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Lies, Damned Lies and Infographics? | Folha de S. Paulo

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Item: Blog da Cidadania |

This is how it works: the passerby reads only the front page headline and skips the article to which it applies. In this way he forms his “opinion” based on a short, snappy phrase and goes around parroting the headlines of these news media, which, as a rule, distort the reporting of the top story.

For this reason, other news outlets — even more tendentious than the others — place their faith in the sale of short, stereotyped ideas which in a manner of seconds implant theses of all kinds in the mind of these consumers of  “fast-food information”.

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Such was the case of the notorious election-eve campaign of Veja magazine, which throughout the most recent election campaign, distributed giant banners to newsstand vendors, free of charge, containing accusations against Dilma Rousseff and the PT which, if you actually read them, are obviously nothing than insinuations.

In today’s example, the headline is grounded in an infographic purporting to support the headline that “Dilma is responsible for the Petrogras scandal” according to 63% of survey subjects.

“Brazilians [ the common Brazilian ] blame(s) Dilma for corruption.”

Do they? The juggernaut of a recent march calling for the impeachment of Rousseff swelled to an amazing 500 to 300, and at some point the event turned into a free for all between the two groups of Potemkin villagers.

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The infographic reproduced on the front page does not assist the reader much in understanding the situation. What registers most is the negative headline about Dilma.

Notice, dear reader, how the phrase is perfectly comprehensible even in the miniaturized version between the top headline and the fold on the front page. Turning to the inside pages, we will begin discovering facts that the headline obscures.

And although the subhed underneath the headline reveals that an overwhelming 46% of those interviewed by Datafolha believe Dilma has done more to fight corruption than her predecessors — more than Lula, even — her party maintains that her popularity has weathered the storm of political attacks against her since her second-round victory.

What is more, the graphic displays an extremely negative fact about the PSDB: ex-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso appears to have been extremely lenient in the fight against corruption. Only 4% of those surveyed believe corruption was combated during his government, second only to Fernando Collor, believed by 11% to have done most against corruption.

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This would make a good critical reading exercise for a Brazilian high-schooler, studying up for his ENEMs, but I will simply cite some of the conclusions of Edu Guimarães, with right of reply assumed by the Estado de S. Paulo from today’s editorial page.

As you can see, the Folha shied away from publishing on the front page the fact that only 43% believed Dilma behaved in a corrupt manner while in charge of Petrobras, and that 45% considered her responsibility for the scandal negligible to none.

And so the Folha and Datafolha plot the intersection of the 43% who accuse Dilma with involvement with that of the 25% who, in answering other portions of the survey, indicate that Dilma is less responsible because of anti-corruption efforts that exceeded those of her predecessors.

The Folha has produced another farce based on market research that, though the bombastic headline suggests otherwise — that there exists a steep decline in confidence — actually shows that most of the population with an opinion on the Petrobras case are supporting Rousseff’s actions against corruption.

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Some 75% of Brazilians find their government excellent or acceptable as of December 3

Brazilians apparently recognize that there is institutional progress in the investigation of wrong-doing. Only the PT militants incapable of their removing their blinders will fail to notice that only a few attribute this progress to the president herself — on the contrary, 43% believe she is greatly responsible for corruption.

It is not that Brazilians have a high tolerance for criminality; it is more likely that gratitude for social programs realized over the past 12 years is a determining factor.

But let Dilma beware, because her popularity owes more than her political capital can repay. This capital will dry up as soon as taxpayers suffer the harsh measures that mismanagement during her first mandate become inevitable.

The ESP is a conservative paper with a generally admirable track record of loyalty to the Empire of Fact.

The Numbers

No fewer than 85% of Brazilians surveyed in 173 townships say they are convinced that there was corruption in Petrobras, the scandal of the moment. Worse: 68% believe the president has some involvement in the case.

It cannot be pleasant for the current government to see that it loses only to the Collor government (1990-92) as the government with the most corruption, a proposition believed by 20% and 29% of those surveyed.

There is a certain confusion in all these surveys as to whether the survey is meant to measure the (mostly media-driven) perception of corruption and opinions about actual, proven cases of corruption.

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A more telling statistic is the number of  Federal Police  operations during each presidential term. Under Lula, operations realized starting in 2003 outgrew police investigations by FHC by a factor of 50, and white collar crime was a significant new priority.

After the political defenestration of Paulo Lacerda from the PF and ABIN (the Brazilian CIA), the numbers have fallen off a bit, it seems, but there are a number of major cases in the pipeline.

Despite this, 42% assess the Dilma government as excellent or good. This is the same index announced on October 20, just before the second round. It appears that the intense revelations about wrongdoing at Petrobras has not been sufficient to undermine her prestige.