The hounds of the press



Ignoring the role that the press played in the erosion of Brazilian democratic institutions is astonishing.

Gabriela Prioli, the newest phenomenon of popularity in Brazilian journalism, recently published a video on her Instagram criticizing Bolsonaro for the threat made against a journalist from The Globe who asked the president about the checks deposited by Queiroz into his wife's account.[I]

Prioli, who gained notoriety on the cable news channel CNN, first as a participant in the segment “The Great Debate”, in which he represented the “left” opinion, in his Insta video, extends the criticism to the general attitude of the president corporate media attack. In the didactic, almost paternalistic tone that characterizes her interventions, in the “let-me-explain-to-you-who-are-more-dumb” style, the lawyer questions the assertion that the press pursues Bolsonaro and poses the following question to her audience : “Does the press say these bad things for the image of President Jair Bolsonaro alone, or does the press also disclose things that were harmful to rulers in previous governments? Let's see (sic)”.

So, the cause begins to “give print on screen” of newspaper images to prove his point. Are they:

(1) Full page of The Globe with a news item with a title in large letters: “A criminal organization of 40 defendants”. Above the title are three photographs by Delúbio Soares, José Dirceu and José Genoíno.

(2) Headline of Folha de S. Paul: “There is no doubt that PT bought votes, says rapporteur” – repeating Minister Joaquim Barbosa’s statement on Criminal Action 470.

(3) Headline of The Globe: “Vote-buying allegations lead Lula's government to the worst crisis”. Below is a photo of Lula smiling next to Ronaldo Fenômeno.

(4) Full page story from The Globe with the title: “Ten years of PT bribery”.

(5) Magazine cover Veja with a photo montage showing Lula dressed as a prisoner.

(6) Magazine cover Veja with a photo of Lula and the title “His turn” and subtitle saying that the whistleblower Leo Pinheiro would tell the Public Prosecutor's Office everything he knows about Lula's participation in Petrolão and “how his son Lulinha became a millionaire”.

(7) Headline of Sheet: "Whistleblower says he transferred R$ 2 million to Lula's daughter-in-law".

(8) Matter of The Globe with a title in bold letters: “Lava-Jato knocks on Lula's door”.

(9) Headline of Estadão: “Lava Jato links the purchase of a farm to transfers of telephones to Lula’s son”.

(10) Headline of Sheet: “Lava Jato links Lula's son to the purchase of the Atibaia site”.

(11) Cover of Veja with the title: “Lula commanded the scheme”.

These are all the subjects shown by Prioli with the intention of proving with material evidence the old thesis of the watchdog, that is, that the press fulfills the role of monitoring and criticizing the powerful, thus safeguarding the public interest. The press itself assigns itself this function through its editorial manuals, letters of editorial principles and texts and following the best practices published over the years, usually in the form of editorials.

A study of my authorship entitled “Media siege: the place of the left of the published sphere” has just come out,[ii] published by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, in which, among other things, I show how fallacious this thesis is, through the analysis of data collected over the years by Manchetômetro.[iii]

Before offering empirical evidence that refutes the thesis of an influencer, however, it is necessary to pay attention to the internal deficiencies of his argument, which can be summarized as follows: Bolsonaro is wrong when he says that the press pursues him – in the sense of being more critical of him than usual – because the press actually treated similarly to previous governments.

It turns out that the 11 articles that Prioli shows in his video are exclusively critical of Lula and the PT. However, to prove the thesis of the watchdog function in previous governments, it would be necessary to have shown negative coverage of similar intensity for presidents FHC and his PSDB, and Temer and the MDB. But the only thing that instagramer what it actually reveals is the caustic press coverage received by the PT and by Lula, when he was still president.

Let us now adopt a slightly more sophisticated method of collecting empirical evidence than the print screenshot of handpicked newspaper pages. Manchetômetro's extensive database – which contains, duly coded, all the texts published by the three major newspapers in their front pages and opinion pages, from January 2014 to the present – ​​offers a plethora of evidence contrary to the watchdog thesis. . For the purpose of this short article, I will select a very illustrative subset of the database that allows us to compare the coverage received by Dilma and Temer.

The numbers above refer to the valence analysis of the texts on the front pages and opinion pages of The Globe, Folha de S. Paul e State St. Paul.[iv] The first thing to note is that the curve of articles contrary to Dilma is below that of neutral ones during the short period of the 2014 election campaign. , we found that she received the most negative. Aécio Neves, for example, who had been Governor of Minas Gerais and was a senator and president of the PSDB, received fairly benign coverage – given that he is already beginning to show the serious shortcomings of our watchdog.

