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Saul Leblon | The Devil and Octâvio Frias


By: Saul Leblon (Viomundo)

Media and the Metro: How To Serve God Without Betraying the Devil?

Never have the political fortunes of the PSDB — its leadership and followers — depended so much on the indulgence of a conservative media as they do now. And never have the media centurions been so fragile in their ability to defend them.

The survival of the PSDB … depends dramatically upon the decisions made in the past few days by the owners, editorial writers, columnists, section editors and headline writers of the conservative media machine.

Will they come to the aid of a PSDB up to its neck in clandestine dealings and corruption, in the case of  cartel formation in São Paulo state railway and subway contracts? Or not?

The hesitation in the air is so thick you could cut it with a knife.

Streams of ambiguity flow from the breakfast editions.

One day, for example — last Wednesday —  the Folha simply hid the scandal, removing it from the front page.

It found another topic to replace it: Renovation of sidewalks in downtown São Paulo have no plan  equivalent to standards for similar work in the peripheries.

The state of city sidewalks and the question of standards are not an inconsequential matter, be it said. And the Folha tends to rotate the kinds of stories that get the top right corner. 

In its next edition, however, the Frias family broadsheet rushed to print with indications of José Serra’s direct involvement in the subway cartel during 2008. 

What? Why?

The Folha simply committed the basic story to paper. The coverage was totally lacking in proper background reporting, as it has always conducted in the past, when the target was progressive leadership.

The paper failed to interview executives of companies who participated in the same auction. It failed to provide a biographical sketch of the Governor’s right-hand man in the scheme denounced by Siemens.

It did not go to Amsterdam to talk to witnesses, check facts, retrace Serra’s steps, confirm the holding of meetings at a hotel, and so on.

Yes, and stop over in Thailand on the way home. Our pockets are bottomless.

Serra’s secretary of metropolitan transportation at the time, a partner of the governor in the talks, and the second to be denounced by Siemens was José Luiz Portella.

Why was this central protagonist not described in detail?

Currently a Folha columnist, Portella is a classic type: a man with a a low-key public profile and  high-level access inside the PSDB.

His CV includes services to the Ministry of Education, directed by the late Paulo Renato de Souza, during the Cardoso government.

As it happens, Paulo Renato and Portella would work together again during the state administration of Serra, when the state Secretary of Education acquired, without competition, nearly R$ 8 million in subscriptions to newspapers, magazines and other publications from the Estadão, Globo and Abril publishing groups.

(In 2010 Serra would leave office to run for, and lose, the presidential race against Dilma Rousseff, as usual with the fully committed aiding and abetting of the media.)

The Folha‘s haste in publishing such a serious accusation without any prior investigation — or any follow-up — represents a certain despair that is washing over the conservative media machine at this moment.

This anguish derives from the difficult mission that breaking events impose on “objective” journalism in these eventful days. How to serve God without betraying the Devil?

Folha, in this case, was trying to do just that.

On one hand, it has to mitigate its own very public collusion with Serra.

On the other, in accusing the Toucan, it did so in such a frivolous manner that it simply ignored its own prior reporting on the case — reporting that would have tended to corroborate the Siemens accusations.

The Fix Was In

On October 26, 2010, the Folha revealed that six months prior to the auction of Lots 3 and 8 on Line 5-Lilac of the subway, it and its reporters already had access to the names of the winners.

The Folha then recorded on-the-record interviews with the winning bidders on April 20 and 23, 2010.  (A copy of the story is appended to this note.)

If this is not strong corroborating evidence of systematic collusion, corruption and cartel formation during the Serrra administration, what else could it be?

So why did the Folha downplay these reports?

They did so because, if they dramatically undermine the expressions of surprise by Serra, Alckmin and the rest with respect to the misconduct reported by Siemens, what would happen now during the acquisition of new equipment?

The moral laxity of the Savanarolas in the Folha’s army of columnists and the ethical flexibility of the editorial writers, are explained by force majeure.

The media is in this scandal up to its neck, an exposure that only came about because of Siemen’s initiative and the action taken by CADE.

The media’s involvement has  a name: omission.

And a surname: complicity.

How else to explain that São Paulo journalism, so closely attuned to the misuse of the public trust at the federal level, never thoroughly got to the bottom of dealings that were going on right under its nose?

And not just under its nose, but printed on its inside pages, as scandalous events were demoted to merely episodic or exceptional, one-time events.

The conservative media hesitates, contorts itself, and grows bitter.

The systematic aspect of the scheme involving the São Paulo Metrô exposes the conservative media to a double embrace of drowning victims.

If it does not get to the bottom of this episode, using forceps if it has to, it will run aground as a blood brother of the PSDB establishment.

If it investigates with precision and inpartiality a practice that has gone on for 16 years under governments that have always counted on the media’s support, it would in some way be obliged to investigate itself.