition, as is practised in this sub-democracy.

In a second post, the day after [pt] he explains how the media is plotting against the possible candidate. According to Amorim, the media is “assassinating” [pt] the candidate:

A manchete do Globo é: “Câncer e tratamento longo abalam candidatura de Dilma“. Na edição online: “Dilma anuncia tratamento contra câncer”.
Dilma Rousseff não tem câncer.
Teve.
O câncer na fase 1A foi TOTALMENTE extirpado.
Ela faz agora quimioterapia preventiva.

Globo's headline is: “Cancer and long treatment undermine Dilma's candidature” and in the online version of the paper it's: “Dilma announces treatment against cancer”.
Dilma Rousseff does not have cancer.
Had.
The phase 1A cancer was TOTALLY removed.
She is now undergoing preventive chemotherapy.

Some blogs, like Alerta Total [pt] consider the cancer is likely to be used as a political strategy by the government during the presidential elections:

O anúncio oficial da doença seguiu o ritual de mais uma operação de propaganda política do Palácio do Planalto. Dilma chegou ao hospital acompanhada do ministro Franklin Martins, o bolcheviquepropagandaminister de Lula

The announcement of the disease followed the established ritual of another Palácio do Planalto political propaganda operation. Dilma arrived in the hospital, accompanied by Secretary Franklin Martins, Lula’s bolchevique propagada minister.

More than a year in advance, it seems that the presidential battle in Brazil has already begun. As always, low tactics and the intensely veiled participation of media vehicles that are scarcely impartial or neutral will be present through the whole process. It is, therefore, highly recommended to take all media information with a large pinch of salt.

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