Enter January 2015 and Dilma's total negatives almost tripled in relation to October 2014, the last month of the campaign. Two months later, it suffers yet another significant rise and from then on starts to vary at a very high level, reaching several peaks around the mark of negative 300 per month. This means that in those months, Dilma received around 10 negative articles per day, on average, which is more than 3 per newspaper. Dilma did not have any Honeymoon by the press. On the contrary, since the first day of his second term, the dog showed obvious signs of hydrophobia.

This journalistic massacre lasted until May 2016, when Dilma was removed and her negative curve dropped sharply, only to suffer a peak in August, when her impeachment was voted in the Senate.

Michel Temer is then led to the Presidency of the Republic. Let's look at the treatment he received from the press.

The first thing to note is that throughout 2015 and early 2016, while the political plot of Rousseff's removal was being woven, in which Temer played a central role, the coverage received by the experienced emedebista politician was quite benevolent.

In the month of his inauguration, there is a small jump in all the curves, but Temer achieves the feat of tying the favorable, contrary and neutral curves, with a slight advantage for the last ones. The most brutal difference, however, in relation to the treatment received by his predecessor, is the length of the honeymoon enjoyed by the president. American political science estimates the period of a president's Honeymoon to be around 100 days. Our compatriot went much further. He enjoyed a Honeymoon for almost a year. Even if we adopt a stricter criterion, considering the end of the Honeymoon when its opposites exceed the neutral ones, the period is 150 days, from May to November 2016.

Here the watchdog metaphor starts to leak – all metaphors have their euristic limits – because in addition to having been cured of hydrophobia, our watchdog has become insensitive to the various corruption scandals involving powerful ministers of the Temer and to an economic policy management incapable of dealing with the crisis that befell the country. Or would the loss of sight and smell demonstrated during the Temer Government have been a sequel to hydrophobia? Either way, its supposed function has been seriously flawed.

But behold, our dog rises from the torpor in which he was immersed in June 2017, raising Temer's denials beyond the mark of 300 texts per month - something that for Dilma was routine. This was the month of the leak to the press of the recordings between Temer and Joesley Baptista, which point to the president's involvement with corruption. However, when we follow Temer's coverage curves after this peak of negatives, we find that they progressively accommodate to the previous pattern of benignity, with neutrals generally outperforming contrary ones at a very low degree of activation. The revealing detail of this sad narrative is that in mid-2019 Temer was already accused of six lawsuits, including criminal organization and obstruction of justice. Thus, the politician from São Paulo can end his term in peace, without being harassed by the press.

I could dwell on examples, based on data, that show how absurd the thesis espoused by Prioli is. Moreover, for someone who presents herself as a champion of critical thinking, discounting the evils of lavajatismo and ignoring the role that the press played in the corrosion of Brazilian democratic institutions is truly astonishing. I have no elements to know if he thought that way before joining the press, or if he started to defend the watchdog thesis after this professional change. The fact is that the Brazilian press is an excellent producer of bloodhounds that lick their boots whenever they can – just to stay in the field of cynical metaphors.

By launching the Rational Policy Manual course, the law professor proposes to teach her students to rationally debate politics. Of course, if politics is a practical science, as the philosopher teaches us, then one of its fundamental operations is the analysis of empirical evidence. Well, but it is exactly in this aspect that our publicist fails bluntly in her video, when attributing to the corporate media the function of a watchdog based on a highly biased selection of evidence.

Some political science colleagues opposed the course initiative, seeing it as an attempt to usurpate professional competence by a outsider. Without going into the field of this discussion, what we find here is a much more fundamental deficiency in reasoning than the one that claims to be the master of political argument. I imagine the effect that this lack of rigor in the analysis of probative evidence can have on the practice of criminal law.

*João Feres Junior is professor of political science at IESP-UERJ. He is coordinator of the Affirmative Action Multidisciplinary Study Group (GEMAA) and of the Media and Public Space Studies Laboratory (LEMEP).






[iv] The main methodology used in the Manchetometer, the Valence Analysis, is used in academic works in Brazil and abroad (Feres Júnior, 2016a, Feres Júnior, 2016b). Such an analysis seeks to answer the following question: what position does the text express in relation to the subject and the characters

mentioned in it? We assign four values ​​to valency: positive, negative, neutral and ambivalent. Favorable news are those that contain predominantly positive references to the character or theme in question, whether factual or normative (example: “Program X drastically reduced the levels of child malnutrition in the states of the Northeast Region” or “Fulano de Tal accomplished most of his campaign promises”). Opposite ones are those that contain predominantly negative references to the character or theme in question (example: “The government’s economic policy does not

inflation” or “Cicrano is not a reliable minister”. When the text is mainly descriptive and devoid of clearly positive or negative content, it receives a neutral classification (example: “Congress approves law Y” or “Know the new rules of program Z”). In case of balance between references

negative and positive, the news is classified as ambivalent (example: “Unemployment drops, but inflation increases”).

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