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Policarpo | Misdemeanor or Malpractice?

SÂO PAULO — The parliamentary commission of inquiry focused on numbers racketeer Carlinhos Cachoeira — Charlie Waterfall, if you will — is winding down, and it now appears that the final report will be edited to exclude the indictment of three “peripheral” figures: Goiás governor, Marconi Perillo, federal prosecutor Rodrigo Gurgel and Veja magazine bureau chief Policarpo Jr.

In the case of Policarpo, there exist dozens if not hundreds of wiretapped phone calls between the journalist and the racketeer, and a number of others among co-conspirators suggesting that Policarpo — “The Pen” — and Waterfall engaged often in quid pro quo: Publish this character assassination of my adversary and I will arrange illegal surveillance of an adversary of yours.

I am thinking here of the Veja reporter who broke into the private hotel room of a major political figure and maintained him under illegal surveillance. Any resemblance to the News of the World scandal may not be accidental.

Defenders of Policarpo have argued that the relationship reflected a properly conducted use of anonymous sources in the never-ending quest for journalistic scoops. They tend to portray him as a martyr to freedom of expression.

The transcripts released in this case make this seem improbable, however.  Personally, I see this as the remnant of an old-school scandal-mongering racket based on the generalized application of crude grey and black propaganda.

The rest of the Brazilian press, however, cannot abide the precedent that would be set by dragging Veja’s main man before the committee microphone.

They, too, are overly reliant on prepackaged scandals spoon-fed them by interested sources of all kinds, engaged in blatant behind the scenes deal making in the molds of the old Mexican gacetilla.

Much of what passes for investigative journalism still consists of slapping the logo of a TV network or major daily on information with a murky provenance that is never properly fact-checked, or only fact-checked after the propaganda value has reached its half life.

Data vênia, ABRAJI.

In any event,

rather than moving to subpoena the journalists, the rapporteur of the CPI will ask the federal police to investigate further their ties with  Carlinhos Cachoeira. Cunha met with members of the majority caucus on the CPI and proposed that the two points be removed from the report. The PMDB refused to accept either proposal: the summoning of journalists to testify and the referral of Gurgel’s case to the CNJ.

Gurgel has been harshly and continuously criticized by Senator Collor for allegedly sitting on his hands rather than bringing swift charges in another case involving Cachoeira. A Cachoeira black bag man was the author of the clandestine video that led to the «mensalão» scandal.

And so we come to the question: was Policarpo a bystander or a willing participant in the criminal schemes of Mr. Waterfall?  Paulo Nogueira of Observatório da Imprensa weighs in with the minority report.

Before I get started: I believe that Policarpo Júnior intended nothing more from his reletionship with Carlinhos Cachoeira than journalistic scoops.

Signing your own byline to the product of an anonymous interested party is a serious sin of omission — a sort of allowed plagiarism or identity theft. The reader has the right to know qui parle.

That said, from a strictly journalistic point of view, Policarpo went too far in his quest for news, as the facts in the case make clear.

Policarpo broke a fundamental rule of good journalism, developed over a century ago by one of history’s greatest journalists, Joseph Pulitzer: “A journalist has no friends.”

Pulitzer also said

A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will in time produce a people as base as itself.

But moving on …

Pulitzer knew that ties of friendship eventually cloud the journalist’s judgment, robbing him of his ability to evaluate his source objectively. This is a high price to pay for good journalism.

The phone calls exchanged by Cachoeira and Policarpo are not evidence of cumplicity, in the perjorative sense in which the two are partners in crime. But they reveal an intimacy that good journalism cannot survive, an intimacy beyond all reasonable limits.

Let us set aside the rhetorical excesses that have often marked Brazilian political, judicial and ideological debate. All of a sudden, we are asked to see ourselves as “a nation of racketeers.” Policarpo does not fit this mold, I am absolutely certain. He would not work late into the night if he were receiving anything more from Cachoeira than dossiers.

For having grown so close to  Cachoeira, however, he ended up allowing himself to be used by a group for whom the public interest was the last things on their minds. From the very beginning, the information received and published  was poisoned at the source. If Policarpo failed to perceive  the ethical swamp in which he was fishing for scoops, this does not speak well of his observational powers. But short-sightedness is not a crime.

My belief that Policarpo will have no difficulty — in a justice system highly praised for its treatment of the «monthly payola» case — . proving that his relations with Waterfall were purely journalistic, even if they were, in fact, bad journalism.

It is necessary, however, that Policarpo be treated like other figures in this case. He owes society as a whole and the journalistic profession some explanations.

It would have been unfair not to register his name in the case, reinforcing the idea that journalists are a category apart from ordinary citizens, beyond good and evil, above the law.

There is no threat here to the “free press,” the “independent press,” or the “critical press” when journalists are asked to explain themselves to the authorities. This argument is a kind of cynical emotional blackmail calculated to defend the impunity of the major media. We all know how many horrors have been committed in the nme of the “critical press.” In developed nations, things are different.

Just this week, English journalist Rebekah Brooks, “Queen of the Tabloids”and close to former boss  Rupert Murdoch, was indicted by a British court on charges of having bribed police officers in exchange for news scoops that ran in the Sun.

Not even Murdoch, with his moving loyalty to the red-haired Rebekah,  dared to say that the “independent press” was under attack.  All the British papers reported the story, giving it the weight it deserved.

A type of  example I like to give involves cases of “pump and dump” schemes in which journalists manipulate stock prices with their reporting while some invisible hedge fund behind the scenes goes short or long or whatever is needed to produce the required market effect.

The SEC will send you to jail for that.